Energy & Environment

Climate deniers: It’s time to stop denying

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Thirty-five dollars: As I write, that’s the price for a barrel of oil. We’re extracting like crazy and burning like there’s no tomorrow, for real, pumping carbon dioxide into the air we all share. Meanwhile, very few pumps are turning a profit. 

Ten thousand dollars: that’s what I would have offered a climate change denier pundit, who prefers to be called a climate change “doubter.” I was ready to pay Marc Morano $10,000 if 2016 turns out not to be one of the 10 hottest years ever recorded. He didn’t take the bet, because 2016 will indeed be among the hottest. Like most climate change deniers, he’s coming to terms with our situation. He has kids, after all. 

{mosads}As a young engineer, I used to work in the oil patch (as it’s called). I used to wash my coveralls in the “greaser” machines at laundromats. And through the circle of life, I was back in Midland, Texas, a month ago, in March. The price of a barrel of oil was $36. At that level, no one in the Midland oil patch was making any money. So, very few were working. There were fleets of trucks parked, no drivers showing up for work. From the highway, I could see a forest of idle drilling rigs, and countless rigs lying horizontal, impotent. They’re hanging on, waiting for the next boom in an oil price cycle.

I was in Fort McMurray, Alberta, last summer. There, crude oil is synthesized from the ubiquitous subsurface tar sands. It takes scalping the topsoil (destroying the ancient forest) and 30 percent of the tar’s energy to drive the chemical process that turns black “asphaltene” into useable yellow oil. So, at 45 bucks a barrel (the price back then; it’s even lower now), the place was deserted. 

Should we keep our heads in the sand — or in the borehole? Or, should we get to work? 

If we were to take this situation seriously, we could supply all of the United States’s energy needs renewably, without trying to build new nuclear plants. (Technical issues completely aside, people just don’t want them around.) We could have wind turbines and solar energy systems all over the U.S. We have tremendous energy supplies available in Midwestern and Eastern seaboard wind. The sun shines like crazy all over the continent. We could do this. 

And, all the jobs would be here in the United States. The same people who assemble and transport oil-drilling rigs can transport and erect wind turbines, mirrors and panels. The electrical workers, who run power lines, can be in that business on a huge new scale. By the way, Texas (of all oil-rich places) gets 10 percent of its electricity from the wind. It’s just the start of things. We could change the world — if we got to work. We’d completely electrify our ground transportation. We’d develop plant-based jet fuel or liquid hydrogen turbines for our airplanes. We can git ’er done, if we just get going. 

I also hear people worry that the U.S. will fall behind economically if we clean up our energy supply. But what about this very real possibility: What if most or even all of the other 191 countries who signed on at the COP21 conference go renewable? What if they decide to enforce a multilateral, 191-against-1 carbon tax? And what if they put a high, but reasonable, price on any goods exported from the U.S. based on the U.S.’s carbon emissions? Things like Boeing airplanes and even Tesla cars would become hard to sell overseas. What if our delay in transforming our economy to a renewable one comes back to bite us in the greasy coverall?

When faced with these economic musings, climate change deniers (or extreme doubters) either attack the messengers or throw up their un-callused hands and say, “Well, it would cost too much to do anything about global climate change.” When did we become a can’t-do nation? Actually, it will cost way too much to not do anything about it, to not go renewable right away. Quit your bitching. We can get this done, if we just get going.

Nye is an author, educator, entertainer and CEO of The Planetary Society.

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