Energy policies are often an area of fierce political debate, even with issues like climate change, where such debate shouldn’t exist. In the U.S., energy policy is generally carried out through the Executive branch, although notable legislation can also pass through Congress, like the Clean Air and Water Acts (1,2) In addition, governmental organizations like the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) perform environmental research and set guidelines and requirements for everything from automobile gas mileage targets to mold and pesticide usage (3). Although a significant number of these issues are non-controversial, like removing lead and harmful chemicals from the air and water we breathe, some, such as the topic climate change, can lead to heated political debate.
Recently, the long term climate goals of the U.S. have shifted from those of many other countries with U.S. President Donald Trump’s goal to exit the recently established Paris Climate Agreement (4). Citing a pro-business agenda, the Trump administration has sought to leave what they believe are economically restricting agreements to give more freedom to businesses and corporations (4). However, the claim that environmental regulations are restricting business growth is disputed by some business leaders who believe that clean energy solutions are not only sustainable, but also economically beneficial (4). Regardless of the immediate economic benefit, however, one thing is certain: if pollution, environmental degradation, and climate change continue, the potentially limiting commercial restrictions of today will seem petty in comparison to the reality of living in a world decimated by human negligence. In order to address these issues, countries must first examine how they are managing and utilizing renewable resources.
In the U.S., renewable energy resources account for only 12 percent of the overall energy consumption. Nuclear energy adds another 10 percent to that total, and the remaining 78% of the United States’ energy production rests solely on the backs of natural gas, petroleum, and coal (5). Other developed countries have vastly different energy profiles in comparison with the United States. France in 2015 had nearly 78% of its total energy generation come from nuclear energy (6). Meanwhile, Germany, the largest European economy, derived nearly 31% of its net energy production from renewable sources as of 2015 (7). Other developed countries are also taking advantage of renewable and nuclear resources, and, in France’s case, even gaining nearly three billion euros each year from their net energy export to other countries (7). Detractors in the U.S. say that renewable resources are too expensive, but not everyone has followed this philosophy. Hawaii, for example, plans to have 100 percent renewable energy consumption by 2045 (8). However, the Trump administration has recently focused its attention on coal, which, although plentiful, is already being pushed out of the market by cheaper non-renewable sources like Natural Gas.
According to the World Coal Association, coal mining is responsible for up to 41% of the world’s energy consumption (9). In order to address the negative environmental impacts that coal usage can have, carbon capture technologies seek to take the excess carbon dioxide produced from the combustion of coal, and store it underground (9). However, these technologies require power centers to invest in equipment that doesn’t necessarily provide a direct economic benefit, an investment that doesn’t make sense for a business that is already trying to compete with natural gas, nuclear, and renewables for dominance in energy production. While coal will undoubtedly play a role in the future of energy production, many countries and even some US states, like Hawaii, are already looking past it as a viable future energy resource. It is only a matter of time before other sources of energy that offer far reduced environmental impact, and in some cases better value, take over the last vestiges of coal’s nearly 150 year long grasp on energy production.
While the current administration proposes an increase in coal-based energy production, the reality is that through international deals like the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Climate Agreement, the rest of the world is already planning for the future. As it is, the Paris agreements’ goal was simply to limit global warming to two degrees celsius, a far cry from turning anthropogenic climate change completely around. As other countries decide to implement their own measures to plan for a changing world, hopefully the businesses, corporations, government officials, and people of the United States can come together to develop sustainable, forward-thinking, and aggressive measures to help make sure our planet and country remain liveable in the future. Such measures do not have to limit business, nor should they, but they will require investment, technological innovation, and prudence to see through.
3. Hoff, Sara. "U.S. Energy Information Administration - EIA - Independent Statistics and Analysis." Germany's renewables electricity generation grows in 2015, but coal still dominant - Today in Energy - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). May 24, 2016. Accessed October 29, 2017. https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=26372.
6. Shear, Michael D. "Trump Will Withdraw U.S. From Paris Climate Agreement." The New York Times. June 01, 2017. Accessed October 28, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/01/climate/trump-paris-climate-agreement.html.
7. "The Coal Resource: A Comprehensive Overview of Coal." Accessed October 29, 2017. https://www.worldcoal.org/sites/default/files/resources_files/coal_resource_overview_of_coal_report%2803_06_2009%29.pdf.
9. "U.S. Energy Information Administration - EIA - Independent Statistics and Analysis." Hawaii - State Energy Profile Overview - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Accessed October 29, 2017. https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=HI.
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