Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The 800 Pound Gorilla in the Room

I am fantastically impressed with our collective ability to ignore the 800 pound gorilla sitting squarely in the center of the American (and the rest of the West) living rooms.

Climate scientists have made it pretty clear that we MUST stop nearly all carbon emissions in my lifetime (I am in my late 40's).  I believe that their probability models are close enough that we should not, and won't, challenge them.  Any rational examination of the facts would lead most thinking persons to the conclusion that the best way to sequester carbon in the earth is to leave it there, unburned. 

If A = B, and B = C, then A = C - remember that one?

Coal consumption injects the most carbon atoms into the atmosphere per unit of useful energy supplied.  Methane injects the fewest.  Pretty simple, really.  Methane has only 1 carbon atom per molecule.  The various coal grades have a whole bunch (that is a technical term).  Like it or not, mankind et al, is going to have to come to grips with the less energy provided by coal to generate electricity.

Less electricity means less economic output no matter how you slice it.  Now my good friend Dr. Salani disagrees with me somewhat because we waste so much electricity power that we (read the U.S.) would be able to conserve and still grow GDP.  Maybe for a year or 2 or even 3, and only in the U.S.  (The rest of the world does not have 10 foot flat screen T.V.'s in their living room for the dubious purpose of watching American Idol or reruns of Gilligan's Island.)

So here comes the 800 pound gorilla.  The West's economic system is built around the presumption of continual growth - in GDP, money supply, price inflation, population, etc... - and that growth will simply not be possible with a decline in electrical generation.

This is not to say that in the coming decades wind, solar, nuclear, won't contribute significant electricity generation.  Maybe they will.  But I would not bet my hard earned money that it will be enough and in time.

Financial assets will bear the brunt of our recognition of the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

Mentatt (at) yahoo (d0t) com

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