Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Great Plains Energy Expo 2010, Day 1

Today marks the end of Senator Dorgan's Great Plains Energy Expo & Showcase, and in the Herald we got a taste from two of the main speakers from the first day - Clarence Cazalot Jr. (president/CEO of Marathon Oil) and Arun Majumdar (director of the DOE Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy).

Both Cazalot and Majumdar said about the best you could reasonably expect considering the venue and the mindless state energy mantra of "all of the above". Both hit on how we need to shift away from fossil fuels, find ways to use energy more efficiently and less of it, and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Of course we got reminded also how addicted we are to fossil fuels (not surprising coming from the head of a by-definition dirty fossil fuel company, though in that category Marathon is about as good as it gets) and how we need technological breakthroughs in energy (not surprising coming from someone who is basically tasked with shepherding them).

Granted I cannot say exactly what else there is at the Expo, but that at least shows it is not all "drill, baby, drill", coal-hugging, salivating over oil sands, and ignorance to denial of climate science. There is something to cheer in what Cazalot and Majumdar said, but that is not enough to shield it (or at least between the lines) from any criticism.

My concern over what Majumdar says is that it could re-enforce a vague mindset of some techno-magic that will save us if we throw a little bit of money into research. We certainly need to innovate and invent, but that does not replace mitigation efforts, which we should be undertaking now. We are not in some movie where just when we see and widely understand how bad things have gotten some scientist will walk out of the lab with a new solution that immediately reverses all the damage and returns things to "normal". The longer we basically do nothing the more very long-term damage we are doing and the more we redefine "normal" away from what we have known.

Again, obviously Cazalot is going to sing some praises of oil and gas, but saying we need a "environmentally sustainable energy future" is definitely appreciated. Yet, especially if one is thinking some techno-fix will do the hard part, it is easy for many to not want to think of weaning from fossil fuels. Besides the climate issues associated with fossil fuel usage though, there are simple supply issues that preclude indefinite dependence on fossil carbon for energy.

I am going to continue to rip on fossil fuels, but I do understand that like Cazalot says we cannot just wake up one morning and be transitioned away from them. Coal power plants and oil-fueled internal combustion engine transportation will not simple be gone one day. I understand and accept that. However, that is precisely a key reason why we need to be pushing the envelope on the transition to clean energy. That cancer treatment would take a while is not a reason to delay it. That should compel to take action aggressively as soon as possible since the problem is only going to grow the longer the wait.

Our decades of established infrastructure tell us coal, oil, and gas are here for now. Fossil fuels do not need cheerleaders. We need cheerleading, meaning energy policy and actions, geared toward the shift to clean energy.

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