Metal (Technical)

George Monbiot and the looming energy crisis

A friend attended the talk given by George Monbiot when he was recently in Cape Town. The gist is given in a Mail and Guardian article on the same talk in Jhb (the article’s in a horrible archive format!).

Monbiot had talked about a looming energy crisis, as oil is running out. He mentioned that we would look back on the last 50 years as an opportunity lost to make serious inroads into world poverty, and that humanity would not have access to this sort of cheap energy again. Afterwards, there were a number of questions. One person queried whether oil was relevant, as cars were now moving to hydrogen as a fuel source (the Toyota Prius is even soon to be available in South Africa).

Monbiot apparently answered that “hydrogen as a fuel source takes energy to create. Where’s that energy going to come from? Certainly not oil!” I don’t agree with his conclusion. Governments will not sit by and let energy run dry. There are two realistic options (assuming coal is out – it will last slightly longer than oil, but shares the same fundamental problems): The pessimistic option. Nuclear. In spite of the fact that we can’t safely dispose of the high level waste, I doubt many governments will let that bother them. Besides, it’s a good smokescreen for nuclear weapons. An energy crunch may see a proliferation of nuclear power plants and therefore nuclear weapons. The high road – renewables! The main argument against renewables is cost. They are deemed to be more expensive forms of energy than oil/coal/nuclear. This is nonsense if you remove all government and research subsidies, as well as look at environmental and storage costs. The cost of generating renewable energy has dropped markedly over the last few years, without much in the way of funding. When oil runs out, many governments will swing that way, and I believe we’ll soon see a much greater rollout of renewable energy power stations. It cannot but be cheaper than nuclear, taking into account the costs of disposal (or storage), security etc.

So here’s to my hydrogen-powered car and solar powered house!

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