More Supply or Less Demand?

With the recent spike in gasoline prices, politicians and pundits have begun calling again for energy independence for America. Ethanol refiners continue lobbying Congress for massive subsidies while electric utilities and coal producers promote clean coal and a nuclear renaissance.

Oil executives, complaining that U.S. restrictions have hampered developing new sources of oil, advocate opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. “Energy independence” has morphed into code for “drill it all, dig it all and double it all.” For the present, traditional forms of energy are needed to find the glide path into the terrain of alternative energy sources, yet in the future, the emphasis cannot rest solely on supply.

People of faith recognize the market functions by supply and demand, and now, at least in the near term, some demands appear unsustainable and too costly for the common good. To produce enough ethanol to fill one tank of gas in an SUV takes 450 pounds of corn. To supply all U.S. gasoline through ethanol would require planting 71 percent of American farmland in fuel crops.

In 1950 a single-family car might be parked near a house averaging 1,100 square-feet. But in 2005 probably several cars would stand in driveways of houses averaging 2,340 square-feet, more than double the 1950 size, with fewer occupants and lots more space to heat and cool. Currently, the U.S., with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, uses one-third of the world’s electricity produced annually. With drained wetlands, clear-cut forests and paved-over top soil, the capacity of the planet to carry life is rapidly being exhausted by human habits and lifestyles.

If energy were the coin of the realm, that coin would have two worn sides: first, the problems associated with global warming, and second, the challenges posed by energy security.

Global warming could initiate a new sense of community among all countries, since “everyone lives down stream” of hostile climate change. About 100 million people in the world live one meter above sea level. With increased global warming exacerbated by burning fossil fuels, the melting ice caps would inflict unimaginable flooding on these poor populations, plus introduce diseases previously unknown in temperate regions.

Known world petroleum reserves will last 80 to 100 years, natural gas 70 to 90 years. The geopolitical imperatives to secure control of energy resources mount. Question: was the invasion of Iraq more about weapons of mass destruction or controlling the oil supply? People of faith see a simpler lifestyle and a more intentional use of resources as an essential component of peace-building.

Pope Benedict XVI in his 2008 World Day of Peace message said, “We need to care for the environment: It has been entrusted to men and women to be protected and cultivated with responsible freedom, with the good of all as a constant guiding criterion.” The “good of all” extends to succeeding generations who equally deserve a healthy, and not degraded, earth.

Two approaches make sense. First, mount intense and massive national investment on the scale of the moon race to develop renewables (solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, etc.) and high-tech energy (hydrogen-generated power, fuel cells, nuclear fusion, etc.).

Second, adopt an ethic of “less and local” to address the short term urgency. More oil can be “found” in Detroit by designing more fuel-efficient cars than from ANWR. More electricity can be “generated” from retrofitting homes with better insulation than from another coal-fired plant.

A new energy consciousness begins with numerous personal choices that collectively grow into the political will to change.

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  • pira114

    While I agree that America needs to become less dependant, if not totally independant, on other countries for our energy needs, I have yet to see proof, or even compelling evidence, that global warming exists. Nor have I seen any compelling evidence that any warming is man made. And we all await proof or compelling evidence that such warming, should it exist, would render the planet un-inhabitable. And no one seems to be able to answer the question of whether the current climate is the “optimum” one for our planet.

    And if you assume (as many are) that it’s all true, there doesn’t seem to be any solution that can be had prior to our “expiration date.”

    I have seen evidence to the contrary though. Of course it’s far less touted. Even when it comes from one of the largest former global warming alarmists, NASA. I guess it just isn’t as profitable. Sad.

    Does no one out there remember being told in the early ’90’s that we’d all be “cooking” by the year 2000? Deep pockets are thanking God for the short memories of Americans (and the rest of the world for that matter).

    One thing we all know for sure. Human ego is fairly predictable. WE caused this. WE can fix this.

  • Liz

    Your eloquent and well-informed reply is MUCH appreciated. Thank you!

  • gk

    It is good to put our convenience in context with the average world inhabitant. I need to stop being so relaxed about consumption. I need to realize that I don’t need as much as I think. I do not see global warming as entering into the reality that I, as a middle class American, use energy like it has no end. I think instead of “the current climate” the author means “the current culture” or “the current cultural climate.”

    I think the author is saying that regardless of global warming, it is just straight out energy consumption that we should place emphasis on. (Don’t the last three paragraphs kind of thumb its nose up to global warming?)

  • Dave
  • serviam3

    Indeed. While there can be legitimate prudential differences in the application of the Faith to concrete situations, I find Fr. Rausch’s articles in the socialist realm.

    The fact that we use more energy is irrelevant to being good stewards, unless our use deprived others of its use. The energy is available without “causing” global warming. We can also produce renewable energy through the wind the sun and the sea. We also use that energy to produce things for other countries.

    While I would prefere that we not use as much energy, especially for idle pursuits, the answer is not government action but conversion of heart. Perhaps Fr. Rausch could preach conversion of the heart to Jesus rather than control of the mind by the government.

  • mkochan

    I am going to agreee with you serviam, that the good father’s perspective usually is somewhat to the left — if we are going to put it in political categories. However, how we approach energy issues is one of those things that are negotiable between Catholics, unlike say, abortion or euthanasia. And on such issues I like for this website to present a variety of perspectives.

  • serviam3

    Indeed. I admitted there are legitimate differences in the prudential application of moral principles, though governmental responses to everything are certainly a questionable direction.

    Of equal concern is the allowing of quack science and the environmentalist (read anti-human) agenda into the pages of Catholic Exchange. An illegitimate perspective does not have equal standing with a legitimate one and, therefore, does not deserve to be represented.

  • slbute

    Father, with all due respect, you sound a bit like Paul Erlich who was the doom and gloomer of the seventies.

  • There is an older and simpler theory of climate change, which has not yet been shown to be erroneous.

    Basically, clouds cool the earth, and the sun warms it. Cloud density is a function of the density of space dust through which the earth travels. More solar winds result in less space dust, and so less clouds and warmer temperatures. Less solar winds result in more space dust, and so more clouds and cooler temperatures.

    Oh, and warmer oceans release more CO2, though it takes about 200 years for them to catch up to the rest of the planet. Thus, atmospheric CO2 levels are a function of global temperatures, rather than vice versa.

    I’m all for a clean environment, but not at the expense of human life. If we are pro-life, we realize that the lives of people come first.

  • dorothy761

    I also agree that we should do all we can to conserve energy but… pouring money into companies owned by the rich to make loads of money such as the companies Al Gore is invested in I am totally against! I feel a company can make it on its own if the people want it it will happen. We need drilling opened up and wind energy and clean coal burning technology and cars that get good gas milage. We need all of it so we can show opec that they don’t control us. Most of all states like ca. need mass transit. I am shocked that they have not done this years ago with the smog they have and how they complain about the rest of the country.I read a lot about utilities and the oil and gas industry because i like to invest in the market so I really see both sides and I can tell you I think it’s the politicans fault that we are here today not the oil companies. Cars should have gotten better gas milage long ago. We can’t blame the oil companies they are bringing a service to us. If they found oil on my land I would charge market price. We need mass transit , oil drilling, ethanol [even though its not practical, at least the money stays in America].Who knows if global warming is real maybe but I am very skeptical coming from Al Gore because he has so much to gain that’s why I’m against my tax dollars going in that business. It will do well on its own … prices will drop some but because little exploration is done in America it keeps our prices high!Did you notice that Al Gore did not win my home state and his in the election. We know what he did to Tenn.!

  • Craig

    The fact that the earth revolves around the sun reminds us each day that the Church is infallible on issues of Faith and not science. Jesus did not say to invest in “renewables”. Renewable energy sources provide a very small fraction of our energy needs and even doubling that over five years will not result in measurable improvement. Additionally, the environmental impact of “renewables” has not been discussed. A solar energy farm covers much land that is then unusable for crops or wildlife. A solar farm is like paving the ground. I think Joni Mitchell sang about paving paradise to put up a parking lot. Next gen Joni will sing about the folly of paving paradise with solar cells.

    The fallacy of ethanol based fuel is now being seen in high food prices and food riots in Haiti.

    Remember that it is pagan worship to believe in “Mother Nature” also know as godess Demeter.

    Oh ye of little faith, let your heart not be troubled for God will provide all that is needed. If God wants the earth to warm, it will; if not, it won’t. Get over it already; we are not in control.

  • sciencemom

    Fr Rausch writes:
    “First, mount intense and massive national investment on the scale of the moon race to develop renewables (solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, etc.) and high-tech energy (hydrogen-generated power, fuel cells, nuclear fusion, etc.).”

    I just want to point out that there is no such thing as “hydrogen-generated power”. Hydrogen does not exist in free form in sufficient quantities to simply be collected for fuel. It has to be generated, usually by “cracking” either methane or water. This requires energy input, and the energy we recoup when we burn the hydrogen as fuel will always be *less than* that used to generate the hydrogen. The same applies to fuel cells, of course. There are as yet no nuclear fusion reactors (outside of stars), that produce more energy than they consume or even operate for more than a few minutes. We are looking at at least a 20-year horizon for the first continual operating ones.

    I am surprised that Fr. does not mention the most obvious non-CO2 emitting source of energy, which is nuclear fission. Perhaps he is not aware that it has been used worldwide for 50 years with an excellent safety record. And new designs are even safer.