Energy Policies May Lead to Carbon Crack-Up by 2012

by: Gregor Macdonald

Sometime in the year running up to the Presidential election in 2012, Washington will realize it’s made an enormous mistake. And that mistake is making the ongoing issue of global oil supply subordinate to climate change policy. The result will be neither much improvement in national carbon emissions, nor the addition of enough public transport that allows Americans to reduce their oil consumption. By 2012 I see oil back above 150 a bbl (and also much higher electricity rates), but, no improvement in urban traffic congestion whatsoever. It’s a Green carbon crack-up. Andy Warhol’s Car Accident (in green) sums up the situation pretty well.


We knew this policy was coming. I had conversations with Obama’s energy team last summer. But now that Secretary Chu has taken the helm at Energy, the policy is crystal clear: Oil supply is not the problem – Climate Change is the problem.

It’s a shame they see it this way. My blog previewed the potential in such a strategic mistake back in early January. With so little Stimulus or Budgetary funding devoted to Rail, I foresaw virtually no aggregate change in transport options for average Americans. Other energy bloggers like Dave Cohen have also picked up on the rather arcane and theoretical views that are now forming energy policy. See Cohen’s brilliant double posts, Steven Chu’s Energy Miscalculations and also The Secretary of Synthetic Biology.

What I find most troubling about the attitude now emanating from the Energy Department, is that biofuels – which have now been proven to be a wasted bullet both as a business and an energy solution – are once again being invoked. And invoked often. Both in last week’s Newsweek column, and in public remarks today at the EIA Energy Conference in Washington, Chu repeatedly acknowledges that we have a liquid fuels problem mainly concentrated in the area of transport. But he then, each time, goes on to deceptively degrade this acknowledgment by assigning the solution to the future development of replacement biofuels. Frankly, I regard that as a kind of jack-move. He is moving that which is core out to the periphery, and placing it into the realm of possibility. That simply will not work.

Biofuels are not a replacement for oil. Biofuels can be a supplement, at best, to liquid fuel consumption. They are poor in energy content, and anytime you begin to talk about really scaling them up you are then triggering potentially massive quantities of water, land, natural gas, fertilizer and plain old electricity to produce them. Chu is talking about replacing up to 30% of oil consumption with future biofuels? After biofuels have already failed? That is quackery.

Prepare for Carbon Crack-Up 2012.