If we at Peace Magazine ever felt it was our business to cover only peace issues, those days are past. We have stopped distinguishing between peace and environmental issues, since militarism is one of the worst environmental pollutants, and a sizzling planet would inevitably be wracked with conflict. For that matter, the heating up of the earth is related to other environmental issues too, including of course the use of petroleum for energy. Indeed, we have cooperated with Science for Peace in organizing a forum, "Climate Change and the Coming Energy Crisis" at the University of Toronto. We cover it in this issue.
The climate change problem is uppermost in our thoughts, as it may increasingly be for you. The forum participants did not really go toe-to-toe over their differing priorities, so we were left without a consensus at the end about what to expect.
Everyone agreed that it is essential to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible, adopting alternative sources of energy such as wind, solar, geothermal, or biomass (though the biomass is the least favored source). These renewable energy sources can meet basic human needs, but there are political obstacles to their adoption -- especially on the part of the oil business, despite the damage their product does to our atmosphere. The transition is not happening easily.
The problem is this: energy must be expended just to find, extract, and process more energy. As oil extraction diminishes, it will be more expensive and scarce, just when we are building huge numbers of windmills, solar power systems, and geothermal facilities to replace it. The amount of "net energy" differs from one fuel to the next. Indeed, it is possible to run out of oil before we can get these alternative production schemes ready. Some of the pessimistic panelists even worried that the remaining fuel will be insufficient to build the new renewable energy systems. This worried us too.
However, we have since been encouraged by learning a new fact. It is not true, as we had been led to believe, that fossil fuels have vastly higher net energy than renewable sources do. Though indeed the net energy of oil was originally about 100 (i.e. one barrel of oil expended would yield 100 barrels), that ratio has declined. In the US it is only 3 now, and in Saudi Arabia 10. But wind power has a net energy of 20 -- far better than that of oil. So wind will pay its own way as we change to renewable energy.
That's great news. Cheer up, folks. We can make it!