Monday, June 8, 2009

--U.S. Coal Reserves Depleting Faster than Anticipated

According to today's Wall Street Journal, the US should perhaps no longer think of itself as the Saudi Arabia of coal. Apparently the amount of available coal has been determined annually by subtracting the previous year's extraction totals from survey estimates of available reserves. Problem is, those survey estimates did not account for the difficulty of extraction. While most West Virginia coal has been relatively simple to acquire, coal west of the Mississippi River tends to be found in geologic formations that cannot be removed cost-effectively--even if prices for coal were to rise dramatically.

So the cost of oil continues to rise, the reserves of coal are proving inaccessible, nuclear plants are opposed by NIMBYs everywhere, and emerging technologies like wind and solar can't yet met the demand placed on them. At this point in the conversation, people tend to get lost in abstractions. They begin shouting "Drill, baby! Drill!" They pledge their certainty that, in a capitalist system, technologies for coal extraction, nuclear waste disposal, or solar and wind power will rise to meet the demand placed on them by the market. They talk, talk, talk, talk.

Now that's just fine. Anyone who predicts catastrophic energy meltdown is an alarmist. You can rest assured there'll be oil derricks in Alaska and wind-power generators off the Kennedy compound before we'll suffer through a national blackout.

But before you get caught up in the national or global scope of this problem, take a micro-examination of your own life. If energy costs were to suddenly double or triple, could you maintain your present lifestyle? As gas prices begin to inch back up, don't forget that the price of gas is related to the price of heating and cooling your home, the price of keeping the lights glowing, the price of planting the food you eat, fertilizing the food you eat, harvesting the food you eat, shipping the food you eat, storing the food you eat, and cooking the food you eat.. For a few moments, forget the Republican or Democratic rhetoric about the "solution" and the "obstructions". Forget your confidence in the system or your lack thereof.

Forget everything momentarily except a mental image of how your lifestyle would be affected by triple gas, electricity, and food prices.

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