WITH today’s Earth Day observance, we reach the second-best time to talk about how this planet is going to break its fossil fuel habit. The best time was 50 years ago, when OPEC started squeezing the West on oil prices.
But unless we can get our hands on a flux capacitor-equipped DeLorean, “now” will have to do.
Earth Day serves as an annual reminder that, environmentalism isn’t about saving the planet — the planet doesn’t need saving.
This rock will continue spinning around. It will continue traveling around the star at the center of our solar system.
We’re not destroying the Earth. We’re destroying the characteristics about this planet that allow us to continue living on it. If you breathe air, drink water or eat food, environmentalism is self-interest.
But if that isn’t enough, there’s also gas prices.
Remember 2020, when it cost us about half as much to fill our tanks as it will in a couple of weeks? More importantly, do you remember why it cost us about half as much to fill our tanks as it soon will.
It was because a global pandemic chased us into our homes. Most of us weren’t driving anywhere. Gasoline demand cratered more quickly than oil producers could respond by cutting production.
Oil prices — and, consequently, gas prices — collapsed.
Now that demand has rebounded, the per-gallon price is back up, although excessive profit-taking also was a factor. The summer travel season, which traditionally means higher demand — and increased gas prices — is upon us.
We can’t drill our way out of this. The OPEC+ group of oil suppliers announced a few weeks ago that it plans to cut production, which will exacerbate the seasonal price adjustment.
OPEC’s action signals that oil suppliers will use their production capacity to manipulate the market as long as they have that power.
True energy independence will come only from ending our dependence on fossil fuels.
And if this is a state of the ecosystem address, there is good news to be had.
We are decreasing our use of oil, gas and coal, and increasing renewable energy sources for generating electricity.
Statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration indicate that domestic energy suppliers generated 4,243 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2013 Of that total, about 2,745 billion kWh (67.5%) came from fossil fuels, with coal (1,581 billion, 39%) leading the way.
Renewables made up about 12.8%, mostly from hydroelectric generation.
Last year, in 2022, renewables almost doubled, from 522 to 913 billion kWh, for 21.5% of the 4,243 billion kWh total generation. But that still leaves 2,554 billion kWh (60.2%) from fossil fuels.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that there’s still a long way to go, and a short time to get there. Oil, natural gas and coal still provide more than half of our nation’s electricity.
As the electric vehicle industry continues to grow, that will increase electrical demand. And if that demand — and then some — isn’t filled with renewable energy generation, we’re just trading one kind of fossil fuel dependence for another.
And ending that dependence is literally a matter of life and death.
A 2021 joint study by University College of London, Harvard University, University of Birmingham and the University of Leicester estimates that the burning of fossil fuels — chiefly petroleum, natural gas and coal — kills 8 million people a year.
That amounts to about one in five fatalities world wide. Every year.
Even if you’re a climate change skeptic — which flies in the face of increasingly compelling evidence — there’s little question that pollution is a significant public health crisis.
And solving it means ending our habit of burning prehistoric plants and animals to keep the lights on, fuel our vehicles and heat our homes.
Links to sources for information in this editorial can be found in the online publication at sharonherald.com
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