Today is the third post in this Monday series of subjects covered during my summer 2014 interview of Bill Reinert, recently retired energy engineer for Toyota who played a key role in the development of the Prius and then assumed the role of future transportation planning of alternative-fueled vehicles at Toyota. See his full bio here.
Alberta’s tar sands. Photo credit: NRDC.
K.M.: You’ve referred to the tar sands region of Alberta Canada as an environmental sacrifice area. There will be more environmental sacrifice areas as we continue to extract energy from this Earth. Paint a vision of the future for us. How ugly could it get, this thirst of ours for energy at any cost?
Reinert: Yes, I’ve flown over the tar sands area in a helicopter, and took photographs of it for Bloomberg news, and if you see the incredible destruction of the arboreal forest there you can’t imagine that it can ever be cleaned up.
There is destruction elsewhere. Parts of Africa have badly leaking and poorly maintained oil fields. You saw what happened in Ecuador with Chevron, and the destruction of indigenous species. You see ecological destruction in Brazil with the ever greater quest for ethanol because as sugarcane farmers push other farmers and cattle ranches further to the edge, the rainforest gets torn down. In Georgia, they’re clearcutting forest and exporting wood to the E.U. for the purpose of using renewables to replace coal with wood.
West Virginia comes as close as anywhere for being a sacrifice state. That’s where I grew up so I’ve seen how disgusting and ugly the mountain topping is for coal mining. I tubed on the Elk River when I was young, where the terrible chemical spill was earlier this year. There are some badly contaminated port areas. Then, there’s the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico related to our ethanol production. I could go on and on.
To their credit many of the Middle East producers have the least amount of pollution for the amount of oil they produce. Their systems are very modern and their production plans balance the amount of oil produced with the life of the oil field.
We’re balanced on a knife edge, and we’re balanced on a commodity trading system that could go wrong real fast. We import about 50 percent of our oil and we export a lot, too, partly because of the way our refineries are set up. We refine high sulfur fuel oil and the Europeans refine the light sweet crude. We produce an over abundance of diesel, they produce an over abundance of gasoline, so we trade.
Just think what would happen if all of a sudden that trade were shut down. Things would run OK for awhile, but they’d run down pretty rapidly and then you’d see real destruction to get to those last resources. It could happen as easily as a dirty bomb in the Port of Los Angeles. That could shut down the commerce of the whole United States if we’d overreact like we did for 9/11.
May not be reprinted without permission.
To see last week’s interview on ARTIFICIAL PHOTOSYNTHESIS click here.
Coming next week will be Reinert’s thoughts about the limits to growth.