Guest column/Abandoning fossil fuels at this point is simply irrational

Let me just put it plainly: The idea that the United States should abandon fossil fuels anytime soon is irrational.

With all the clamor over global warming, I have been astounded by the notion that an era of ending the use of oil, natural gas and coal is at hand, and the belief that it’s not going to be a big problem. What may have begun as an inquiry into the science of climate change has now devolved into emotional behavior calling for political and economic pressure to get U.S. corporations to withdraw from fossil fuels and shift to renewable energy. This mentality has deep roots extending back to the idea that solar and wind energy are the perfect answer to an emission-free utopia.

We might consider, for starters, the enormous demand for fossil fuels and the impact they’ve had on energy security, job creation and economic growth.

By Department of Energy estimates, fossil fuels today account for about 80 percent of energy production in the United States.

By 2050, DOE projects that number will have dropped only slightly to 76 percent. And therein lies the reality that makes the need for fossil fuels unthreatening good news, especially in Ohio.

The politics of climate action are driven by the proposition that renewables will quickly replace fossil fuels in electricity production and that gasoline cars will soon become a relic of the past, replaced by electrified transportation.

But that is not at all how things are turning out. The transition to solar and wind on the electric grid is costly and difficult, because they’re intermittent energy sources that are not always available when needed, and large-scale electricity storage is still more promise than reality. And there’s also a growing recognition that the transition from combustion vehicles to electric cars and trucks will take longer than anticipated. Today EVs represent only a tiny share of U.S. car sales.

To be sure, the shift to EVs promises much good, since transportation is the largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions in the U.S. The eventual shift to EVs would reduce oil use by several million barrels a day.

Yes, there are too few charging stations and the cost of most models knocks most American car owners out of the picture. But technology can make a difference. The cost of EV batteries, which account for half of the cost of an electric car, has dropped sharply, thanks to improved technology and more efficient production at huge battery factories. But we would be remiss to ignore the importance oil will continue to have for the overall economy. Think about it, countless industries need oil, e.g. jet fuel for aviation, gasoline and diesel for transportation and shipping, oil by-products for medicine and plastics, just to mention a few.

What is striking is the great revival in oil and gas production in the United States due to shale development, with wide impacts on jobs, economic development and the competitiveness of American industry, particularly here in Ohio.

And, despite an environmental moralism that skirts the practical problems of how to meet energy demand, there has been a sizable increase in coal production in Ohio and nationally. Baseload electricity from natural gas, coal and nuclear power generation has been essential in keeping the lights on and assembly lines moving. Without this power, there would have been rolling blackouts across the country from the mid-Atlantic to the Mountain states last winter when demand for electricity rose sharply.

Electricity is not a luxury. The last thing we can afford is electricity shortages. Unfortunately, for those spinning a yarn about a carbon-free energy future, that’s something they would prefer to ignore.

(Chase is professor emeritus at Marietta College.)


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