The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

December 18, 2017

FEATURE ARTICLES
Page 8 of 8
The Energy Crisis
P. E. Hodgson - 08/15/08

Costs

In our society, costs are crucial. Even a small difference is enough to ensure the dominance of one product over another. With energy sources the situation is more complex because the choice depends on weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each source. This is difficult because they are often incommensurable: how much, for example, are we prepared to pay for increased safety or to reduce the effects on the environment? Finally, it is impossible to estimate the cost of delayed damage, such as that due to global warming and climate change. These costs could well be the greatest of all.

It is sometimes said that more research will improve existing sources and thus remove some current disadvantages. Generally this is true. But in some cases the disadvantage is a consequence of the laws of physics, and then it can never be overcome. An example is the fluctuating nature of wind energy; it is just not possible to make the wind blow steadily all the time.

The worldwide need for energy is so urgent that it is essential to use existing energy sources. It is of course necessary to continue research into new sources, but we cannot wait. Already over the years millions of people have been killed or had their lives impoverished, by energy shortages.

This survey shows that at a time of increasing energy demands the sources listed all have serious disadvantages: oil and natural gas are fast running out, and in any case, all fossil fuels, especially coal, are polluting. Hydropower is limited, and wind and solar energy are unreliable. If that were the end of the story the future would be bleak indeed. However there is another energy source, the nucleus of the atom. The potentialities of this energy source, its advantages and disadvantages, will be considered in the next article.

Notes

There are many books where more detailed accounts may be found:

  1. Wolf Hafele, ed., Energy in a Finite World: A Global Systems Analysis (Ballinger Publishing Company, 1981). P. E. Hodgson, Nuclear Power, Energy and the Environment (Imperial College Press, 1999).
  2. E. von Weiszacker, A. B. Lovins, and L. H. Lovins, Factor of Four: Doubling Wealth – Halving Resources (Earthscan Publications Ltd, 1996).
  3. Bjørn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
  4. H. Inhaber, Risk of Energy Production (Ottawa: Atomic Energy Control Board, 1981).
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