Jan 27, 2013
A paper from a researcher at Fukushima University caught my eye recently. Not least because it was from that university, but also because the city was in the news again because of proposals to plant a wind farm off the coast there. Moreover, the paper is about how fossil fuels drive economic growth…multiple ironies I’d say.
Engineer Hazuki Ishida of the Faculty of Symbiotic Systems Science at the university begins his paper with the statement: “Fossil fuels are major sources of energy, and have several advantages over other primary energy sources. Without extensive dependence on fossil fuels, it is questionable whether our economic prosperity can continue.” I’m not entirely sure what economic prosperity he’s referring to, surely not that of Japan, but globally? Well many nations are reporting triple-dip recessions and tightening their belts with draconian austerity measures. In his paper he has studied GDP for the period 1971 to 2008 (just before the current major, global economic downturn began) and finds a correlation with fossil fuel use and growth. Might that not be a rather selective analysis?
In the 1970s we had the energy crisis, strikes, runaway inflation in many parts of the world and then the yuppie years of the 1980s, the dot.com boom and bust of the 1990s and the borrow now, pay later of the 2000s. Well, that pay later is upon us and we are in another kind of energy crisis, one that sees fracking and cracking carrying on apace despite rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and increasingly extreme weather across the globe while the megajoules available from sunshine, wind and tides simply dissipates…
I don’t mean to give Hazuki short shrift and perhaps his paper was prepared before certain events overtook the debate. He concludes that, “Fossil fuels are important factors to promote economic growth, and it is difficult to achieve both departure from dependence on fossil fuels and ongoing global economic growth simultaneously.” Perhaps that still holds true in a world where greed and the urge for economic growth remain strong drivers despite poverty, debt, dwindling food and water security, emerging and thriving infectious disease, earthquakes, tsunami and war.