Posted by: ericgrimsrud | March 29, 2013

The “All of the Above” cop out

When discussing energy policies in the USA, how many of our politicians have you heard saying that they favor “all of the above” approaches to energy production – meaning that they support the development of the alternates, such as wind, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal, as well as continued development of the conventional fossil fuels, including gas, oil, coal, tar sands, and shale (fracking)? My guess would be that you have heard this from almost all of your elected officials from the Democratic Party and many or even most from the GOP. To be specific, this is in fact the official position that has been taken by both of our Democratic Senators, Max Baucus and John Tester, our Republican Representative, Steve Daines, and our Democratic President, Barack Obama.

Apparently, this position is favored by most politicians because it provides something for everyone in all of the energy sectors. The fossil fuel sector goes along with it because it keeps fossil fuels in the mix and they know that the fossil fuels will remain financially competitive as long as the environmental costs of their use are not recognized by government officials. Those of the alternate energy sector are generally pleased with the “all of the above” attitude because it provides them with the financial support that their new and generally still more expensive technologies require in order to survive in the energy business.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Everyone is happy, right? And the elected officials do not have to worry so much about strong opposition from either sector in their next election cycle, do they?

What is wrong with this system is simply and frankly that it does not end up addressing the fundamental cause of climate change. The only score card for monitoring progress in that endeavor is our annual measurements of the greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere. The main contributor to man-caused global warming is carbon dioxide and its atmospheric concentration increases annually at a rate exceeding two parts per million. In the last year, its concentration increased by 2.6 parts per million, the largest ever recorded. The other of our most problematic greenhouse gasses is methane and its atmospheric concentration is increasing at an even more alarming rate. Part of this increase in methane is surely due to our increased exploration and use of natural gas deposits and some of it might be due to increased emissions from frozen forms of methane as our Artic regions continue to warm up.

In refusing to discuss or even mention the downsides of increased fossil fuel use, our elected officials are doing a great disservice to their constituents. They are pretending to not know about these environmental downsides and “cop out” of any discussion of them – it would appear – simply in order to avoid making political enemies within the energy sectors. They know as well as I do that a carbon tax (or carbon fee) should be assigned to all fossil fuel use ASAP, but they do not yet have the courage to do this right thing.

In short, the “all of the above” approach is not solving the great environmental problem of our times. This approach to our energy future is little more than a short term cop out – it will not allow us to have an acceptable longer term future. At the very least our elected officials – who are all certainly intelligent enough to learn and understand the real science behind this problem – should also include the downsides in their upsides-only presentations of “all of the above” energy plans. By not doing this, they are being irresponsible and, in fact, insulting to a public that needs to improve its understanding of all science, both in its schools and even more importantly on its streets ASAP.

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