Friday, September 3, 2010

I Like Renewables, but They Can't Stop the Freight Train

Last week, the United States hosted a two day program attended by representatives from 20 nations with the goal of assisting foreign countries in developing their own shale gas.  That's a huge win-win in my book.  As the Chinese proverb says, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

If foreign nations can tap into their own shale gas resources, you've got the potential for lower carbon emissions, less particulate pollution and greater independence for those countries.  Specifically, if China and India are able to better use gas instead of coal, think of the positive change on the world scene, both environmentally and geopolitically.  Shale gas is not the only answer but it can be a huge piece of the puzzle.  Participants in the event can be lumped into  three groups: Asian energy importers (China, India, Indonesia and Pakistan); Russia's neighbors (Armenia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Ukraine); and Venezuela's neighbors (Chile, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay), among a few others.

Good stuff, right?  In reading an article on the conference, I note the prominent opposition of an environmentalist, in this case a representative of the National Wildlife Federation, who acknowledges that gas is cleaner than other fossil fuels but is quick to point out the fear of damage to drinking water.  He also pushes the notion that we should be helping them invest in wind and solar power.

While I support the use of renewables, I think it is like a man on foot trying to stop a freight train barreling down a hill.  If anyone thinks wind and solar at this stage are going to be more than a rounding error in China's energy consumption is naive beyond words.  If we want to make a positive environmental change in the world, we need to stop China from building a new coal-fired power plant every few days.  Windmills and solar panels ain't going to cut it.  The reality is that China needs to fall in love with natural gas.

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