Iceland Leads the Way

Iceland is the only country in the world that obtains 100% of its electricity and heat from renewable sources:

  • 87% of its electricity comes from hydro-power.
  • The remaining 13% comes from geothermal power.
  • Oil-powered fossil fuel power stations are only used as backups to the renewable sources.

Almost 100% of Iceland’s space heating and water heating is obtained from geothermal sources. This is partly because Iceland is a highly volcanic island with 26 high temperature geothermal fields, and over 250 low temperature areas, and has over 600 natural hot springs. Can we do it too? If so, what’s taking us so long?

The Need for Renewables

Climate changepollution, and energy insecurity are increasingly being understood as significant problems. To address them requires major changes to energy infrastructures and current business models.

Renewable energy technologies contribute to world energy security, reduce dependency on fossil fuels, and provide opportunities for mitigating climate-disrupting greenhouse gases produced by fossil fuels.

The Inevitability of Renewable Energy

International public opinion surveys show overwhelming support for energy solutions including promoting renewable sources such as solar power and wind power, requiring utilities to use more renewable energy, and providing tax incentives to encourage the development and use of such technologies. For example, a 2010 survey conducted by Applied Materials shows that:

  • Two-thirds of Americans believe solar technology should play a greater role in meeting the country’s energy needs.
  • Three-quarters of Americans feel that increasing renewable energy and decreasing U.S. dependence on foreign oil are the country’s top energy priorities.
  • 67% of Americans would be willing to pay more for their monthly utility bill if their utility company increased its use of renewable energy”.

A 2010 Chicago Council on Global Affairs public opinion survey found:

  • 91% believed “investing in renewable energy” is important for the United States to remain economically competitive with other countries.
  • 62% consider this very important.
  • 80% support tax incentives to encourage renewable energy development specifically as a way to reduce foreign energy imports. Eight in ten ( percent) favored tax incentives.
  • 47% strongly support tax incentives.
  • Only 17% were opposed.

The “Drill Baby Drill” Canard

Yet, the American political circus gives the appearance that more investment in dirty fossil fuels is the most favored energy strategy, and that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is an economic enemy. Bashing the EPA became a Republican theme in the 2012 election cycle. Why is this?

Follow the Money

Koch Industries (pronounced “coke”) is by now well exposed as one of the largest financiers of the political right, and a major force behind the plutocratic candidacy of Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election. The company is been described by Hoovers as “one of the largest (if not the largest)” privately owned company in the United States.  Their combined wealth is the fourth highest in the nation, with operations in 45 states. Charles and David Koch tied for fourth most wealthy person in the U.S. in 2011, according to the 2011 Forbes 400. According to the Center for American Progress, “their combined wealth of $50 billion is exceeded only by the Microsoft founder’s $59 billion fortune. Buoyed by aggressive speculative trading on volatile energy markets, the Koch brothers accumulated $15 billion in wealth since March 2010, a 43% increase, as seen in the chart above.

Koch Industries owns a diverse group of companies involved in refining and chemicals; process and pollution control equipment and technologies; minerals; fertilizers; polymers and fibers; commodity trading and services; forest and consumer products; and ranching.”The company was started in 1927 by Fred Koch, an early member of the ultra conservative John Birch Society, and is led by Charles Koch and David Koch, two of the most influential financiers of anti-regulation and right-wing ideology in the US.

According to Source Watch, Koch Industries subsidiary operations include, among others: 

  •  Koch Carbon, which trades and transports petroleum coke, coal, cement, pulp and paper, sulfur and other commodities;
  • The Koch Exploration Company which acquires, develops and trades petroleum and natural gas properties in the United States, Canada and Brazil;
  • Flint Hills Resources, which operates crude oil refineries in Alaska, Minnesota, and Texas, ethanol plants in Iowa and petrochemical plants in Illinois, Michigan and Texas.
  • The Koch Pipeline Company, which owns and operates approximately 4,000 miles of pipelines used to transport crude oil, refined petroleum products, natural gas liquids and chemicals;
  • The Koch Alaska Pipeline Company owns an approximate 3% interest in the Trans Alaska Pipeline System.
  • Koch has a 28% interest in the Colonial Pipeline Company which it describes as the “owner and operator of the world’s largest-volume refined products pipeline.”
  • The Koch Supply & Trading companies “provide risk management services in crude oil; refined petroleum products; natural gas and gas liquids; gas, power and emissions; industrial metals; and other commodities and financial instruments.
  • It operates an 80,000 barrel-per-day refinery in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
  •  Koch Fertilizer is, according to Koch’s website, the world’s “third-largest maker of nitrogen fertilizer.
  • Georgia-Pacific, which has approximately 300 manufacturing facilities across North America, South America and Europe, manufacturing pulp, paper and tissue operations, as well as gypsum plants, box plants and building products operations.

In 2010, Koch Industries was named one of the United States’ top 10 air polluters in a study released by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute. The following video shows some of the devastating health results of the kind of political clout that has created an unhealthy fossil fuel dependent culture.

What The Future Of Energy Can Be

According to Clean Edge, the future of energy will inevitably be cleaner, and the transition from carbon-intensive energy sources to natural gas and renewables is already well under way.

Citing the Fukushima nuclear disaster, environmental activists at the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference urged bolder steps to tap renewable energy so the world doesn’t have to choose between the dangers of nuclear power and the ravages of climate change.

Natural disasters, like the recent storm Sandy that wreaked havoc in the Northeastern United States have already begun to overcome the effects of a corporate funded anti climate science propaganda effort. The need for renewable energy sources is becoming impossible to ignore.

Case In Point: Hemp Oil

Henry Ford knew that hemp could produce vast economic resources if widely cultivated

Henry Ford’s first Model T was built to run on hemp gasoline. The car, “grown from the soil” also had hemp plastic panels whose impact strength was 10 time stronger than steel, according to Popular Mechanics in 1941.

Rudolf Diesel, inventor of the diesel engine, designed it to run on vegetable and seed oils like hemp, and ran it on peanut oil for the 1900 World’s Fair.

Instead of bringing the extremely dirty tar sands down from Canada through the Keystone XL pipeline, can you imagine how much safer it would be to expand the use of such natural, renewable energies as seed oils? Hemp produces up to four times more cellulose per acre than trees, and grows more quickly and plentifully, so shortages are unlikely. Growing and harvesting it has much less environmental impact than producing oil.

Hemp fuel is biodegradable, so oil spills become fertilizer rather than ecological disasters. It does not contribute to sulfur dioxide air pollution, and greatly reduces emissions such as carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons.

Growing hemp would be a tremendous boon for American farmers, instead of the oil barons who corrupt our politics, and gave us such terrible politicians as George W. Bush.

In 1925, Henry Ford told the New York Times that ethyl alcohol was “the fuel of the future”. He said:

The fuel of the future is going to come from fruit like that sumach out by the road, or from apples, weeds, sawdust — almost anything. There is fuel in every bit of vegetable matter that can be fermented. There’s enough alcohol in one year’s yield of an acre of potatoes to drive the machinery necessary to cultivate the fields for a hundred years.

Ethanol has been known as a fuel for many decades, and Henry Ford’s expectation was that ethanol, made from renewable biological materials, would be a major automobile fuel. Instead, in the early 20th century, gasoline emerged as the dominant transportation fuel. Why?

  • The ease of operation of gasoline engines with the materials then available for engine construction.
  • A growing supply of cheaper petroleum from oil field discoveries.
  • Intense lobbying by petroleum companies for the federal government to maintain steep alcohol taxes.

Many bills proposing an energy program that would made use of America’s vast agricultural resources for fuel production were scuttled by smear campaigns launched by vested petroleum interests, including claims that the government’s plans “robbed taxpayers to make farmers rich.” Does that kind of rhetoric sound oddly familiar? It’s the same kind of smears that Koch and Exxon Mobile funded organizations like the Hartland Institute have used to misrepresent responsible climate science as some kind of liberal world government conspiracy.

Since state referendums in the 2012 elections were passed to make the use of medical and recreational marijuana legal, why does the use of hemp for fuel still languish? Why has the scientific truth of global climate change been denied by political forces like the Hartland Institute that wield an ax over Republican politicians and legislation related to climate science been dropped from the Democrats’ political agenda? Why have such minor failures as Solyndra – (representing just 11.5% of the government’s investment in renewable energy companies) been sensationalized by political factions?

The answer is clear: follow the money.

A New Economic Reality Is Emerging

A sustainable energy economy requires commitments both to renewable energy sources and energy efficiency, said by The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy to be the twin pillars of sustainable energy policy that must be developed to stabilize and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. This new economic reality is clearly emerging.

Investment capital flowing into renewable energy reached a record US$77 billion in 2007, and, while the OECD still dominates, there is increasing activity from companies in China, India and Brazil. Chinese companies were the second largest recipient of venture capital in 2006 after the United States, while India was the largest net buyer of companies abroad, mainly in established European markets.

New government spending, regulation, and policies helped the industry weather the 2009 economic crisis better than many other sectors, and President Barach Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included more than $70 billion in direct spending and tax credits for clean energy and associated transportation programs, the largest federal commitment in U.S. history for renewables, advanced transportation, and energy conservation initiatives. Based on these new rules, many more utilities strengthened their clean-energy programs.Clean Edge suggests that the commercialization of clean energy will help countries around the world deal with the current economic malaise.

In his January 24, 2012 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama restated his commitment to renewable energy saying he “will not walk away from the promise of clean energy,” and calling for a commitment by the Defense Department to purchase 1,000 MW of renewable energy in addition to  the Interior Department’s commitment to permit 10,000 MW of renewable energy projects on public land in 2012.

The 2012 presidential elections, which were a clear a repudiation of extremist factions like the Tea Party show the inexorable emergence of a more informed consensus. Despite the influence of vested economic interests, basic economic factors indicate that this sea change will continue. As fossil fuels that are harmful to human health and the environment become less sustainable over time, and investments in renewable energy sources will continue to grow.  The admonition to “follow the money” will eventually give way to a new economic reality.