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3 Massive World Events That Will Change Your Life

Crucial developments taking place in 2011 are changing the way we are likely to live on this planet for the foreseeable future.

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Such is the world’s thirst for oil that a growing amount of this stuff will nonetheless be extracted, even if not, in all likelihood, at a pace and on a scale necessary to replace the disappearance of yesterday’s and today’s easy oil.  Along with continued instability in the Middle East, this tough-oil landscape seems to underlie expectations that the price of oil will only rise in the coming years.  In a  poll of global energy company executives conducted this April by the KPMG Global Energy Institute, 64% of those surveyed predicted that crude oil prices will cross the $120 per barrel barrier before the end of 2011.  Approximately one-third of them predicted that the price would go even higher, with 17% believing it would reach $131-$140 per barrel; 9%, $141-$150 per barrel; and 6%, above the $150 mark.

The price of coal, too, has soared in recent months, thanks to mounting worldwide demand as supplies of energy from nuclear power and hydroelectricity have contracted.  Many countries have launched significant efforts to spur the development of renewable energy, but these are not advancing fast enough or on a large enough scale to replace older technologies quickly.  The only bright spot, experts say, is the growing extraction of natural gas from shale rock in the United States through the use of hydraulic fracturing (“hydro-fracking”).

Proponents of shale gas claim it can provide a large share of America’s energy needs in the years ahead, while actually reducing harm to the environment when compared to coal and oil (as gas emits less carbon dioxide per unit of energy released); however, an expanding  chorus of opponents are warning of the threat to municipal water supplies posed by the use of toxic chemicals in the fracking process.  These warnings have proven convincing enough to lead lawmakers in a growing number of states  to begin placing restrictions on the practice, throwing into doubt the future contribution of shale gas to the nation’s energy supply.  Also, on May 12th, the French National Assembly (the powerful lower house of parliament) voted 287 to 146 to ban hydro-fracking in France, becoming the first nation to do so.

The environmental problems of shale gas are hardly unique.  The fact is that all of the strategies now being considered to extend the life-spans of oil, coal, and natural gas involve severe economic and environmental risks and costs -- as, of course, does the very use of fossil fuels of any sort at a moment when the first IEA numbers for 2010 indicate that it was an  unexpectedly record-breaking year for humanity when it came to dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

With the easily accessible mammoth oil fields of Texas, Venezuela, and the Middle East either used up or soon to be significantly depleted, the future of oil rests on third-rate stuff like tar sands, shale oil, and extra-heavy crude that require a lot of energy to extract, processes that emit added greenhouse gases, and as  with those tar sands, tend to play havoc with the environment.

Shale gas is typical.  Though plentiful, it can only be pried loose from underground shale formations through the use of explosives and highly pressurized water mixed with toxic chemicals.  In addition, to obtain the necessary quantities of shale oil, many tens of thousands of wells will have to be sunk across the American landscape, any of one of which could prove to be an environmental disaster.

Likewise, the future of coal will rest on increasingly invasive and hazardous techniques, such as the explosive  removal of mountaintops and the dispersal of excess rock and toxic wastes in the valleys below.  Any increase in the use of coal will also enhance climate change, since coal emits more carbon dioxide than do oil and natural gas.

 
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