Monday, March 16, 2015

Bryan Leyland: The world is running out of energy resources

“Things you know that ain't so” - “The world is running out of energy resources”

We constantly hear that our way of life is unsustainable because the world is running out of fossil fuels and other vital resources. It is simply not true. The world has more resources available to it than ever before. 

When the steam engine was first invented people were worried that, quite soon, the world would run out of coal. Now the world is known to have more coal than it is ever likely to use. Modern coal-fired power stations are clean and efficient and have enough coal for hundreds of years. And we don’t even have to mine it: underground gasification can turn coal directly into gas without the dangers associated with mining.

Two or three years ago, the United States and the United Kingdom were expecting to import more and more gas. The shale gas revolution has turned this around. For the last hundred years, the reserves of oil have steadily increased. The people predicting the imminent arrival of “peak oil" have never been right. Reserves are now 25% greater than they were 10 years ago. Even if oil did start to run out, the immense amount of gas in offshore “methane ice" (clathrates) could easily be turned into liquid fuels.

According to one researcher, fossil fuel reserves are now more than 10 times the amount used until now. If we add in the immense clathrate resource the fossil fuel resource is 60 times the amount used so far.

For electricity, nuclear power and, in particular, reactors burning thorium, promise us a virtually unlimited supply of power with high reliability and at a low and predictable price. It is safer and more environmentally friendly than any other major form of power generation and recent research into radiation shows that exposure to low levels of radiation is not harmful and may even give some immunity to cancer. The radiation limits for nuclear power stations could be raised by a factor of 200 without the slightest risk.
_ If this was done there would be a substantial reduction in the cost of nuclear power and the public perception of the dangers of nuclear power would change.
If human ingenuity is allowed to follow its natural course, new and improved technologies will continue to provide us and future generations with affordable, reliable energy. Well before fossil fuel reserves come close to being exhausted, we will have found better ways to generate power, perhaps in ways that
we cannot yet conceive. Humankind’s progress has been sustained via a series of unexpected, disruptive developments in technology and knowledge.
In spite of all the predictions, the world is not running out of food. With the efficient use of irrigation, improved plants and reduction in the enormous wastage that occurs in developed and developing countries, the world could easily feed a much larger population. As population growth declines sharply as people become more prosperous, economic growth in developing countries will go a long way towards solving the population problem.

I believe that one of the biggest dangers facing the world is well-meaning people who believe that the world is running out of resources, that technology has nothing good to offer, that it will no longer continue to make our lives better and better and that economic growth is incompatible with the environment. If these people carry the day, our grandchildren will suffer.


John Brett said...

Great article Brian. I see a familiar process here where a community is convinced of an external threat (running out of energy resources in this case) to drive public opinion into their camp and give them power (We are your only hope!). Other examples are Hitler and Jews, Global warming and carbon taxes, domestic violence and the threat from fathers, etc.

Anonymous said...

This is what I came across when googling more info on clathrates "Extinction is OUR choice, unless...
.... within the next 8 years we have STOPPED using fossil fuels, PLANTED millions of trees, ended logging, and PREPARED our cities and agriculture for the inevitable sea rise.
"The Clathrate 'Smoking Gun'"
I guess the writer thinks the sky is still falling
Thanks for your article

Gary J Westbury said...

A more serious problem to humanity is the reduction in our air's oxygen levels as we burn more fossil fuels( petrols, coal, etc)and reduce the oxygen producing plants and trees. The drop in oxygen level is and will effect future life. The increase in cancers and health problems are indicators to us all.

Anonymous said...

The web site on LED lights states in America alone numerous electricity generating stations would be closed because of the massive reduction in power consumption.
This would apply to other countries. Perhaps the need to burn fossil fuels and have nuclear power plants will become obsolete.

Anonymous said...

We know that the world is not running out of energy resources Bryan. It's just that the new ways of mining fossil fuels, seems to be rather extreme and desperate. We are told that we cannot use these fuels anymore because the threat of man made climate change is real.
New technology to produce other more sustainable ways of producing energy, is not well advanced when it needs to be, to smooth the transition away from CO2 producing fuels.
The perception by the public that we are running out of energy resources is because the non CO2 energy producing technology is not obvious, and Government patronage of it seems to be minimal.
Allowing exploration of fossil fuel reserves in NZ offshore doesn't help at all.
The Government spin should go something like this: we don't need the plentiful reserves of offshore oil reserves to make money for NZ, because we are working toward being world leaders in sustainable energy technology, and are supporting the innovative businesses in NZ that are doing this with us.

Paul Johnson said...

Unless I am mistaken, fossil fuels, our primary source of energy, are finite and non-renewable and therefore WILL run out.

The only question is WHEN ... and when is determined by rate of consumption.

Back to school boys!