Saturday, September 24, 2016

Don't Worry. Emissions Will Kill Us Before We Run Out of Oil

Are you worried about what will happen when we run out of oil? Well, don't. Dr. Jeremy Martin of the Union of Concerned Scientists took part in a Reddit AMA, fielding questions about emissions, fossil fuels, EVs, ethanol, etc. And assured us that we'll destroy the planet from using fossil fuels faster than we could ever run out. Martin also points out that emissions from oil extraction and refining are rising as producers go after new, dirtier sources. "This is by no means inevitable," he adds, injecting a merciful modicum of hope. "We just need to hold the oil industry to the same level of accountability as all other fuel producers."

 As for the alternatives, Martin puts a fine point on the fact that sourcing is important when it comes to the environmental footprint of any fuel. How hydrogen is made, what sort of feedstock and conversion method is used to make ethanol or biodiesel ("palm oil biodiesel is a disaster"), and where the electricity comes from to charge electric vehicles all have an important effect on lifecycle emissions. He adds that most researchers are more concerned with climate-changing emissions than net energy balance of any particular fuel, though he did indulge some questions to the latter.

And with each answer about specific alternative fuels, Martin points out that they're each emitting less than oil, a fact that sometimes falls to the wayside when we discuss the challenges new fuels and technologies pose. With biofuels unable to fulfill the current demand of petroleum (scalability is one of the focuses of Dr. Martin's research), the shift will ultimately need to be to battery electric and fuel cell vehicles, a transition that will take time, but that Martin is confident will happen.