Whose Responsibility is it? #31 - Dual Pathways to the Environment and Power

Several conversations surrounding different aspects of climate change have been top of the news over the last week. These include: changing hurricane patterns; sea temperatures warming; overall global warming; earthquakes and powerful tsunamis; polar melts; coral reef destruction; dangers of extinction of certain species that are important to agriculture, among others.

This seems like an overload in a short period of time, and everyone and every possible organizations locally, regionally, and internationally, are meeting to discuss further mitigation options. This may seem like a sudden emotional response, but I don’t agree. This is the effect of science, measurement, and rigorous assessment coming to the table at last. So the suspicions of previous “fringe groups” that faced the brunt of political denial, are at last being vindicated.

This is one of the main arguments that supports academic research in science and technology and their role in dispelling myths and finally provides a basis for action. The space between conjecture and reality has often been obscured by self-interest in writing great papers for personal academic kudos and personal advancement.

There is nothing essentially wrong except for the fact that research, buried in obscurity, does nothing to improve our human condition. So policies remain uninformed and subject to manipulation by many policy makers, naysayers, and the prospects of illegal enrichment.

Climate change, global warming, and environmental responsibility find themselves (even today) as small dispersed lobby groups whose main enemies are the huge oil and other fossil fuel global corporations. In the past this confrontation was an ugly war of the proletariat versus the robber barons. This confrontation took in the whole gamut of threats, purchase and burial of patents, strikes, and some more serious crimes possibly in the realm of the police, FBI, and Interpol.

Today’s scientific discovery and projections will prove to be an equalizer in the epic battle of the people versus the oil companies, and the new evidence brings us closer to a unanimous verdict: guilty as charged.

It however brings a conundrum for countries like Jamaica, but also offers us pathways previously unseen as options for policy consideration:

1. Oil and gasoline are fossil fuels and damaging to our environment.

2. Liquefied Natural Gas is a fossil fuel.

3. Nuclear is the most ecologically acceptable but politicians and people are skeptical, so I will leave that alone (at least for today).

4. Hydroelectric power is not an option for Jamaica.

5. Wind turbines (if improved) can be a useful but limited part of the system.

6. Tidal power is not an answer for Jamaica.

7. Hydro-thermal is not an option.

8. This leaves us with solar power that is increasing in efficiency and lowering costs every day.

I therefore see solar and nuclear as the two mechanisms to replace all fossil fuels and by which clean and affordable energy can be attained.

There is ongoing discussion about the transportation sector, and about buses running on LNG. So why not solar or hybrid, and what would the cost for those vehicles conversion or abandonment be? The same could apply to the reduction of importation duties on hybrid or totally electric cars and an environmental tax on the current fossil fuel vehicles at the port or the pump.

This cannot be a sudden knee jerk as we often do. So let us make gradual adjustments that facilitate total changeover of 2030, and work backward from there. This will allow a preferential duty on hybrid and electric vehicles as soon as the infrastructure at fuel stations and homes meet the international standard requirements for safety. I can assure you that this will be a better investment than the interim step to widespread LNG usage, and a later full conversion.

LNG requires liquefaction at the country of shipment, and regasification at the country of usage, and this adds two expenses to the shipping and handling. At the country of usage the gas will have to be transported by specific trucks to the service point, and poses a threat to other motorists and communities if mishandled.

Please allow me to make a personal observation. It is considerably easier to enjoy the benefits of corruption from oil, gasoline, LNG, than from nuclear and solar. So I ask myself: is that where the problem really lies?

Who will build the regasification plant? Who will own and operate the specialized delivery vehicles? Who will build pipelines where necessary?

Nuclear is a highly specialized field and is under scrutiny of the IAEA so there is an external monitoring body at a very high level. Solar energy technology is making the supply costs and efficiencies much cheaper and there is no monopoly or oligopoly that influences cartelization of pricing.

So where will the dialogue go? I have started it for some time with little success because people are afraid to step on toes and demand answers.

Where are the cojones?