DailyDirt: Peak Coal And Other Energy-Related Stories

from the urls-we-dig-up dept

Nuclear fusion technologies always seem to be about 30 years away from practicality. Meanwhile, cheap fossil fuels keep getting an extended life span. But it looks like the predictions of Peak Coal may be kicking in again -- though, new mining techniques might still throw a wrench into the estimates. How many times can the "peak oil/coal/etc" folks cry wolf?
  • Coal prices are on the rise -- according to a scientist. So maybe getting a lump of coal in your Christmas stocking isn't such a bad thing. I'm just waiting for "Cash4Coal" infomercials now... [url]
  • Curious to know what Chernobyl looks like now? Take a tour! The Ukraine plans to start selling tickets to see one of the worst nuclear disasters -- so pre-order your tickets now, before they're all gone. [url]
  • Really small lithium batteries could help improve battery designs. If we can understand how anodes degrade, that bunny with the drum will really keep going and going (and we'll be able to store energy more conveniently). [url]
  • Here's what Peak Coal/Oil/Gas looks like in a graph. Remember to revisit this graph in 2030 to see how accurate its predictions were. [url]
  • The European Parliament rejected a fusion financing plan for Iter. Achieving controlled fusion in the 2020's might not happen, but no one is really surprised by the news. [url]


  • Reader Comments (rss)

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    1.  
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      Mike C. (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 4:44pm

      Duracell had a bunny first....

      How soon people forget. I wonder if the ad manager kicks himself everytime an Energizer commercial comes on.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kaF6FxmixJk

      /have one of those toys on my desk

       

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    2.  
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      Michael Ho (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 5:18pm

      Re: Duracell had a bunny first....

      I wonder how effective the Energizer ads were anyway... I assume most people just got confused and didn't remember which battery company was sponsoring the bunny.

       

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    3.  
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      someone (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 6:07pm

      Tour Chernobyl

      What sort of things will they have in their gift shop?

      "I got Lymphoma from reactor No. 4" bumper stickers

      "Make a wig from your own hair" kit for when it all falls out

      "I'm with stupid" radiation suits

       

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    4.  
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      Steven (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 6:08pm

      I had a teacher in college that was convinced we had hit peak oil, had leveled off, and were about to start heading down. This was about 8 years ago. I argued a few times noting that the same prediction had been raised before. I quickly just left that alone so we could get back to the course work.

      I wonder if he's still as convinced.

       

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    5.  
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      davebarnes (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 7:04pm

      The chart is bullshit

      It supposedly shows what the sources of energy will be in the future.
      It presumes that there is a shift away from coal to other sources.
      It has nothing to do with "peak" coal (which is all about supply and not usage).

       

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    6.  
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      Hoeppner, Dec 20th, 2010 @ 7:22pm

      Graph is very inaccurate. While it's been easily arguable that we've been at peak oil for a while, price kept down by recessive like economy.

      It's completely unarguable to say peak coal and oil hit peak at the same time, coal will last at least 10 to 15 longer years than oil for "obvious" peaks.

      If you'll believe the bullcrock that administrations feed themselves on Washington coal will last 450 years longer than oil before peak. Of course a laughable number of flaws.

      The fact of the mater is that all energy production/demand will continue to go up till it can't, ALL forms. Just happens that the more expensive and cleaner forms will increase faster than we've seen in the past.

       

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    7.  
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      Chris in Utah (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 7:45pm

      Speaking of peaks

      Speaking of "peaks". Dont worry about strip mining anymore.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountaintop_removal_mining

       

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    8.  
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      Suzanne Lainson (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 7:59pm

      Best article I have read on peak oil

      The Oil Drum | Does Peak Oil Even Matter?: "If we are to consider NGLs and other unconventional resources of oil as substitutes for oil, than we should also consider conventional oil a substitute for whale oil. After all, whale oil and the oil sands are both chemically similar to crude oil, and crude oil production offset the decline in whale oil production due to depletion of whales just like NGLs and unconventional oil may offset the decline in crude oil production due to the depletion of conventional crude. Thus, by this transitive property of economics, we are really still waiting for a peak in whale oil production!"

       

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    9.  
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      TDR, Dec 20th, 2010 @ 8:26pm

      I'd be interested in hearing an explanation for how a planet with finite resources can supply indefinitely for a paradigm based on infinite growth.

       

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    10.  
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      Hephaestus (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 8:37pm

      The chart is way off ...

      I have seen a similar chart but from 2004. The thing it doesn't take into account is the cost of the fuel we burn. As the price rises on fossil fuels, greener technologies will come into play. There are already technologies that are cost effective against fossil fuels that trend will continue. Eventually energy will not be the commodity, energy production and storage will. It will end up being produced and stored locally.

       

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    11.  
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      Suzanne Lainson (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 8:42pm

      Re:

      I'd be interested in hearing an explanation for how a planet with finite resources can supply indefinitely for a paradigm based on infinite growth.

      The Oil Drum | Does Peak Oil Even Matter?: "In sum, although it is technically feasible to increase the production of 'oil,' peak conventional oil, as it was first envisioned by Hubbert in 1956, has manifested itself almost exactly as predicted.[7] As Campbell described, peak oil will bring about short bouts of economic growth and contraction as oil demand and prices play tug-of-war, creating what has been referred to as an undulating plateau.[8] We seem to be experiencing these economic conditions right now. So the question is no longer 'when will peak oil occur,' but 'how long will the effects of peak oil last?'"

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    12.  
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      Suzanne Lainson (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 9:14pm

      Re: The chart is way off ...

      Sooner or later we will begin using more clean tech. The issue will be how smooth the transition. Whenever the price of fossil fuels drops, there becomes less sense of urgency in investing in clean tech. Then when the price of fossil fuel jumps again, we don't have the infrastructure to quickly replace fossil fuels with comparably priced clean technology. Paying for expensive oil tends to create recessions, which result in even less money available to make the transition to clean tech.

      Luckily the Chinese do have the financial resources and inclination to develop clean tech, even if there's no short term payoff. When the US is ready to move into solar, wind, and electric vehicles in a big way, the Chinese will waiting for us. Just as Japan developed the small car market while Detroit continued to make big vehicles, the Chinese are moving into clean tech while we're still tied to old energy models.

       

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    13.  
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      Christopher (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 11:47pm

      Controlled fusion is going to be a pipe dream for quite a while into the future, to be honest.

      Maybe by the time I am ready to kick the old bucket, they will have it 60 years in the future.... not until then.

       

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    14.  
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      Christopher (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 11:55pm

      Re: Re: The chart is way off ...

      The fact is that right now, clean tech cannot produce all the energy that is needed for the things that people want to do in America.

      If we wanted to go to all 'clean energy' right now, with the methods available (including nuclear power, which IS a clean technology when you take into account that 'spent' waste can be reused in another reactor of a different design for multiple periods)..... we would have to cut back on a lot of the things that make life worth living today.

      No TV's, no computers, no radios, no refrigerators, no etc.

      Until then, we have to realize that coal and oil are going to be our major sources of power (which the latter is apparently renewable, judging by them going back to old, tapped out oil fields and finding that they have refilled a substantial amount with the old techniques that were first used on it), and move on to making those technologies cleaner.

      CO2? Not worried about it, we are already past the concentration of CO2 that acts as a 'thermal blanket' to the planet. Pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere will NOT make the world heat more, because at any higher concentration, it doesn't have more of a thermal blanket effect.

       

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    15.  
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      Suzanne Lainson (profile), Dec 21st, 2010 @ 12:42am

      Re: Re: Re: The chart is way off ...

      That's kind of the dilemma. We can't fully make the switch to clean tech right now because we don't have all the pieces in place. But we don't have the motivation to get them in place as long as fossil fuels are affordable. So we need to have the situation get worse before it will get better.

      We've known since 1973 that we didn't have full control over oil prices. But rather than finding ways to wean ourselves off of oil, we've just imported more of it. We don't have to wait until it gets really painful, but we will.

      We've had a bit of a taste for it lately. When the economy goes down, we cut back on consumption. If the economy gets worse, so much the better for the environment because we won't have the money to drive or fly as much.

       

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    16.  
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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2010 @ 6:16am

      I was a great Linux fan.

      For years Linux was on the verge of taking over the desktop in 1 or 2 years but never actually accomplishing that goal.

      For years I posted articles on how a desk top take over could be accomplished with negative results.

      I did learn something though. It is people can be irrational a lot longer than I can financially afford to oppose their irrationality.

      Besides Linux this psychology applies to energy, global warming, coal, nuclear, and other mass historical psychologies.

      Now I do not even try to express a counter valuing opinion I simply observe the idiocy and bet against it in the market.

      Doubled my money last year.

      All I can now say is thanks for psychlogical financial bubbles. They are most profitable.

       

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    17.  
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      Dark Helmet (profile), Dec 21st, 2010 @ 6:17am

      Re: Tour Chernobyl

      "I am a nuclear technician. If you see me running, try to catch up..."

       

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    18.  
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      Killer_Tofu (profile), Dec 21st, 2010 @ 7:52am

      Tour of Chernobyl

      From awhile back. Girl on a motorcycle road through and took pictures and stuff. Interesting read.

      http://www.kiddofspeed.com/chernobyl-revisited/

       

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    19.  
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      pringerX (profile), Dec 21st, 2010 @ 8:49am

      I'm more interested in the battery technology. If we can figure out why Li ion batteries crap out the way they do, that could lead some really awesome stuff. A lot of potentially useful cordless technology is limited by the relatively low energy densities of batteries.

      On the other hand, these researchers might discover there is an insurmountable barrier to increasing energy densities once they get to the bottom of things.

       

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    20.  
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      Gene Cavanaugh, Dec 21st, 2010 @ 9:52am

      Peak fossil fuels

      So if a comment from the past (from whom, or do we even care?) is wrong, then the fossil fuel supply is infinite, right?
      And the fact that the climate is changing, and that nearly irrefutable evidence shows that when the present levels of carbon dioxide existed, dramatic changes were created, really isn't happening?
      Get real.

       

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    21.  
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      Suzanne Lainson (profile), Dec 21st, 2010 @ 11:12am

      Energy and the Decline of the US

      One of the big economic advantages for the US in the 20th century was oil. But we've used up our cheap resources (there was no thought to conserving it); we started importing it; we want to pump out what is left here; and China, not the US, is taking the lead in clean tech.

      How America will collapse (by 2025) - U.S. Economy - Salon.com: "Despite remarkable ingenuity, the major oil powers are now draining the big basins of petroleum reserves that are amenable to easy, cheap extraction. The real lesson of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was not BP's sloppy safety standards, but the simple fact everyone saw on 'spillcam': one of the corporate energy giants had little choice but to search for what Klare calls 'tough oil' miles beneath the surface of the ocean to keep its profits up."

       

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    22.  
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      Suzanne Lainson (profile), Dec 21st, 2010 @ 11:25am

      Re: Energy and the Decline of the US

      Think of it this way. If we hadn't hit peak oil in the US already, would we really be dealing with other oil-producing countries that hate us? If oil can continue to come from the same sources we've already used, why are we importing oil and dealing with the political and economic ramifications that come with doing so?

       

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    23.  
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      Andrew D. Todd, Dec 21st, 2010 @ 12:06pm

      Kid of Speed, Relative Prices of Coal.

      Kid of Speed is apparently something of a hoax. She seems to have taken pictures during a guided tour

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elena_Filatova

      Now, about coal, the thing you have understand about it is that the value of coal is very low. Here are some very approximate figures, which are subject to change.

      Coal royalties, per ton: about $1
      Cost of mining, ditto, Powder River Basin, $5-10
      Cost of shipping, by rail, to the Midwest or Texas, ditto: $20-30
      (the railroad runs on oil, not on coal or electricity)

      Subtotal, per ton: $25-40

      Value as wholesale electricty,
      (PRB coal at 8,500 btu/lb, 17 Mbtu/ton,
      combusted at 35% efficiency, yields 1700 KwH @ 3cent/KwH): $51

      Value as retail electricity, @ 8 cent/KwH, at the meter: $136

      The actual mining, and the scarcity value of the coal, is a fairly minor component of the electricity's total cost. Something like a geothermal heat pump, or a solar water heater, makes financial sense mostly because it economizes on the electric utility's plant, eliminating the need to build new generators and new power lines and so forth, not so much because it saves fuel.

      Cost of an equivalent quantity of oil, with the same heat value
      (@20,000 btu/lb, or 120,000 btu/gal, 3.37 barrels @ $70/bbl) $236.
      or of gasoline (142 gal, @ $3/gal) $480

      Cost to deliver 1700 KhH to a drive shaft,
      assuming a gasoline engine of no more than 25% efficiency: $2000

      ------------------------------------------------------------------------
      http://en.wikiped ia.org/wiki/Powder_River_Basin

      See also, Richard C. Dorf, _Energy, Resources, and Society_, 1978

       

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    24.  
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      Suzanne Lainson (profile), Dec 21st, 2010 @ 12:46pm

      Re: Kid of Speed, Relative Prices of Coal.

      The actual mining, and the scarcity value of the coal, is a fairly minor component of the electricity's total cost. Something like a geothermal heat pump, or a solar water heater, makes financial sense mostly because it economizes on the electric utility's plant, eliminating the need to build new generators and new power lines and so forth, not so much because it saves fuel.

      What is kind of crazy, given these economics, is the coal industry lobbying for clean coal technology usage and investment. Rather than trying to phase out coal altogether, they want to find ways to continue to use it.

       

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    25.  
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      Andrew D. Todd, Dec 21st, 2010 @ 12:46pm

      RE: Kid of Speed, Relative Prices of Coal.

      Correction, error on my part, the last figure,

      Cost to deliver 1700 KhH to a drive shaft,
      assuming a gasoline engine of no more than 25% efficiency

      should be : $672

       

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    26.  
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      TDR, Dec 21st, 2010 @ 12:51pm

      The Oil Drum | Does Peak Oil Even Matter?: "In sum, although it is technically feasible to increase the production of 'oil,' peak conventional oil, as it was first envisioned by Hubbert in 1956, has manifested itself almost exactly as predicted.[7] As Campbell described, peak oil will bring about short bouts of economic growth and contraction as oil demand and prices play tug-of-war, creating what has been referred to as an undulating plateau.[8] We seem to be experiencing these economic conditions right now. So the question is no longer 'when will peak oil occur,' but 'how long will the effects of peak oil last?'"

      Interesting that the quote doesn't mention that often that graph tends to end with a final and irrevocable downward plunge from which there is no upward spike.

       

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    27.  
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      Andrew D. Todd, Dec 21st, 2010 @ 1:04pm

      Re: Re: Kid of Speed, Relative Prices of Coal. (To: Suzanne Lainson )

      Well, what is happening is that the electric utilities are transitioning from coal to natural gas. Gas has gotten a good bit cheaper, recently, due to directional drilling. New gas fields have opened up, such as the Marcellus Shale Formations in Pennsylvania, and while this gas still costs a lot more than coal, on a per-btu basis, a gas-powered generator is cheaper and easier to build than a coal-powered generator (think NIMBY). This is important for peaking load, eg. a summer afternoon with all the air conditioners going full blast, all the way from New York to Iowa. Cheaper natural gas shifts the balance point, vis-a-vis coal.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcellus_Formation

       

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    28.  
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      Suzanne Lainson (profile), Dec 21st, 2010 @ 1:16pm

      Re: Re: Re: Kid of Speed, Relative Prices of Coal. (To: Suzanne Lainson )

      Utilities are transitioning to gas in large part because of environmental issues. They have been told to clean up their acts. The coal industry, on the other hand, is lobbying hard to have utilities use clean coal technology. I'm not sure utilities would switch from coal to gas without some government and/or citizen pushes. One of the big problems in the past with gas was the unpredictability of pricing, which utilities don't like.

       

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    29.  
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      Suzanne Lainson (profile), Dec 21st, 2010 @ 1:34pm

      Re: Re: Re: Re: Kid of Speed, Relative Prices of Coal. (To: Suzanne Lainson )

      Here's an example of how changing environmental regulations have "encouraged" utilities to switch to gas. Otherwise they likely would have continued to burn coal.

      Utilities Shift to Gas-Based Plants as Alternative to Coal - NYTimes.com: "“It’s a turning point,” said Bill Johnson, chairman and chief executive of Progress Energy, the parent company. “We’ve been a coal-based generator for decades, and until a few years ago, we thought we would remain largely coal-based and nuclear until people started talking about carbon regulation. We decided we had to do something about it.”"

       

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    30.  
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      Migzy, Dec 21st, 2010 @ 4:33pm

      Re: Re: Re: The chart is way off ...

      Umm, actually it can. Unless you are assuming that no more clean tech infrastructure was built and that we go off just what we have now. We could build enough solar, wind, geothermal, and grudgingly nuclear power plants to do everything we need to do, we just need our political leaders to strive for this goal. Instead of just stirring up the masses to gain petty political points.

      And there are ways right out of sci-fi that could provide us with lots of energy. For one a solar satellite or group of satellites that converts the non-stop solar energy from space into some type of focused beam towards a giant collector dish on earth that converts it to usable electricity. We have the technology to do this, albeit it would take significant resources(ie. people, brainpower, $$$) and we would have to show that we are not building a giant weapon in space(a collaborative effort between the major nations - china, russia, US, europe, india, etc perhaps would do the trick)

       

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    31.  
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      Suzanne Lainson (profile), Dec 21st, 2010 @ 5:00pm

      Re: Re: Re: Re: The chart is way off ...

      Given that Techdirt often criticizes industries reluctant to change, it's surprisingly that we aren't getting a steady stream of articles here pointing out that between politics and big energy lobbies, the US isn't making significant strides in clean tech. China, however, is.

      Here are just a few articles, for those of you who haven't seen them yet.

      Silicon Valley’s Solar Innovators Forced to Retool - NYTimes.com
      Federal Money for Alternative Energy Is Drying Up - NYTimes.com
      China Wins in Wind Power, by Its Own Rules - NYTimes.com
      China’s Push Into Wind Worries U.S. Industry - NYTimes.com

       

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    32.  
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      Dave Kimble, Dec 21st, 2010 @ 10:19pm

      Re: The chart is bullshit

      It also shows 10% of energy coming from "others" in 2008, when in fact it was less than 1%.

      This is typical greenwash, dressing up an artists impression to look like a statistical chart.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    33.  
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      TDR, Dec 24th, 2010 @ 9:46am

      One other thing to consider is that it takes energy to extract energy, but if you're gaining less energy than you're using to extract it, it's a net loss, not a net gain. And a lot of the tech currently used to power alternative energy sources still runs on oil. And one has to remember that any new energy collection mechanism is useless if it can't be implemented on an equal scale as oil before oil truly collapses and modern society collapses along with it. Just some thoughts, that's all.

       

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