Like it or not, the world economy is carbon-based. Believers in Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) theory understand this premise to be the very cause of rising world temperatures. Therefore, the limitation of carbon-based fuel consumption is viewed as the most logical avenue for rectification of the problem.
But, there are some underlying facts of fossil fuel consumption which may have eluded those in the “think tanks” of AGW. And, a curious negligence by many to express the negative consequences of the limitation of fossil fuel “production” has perturbed me for the past several weeks.
Oil and natural gas are the building blocks for the chemicals industry to make the products needed for the manufacture of goods to which societies have become accustomed. Consider that the manufacture of most every item for use in modern societies involves “chemicals and plastics”. The use of paints, adhesives, inks, water treatment products, fertilizers, plastics, etc., and all associated derivatives thereof, are used to manufacture building supplies, electrical and electronic gear(computers, cell phones, wire, circuit boards, etc), roadways, automobiles, medicines and medical supplies, cosmetics and most beauty supplies, clothing, magazines and newspapers, etc. That is to say, the manufacture of just about everything we need or have otherwise become accustomed to in our everyday lives is influenced by chemicals and plastics, which in turn, is reliant on oil and gas as its raw material to produce. Little thought is ever given to the prominence of chemical manufacturing in America; it is mostly taken for granted since a chemicals shortage has never been a real serious issue before. All goods would necessarily be affected if there were a full blown AGW policy implementation.
The recent Obama decision to temporarily ban offshore drilling in depths greater than 500 ft, coupled with the resultant de facto total offshore drilling ban, is an effort by activists within the administration to adopt a forced limitation of fossil fuel production somehow hoping for a corresponding reduction of carbon-based consumption. This move may have the appearance of an AGW achievement, but it is indeed one which will not only increase the price of energy in America, but will, by virtue of a cascading effect, also limit the availability of oil and natural gas feed stocks to the chemicals industry, and all manufactured goods. Given that America’s manufacturing sector is already at risk, this may be a its fatal blow.
The primary concern is the fact is that much offshore drilling activity would move overseas if the ban were allowed to continue. This will limit the supply of oil and gas supply without a corresponding decrease in demand for oil and gas by the energy or chemicals sector, driving raw material prices for chemicals higher. Consider that the US Chemical Industry has the highest production capacity of chemicals in the free world and that these actions may affect the pricing of manufactured goods worldwide if given sufficient time.
It is widely understood in academia that a painful “self denial” by society to wean itself of its dependence on inexpensive and widely available “energy” cannot be achieved by mere education and public awareness campaigns alone. Even though some of the general populace may indeed be “concerned” (well, some are alarmed) about a fragile and endangered environment, there are no reasonable or natural processes to wean mankind from his dependence on carbon– outside of government mandate. This sentiment, coupled with the afore-mentioned public unawareness problem regarding the embedded role of carbon-based chemistry in modern society, may produce quite a surprise for most citizens if a sudden, full bore “forced withdrawal” from our dependence on carbon is implemented. (Obama may be currently testing America with a little nudge, using the de facto drilling ban, in order to gauge the potential effects and sentiments which might result from a larger ban.)
Modern society doesn’t really want to give up all its “stuff”. It’s relatively easy for one to use recycled paper products, adjust the settings on the thermostat, and monitor our gas mileage, but these actions are insufficient to accomplish effective climate stabilization as proposed by the AGW alarmists. MOST folks simply will not (though some do) consider giving up their computers, cell phones, and most all of our cool stuff for the sake of a better environment; giving up our prosperous lifestyles is unimaginable to almost everyone, but it would indeed be quite necessary for AGW policy to be effectual.
A SIDE NOTE: I heard a curious argument recently during a discussion with an AGW proponent who argued that society and technology will “adjust its behavior and ability” through technological advances driven by government dictates, citing the example of the “buggy whip”. His argument was that the buggy whip, which was a once necessary instrument used during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is now basically obsolete because of a lack of demand due to an increase in technology. It’s prominence went from that of a very real necessity to that of a hobby item in a couple of decades. His contention was that demand will likewise shift away from carbon-based products as the world weans itself from its oil dependency. The glaring fallacy of his argument is that automobiles are an “improvement” over the horse and buggy. It was an advancement in prosperity, and not a “sacrifice” made by mankind to ward off a perceived threat that is, so far to most, unconvincing. The case of the vanishing “buggy whip” was indeed facilitated by true and natural market forces. The decline in demand was the result of technological improvement, not the other way around—the technological improvement didn’t result because of the desire to quite using buggy whips. And, it was also not the result of government intervention to force societal compliance to an agenda. And, government intervention into free markets has had a long history of unintended circumstances. (And, if AGW madness continues, we may sadly have to resort to the buggy whip once again.)
A more likely argument should have been that many of the advances made by NASA researchers driven by some of the specific needs of the astronauts in outer-space, became marketable as products usable by the general public in due time. Likewise, there is currently much research to provide effective, not just acceptable, substitutes for standard carbon-based plastics. That said, however, there are currently no known “effective” substitutes for “durable” plastics. Some bio-degradable polymer replacements require “scarce” sources, like bacteria, to produce, and therefore may be very expensive to produce. Also, much bio-resin plastics are made from wheat, potatoes, and other plant products. Unfortunately, the efficient cultivation of plants requires fertilizer, made from ammonia — which is directly made from natural gas by the chemical industry. Thus far, efforts to replace fossil fuel based polymers with plant based, renewable sources are dependent on using the “food supply” as a renewable raw material. Do we really want to potentially cause shortages in the food supply, as was the case in the recent government sponsored ethanol initiative, just to satisfy a perceived need for renewable sources of plastics and fibers? All carbon-based products(plant and animal sources included) when completely combusted or completely degraded form CO2 anyway, so what’s the point of it all?
The current revised drilling ban (re-titled a ‘suspension’) is indeed government intervention driven by AGW ideologists, who have deep seated disdain for fossil fuels, holding the view that fossil fuels are in every way detrimental to mankind. (The AGW activists in the EU are also looking at a similar offshore drilling ban.) AGW activists are seizing the irresistible opportunity afforded by the BP Oil Spill to further their goal to limit fossil fuel production and usage in America with, not only the Obama administration’s drilling ban, but also a sad excuse for a Drilling Commissionempowered by the current president to investigate the tragic and terrible Deepwater Horizon accident. The commission is completely comprised of environmentalists – all with no safety, engineering, industrial, or even business experience, indicating an inevitable ideological resolution, not a practical one. Also, consider that their charter is to also provide policy recommendations to the Obama administration regarding oil and gas exploration in offshore waters.
Therefore, I postulate that the drilling ban initiatives will cause the following cascade effect:
(1) The supply of oil and gas will diminish,
(2) the demand for both energy and “goods” will continue as before ( nobody wants to do without their “stuff”),
(3) raw material prices for chemicals and cost of energy will be driven higher,
(4) the American Chemical Industry will be less competitive in the global market, which could potentially drive production capacity to the Middle and Far East where raw material and labor is abundant and cheap,
(5) giving rise to a loss of American jobs in oil, chemical, and associated support industries,
(6) producing a NEGATIVE GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT- when American chemical companies move production plants overseas in order to stay competitive, most foreign countries do not have tight pollution policy like the US, and,
(7) will ultimately put America in jeopardy by our further dependence on foreign supply, of not only our oil and gas, but more consequentially, of associated chemicals and plastics which are necessary to produce almost all GOODS.
What in the world is the upside to an offshore drilling moratorium? … Safety? Ban BP, not everybody.
Someone tell me how this is good for America…