Last month, on February 25th, I had the pleasure of listening to an extraordinary presentation by Mr. Claiborne Deming, former president and CEO of Murphy Oil Company in El Dorado, on the subject of climate change. While there are those who think climate change, also known as global warming, is fiction, Mr. Deming made a powerful and persuasive argument that we are experiencing that phenomenon by our increased use of fossil fuels due to a variety of factors, not the least of which are population growth and increased wealth. While he presented a vast amount of research data to back up his thesis, I came away with the following basic understanding of his message, but please go to http://clintonschool.uasys.edu and click on Distinguished Speakers to watch a video of his full presentation and judge for yourself.
1. There is a relatively finite amount of total energy output world-wide of 400 quadrillion BTUs that will remain relatively constant for the next twenty years.
2. Wealthier people consume more energy per capita than less wealthy people.
3. As a result of #2 above, we in the United States consume 25% of that total output, even though we only have 5% of the world population.
4. The world temperature is on an upward trend thought to be caused by the increased use of fossil fuels.
5. The emerging nations of China, India, Indonesia and Brazil are increasing in both population and wealth much faster than we are and, therefore, will be consuming not only more energy per capita but a greater share of that total energy output in the future.
6. Because of their relatively low cost and abundant supply, fossil fuels, principally coal which emits some of the highest levels of carbon dioxide, will remain the primary source of energy for these nations in the foreseeable future which will only exacerbate the climate change problem.
7. We must find affordable alternatives to fill that gap between that total available energy and the ever increasing demand that is rapidly shifting that finite supply to other nations.
In regard to Mr. Deming's conclusions as to how we as individuals and collectively as a nation address what he terms as a huge "dilemma", I understood them to be:
1. Practice conservation.
2. Increase efficiency.
3. Pursue renewable resources like wind and solar.
4. Make more use of our immense natural gas supplies.
5. Build more nuclear power plants.
The fact that of the 53 nuclear power plants currently under construction in the world today none are being built in the United States is astounding but not surprising to me. No doubt that extended hiatus is related to the regulatory obstacles and fear that have stifled such development since the Three Mile Island incident thirty-one years ago yesterday on March 28, 1979, the history of which you can read in great detail at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/3mile-isle.html. France, where 85% of its power generation is nuclear, figured this out decades ago. Additionally, I feel we must also rely on brand new technologies like the Bloom Box which was profiled in a "60 Minutes" story on February 21st, and has been written up in the New York Times, the Los Angeles and many other publications including our own Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, to help solve this problem. Wal-Mart, Bank of America, Federal Express and Google all now use it as a power source, so it is obviously a creditable technology that is fascinating to read about at http://bloomenergy.com. And, finally, we must definitely examine the total disconnect in public policy that apparently allows new coal-fired power plants to be built when those being fueled by natural gas, a cleaner energy source also found in abundant supply in this country, are currently operating at 50% capacity nation-wide and one in southern Arkansas at only 24% (Mr. Deming's statistics), in my view.
NOTE: "Down to the Wire: Climate Policy Alternatives" will be the subject of another timely presentation on climate change at the Clinton School of Public Policy at 6:00 pm Wednesday evening, March 31st.