The official spouse of your dear columnist has asked that I address other policy issues other than oil pricing… “Fine!” I said, a little petulantly. Being a lay economist (and just a nerd in general) the market moves on a daily basis are like my “Squirrel!”
Here’s the thing… I am NOT, as you might believe, a person who blindly supports the oil and gas industry to the exclusion of all other forms energy production. I am also not, in any way, a climate change denier. In fact, I roll my eyes just as often as my colleagues from more “liberal” confines in the Northeastern United States whenever I hear someone attempt to argue against climate change, or claims that the science is not yet in because there is not a universal accord. When you can get 98% scientists to agree about anything, believe me, the science is IN. I think that 2% of research physicians are still skeptical that cigarettes cause lung cancer… it doesn’t mean I’m heading down the street to buy a pack of smokes.
Rather, I think that we have just achieved a point in society where extremism has become the norm. You are either for climate change and against oil, or you are against climate change and some type of heathen. People like me – devoted centrists – are most often simply shouted into submission. I like to think of myself as “nuanced”… That’s probably generous.
The foundation for my support of the oil and gas industry is that, quite simply, it’s the best we’ve got with the current technology and infrastructure in place. Solar, wind, geothermal… these are all FANTASTIC… but they are presently insufficient to power the needs of our ever-expanding population. The only realistic present alternative is coal. I think that we can all, environmentalists and big oil execs alike, agree that coal is the worse option. Burning coal is not anywhere nearly as efficient in producing energy as petrochemical products. It creates more particulate matter that is expelled into the atmosphere. The ash leftover is highly toxic and must be stored somewhere. Getting to coal beds requires the literal destruction of some of the most beautiful countryside on this planet.
Oil, meanwhile, produces a host of positives. Oil products are used to produce everything from the keyboard I’m typing on to the gloves a surgeon will use this afternoon to save someone’s life. The allergy medicine that makes life bearable for people like me is encapsulated in the stuff. Gas-fired powerplants burn much cleaner than their coal burning counterparts, and are ready-made hosts for carbon capture projects, if we ever garner the political will to actually try them out.
If someone REALLY wants to see clean energy in our lifetime, the real bet is nuclear… the strides being made toward nuclear fusion – which creates lower levels of less toxic by-products than fission reactors – could easily power us into the next century with relatively little environmental impact. The next time someone complains of Big Oil, though, try that argument on them and watch their head explode.