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The Green Energy New Deal

Some members of Congress are promoting a “Green Energy New Deal’ to ban fossil fuels in the US within 10 years.  That is economically and technically not feasible.  If adopted, it will turn our economy back 200 years to 1819 and destroy the 18-fold gain in prosperity, wealth and well being gained over 200 years of industrial revolution fueled by fossil fuels (gas oil, coal).  Green energy is solar, wind, hydro and biomass (ethanol).  They are considered green because unlike fossil fuels they are renewable.  All of our energy whether green or fossil fuels comes directly or indirectly from the sun except for nuclear.  The problems with green energy are that, not enough solar energy arrives on each square mile of the earth’s surface to supply our consumption to support our population density and life style which consumes 1.4 KW of electric power per person for our direct needs and to produce the goods and services we consume.

Unlike green energy, fossil fuels contain very concentrated amounts of energy in each pound.  The standard measure of energy is the British Thermal Unit (BTU).  One BTU is the amount of energy required to heat one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. Each pound of natural gas contains about 24,000 BTUs when burned.  Likewise, gasoline, diesel and jet fuel contains 21,000 BTUs and coal contains about 13,000 BTUs.  We humans are very fortunate.  Over many millions of years nature concentrated the sun’s energy by creating vast deposits of natural gas, oil and coal.

About a third of our energy use is for transportation (car, truck, rail, air, water).  About a third is for buildings (lighting, heating and air conditioning).  A third is for manufacturing the goods we consume.    The US has the largest coal reserves in the world.  We have at least a 100 year supply of oil and gas and maybe a thousand years supply.  Humans will eventually need to transition away from fossil fuels but not any time soon.  There’s plenty of time for technology to develop cost effective fuels for the future.  We don’ need to impose extreme economic hardship on humans now by banning fossil fuels.

The Industrial Revolution fueled by fossil fuel produced the human progress and prosperity we enjoy today.  The Industrial Revolution began in the late 1700’s with the invention of the steam boiler and steam engine fired with fossil fuel.  However, it didn’t reach full speed until about 1819, two hundred years ago.  By 1819, the steam rail locomotive was operational.  It revolutionized land travels.


Throughout recorded history, human land travel was limited by how far a human or horse could walk in a day, about 30 miles.  The steam railway engine traveled at 40 miles per hour day and night for 960 miles per day.  After completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, humans could travel 2,000 miles coast to coast in several days for about $100.  Previously, that trip took many months by sailing vessels around the tip of South America or to Panama by sail, across Panama by horse and up the West Coast by sail.  Cost was more than $1,000.

About the same time, the steam engine was adapted to drive oceangoing steamships.  Sailing ships could do about 8 miles an hour at best.  Steamships did 20 miles an hour.  It not only revolutionized human sea travel, but also the shipment and trade of goods.

Initially, boilers and steam engines were fired with wood and later with coal and oil, fossil fuels.  In the late 1800s, Thomas Edison invented the electric power generator and electric motor and the light bulb.  Electric power grids quickly followed which distributed low cost electric power over large areas.  Soon electric motors were used to drive all sorts of labor- saving devices, eventually including all the home appliances including, clothes washers and dryers, dish washers, refrigerators and later air conditioning which made living in the Southern states comfortable for the first time.

Until the Industrial Revolution, the world per capita GDP had never exceeded about $500 US.  In many third world countries, it still has not exceeded $500 US.  After 1819, world per capita GDP went up rapidly to more than $9,000 US in the late 1900s because of the Industrial Revolution.

If Congress bans fossil fuels, that will kill all the progress and prosperity we have gained over 200 years and create great sulfuring for the American people.

Author:  Ralph Coker

Bio:  Ralph Coker is a retired petroleum refinery plant manager.  He writes on business, economic, military and political topics