I remember when the Soviet Union collapsed. Nobody saw it coming. It even took a while for people to recognize that it did. It went out with a whimper. But soon, everybody claimed that they had foreseen it. We have a game changing change development in energy happening now. The center of energy production is shifting from the Middle East to the Americas. This will be a change almost as important as the collapse of the Soviet Empire. There are other good things happening.
There is good news on both the supply and demand side. The U.S. reached what might be called “peak demand” in 2005; since that time our consumption of oil and declined and is set to continue to decline, as we become more efficient users of oil and shift to plentiful natural gas for many uses.
On the supply side, I have written about the fantastic amounts of natural gas made available in places like New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Oklahoma by new technologies. Government & industry need to agree on sensible regulations that protect environment while filling our energy needs but we need to move ahead. No more blocking progress w/o giving alternatives.
New technologies are also at work with so called “tight oil”. North Dakota has become a major oil producer for that reason. It is a big change.
Beyond that, energy is being discovered or developed in friendly places close to home. Newly developed Canadian oil sands are producing more NEW oil than the total Libyan output BEFORE the revolution. Brazil has discovered vast reserves of oil & gas that may rival that of Saudi Arabia.
Alternatives are developing rapidly. Wind power, especially when coupled with natural gas, is becoming viable in some markets. Wind power’s danger to birds and bats is being addressed. Another promising development is old-fashioned biomass. In some parts of the country, especially the Southeast, wood scraps from forestry and sawmills is already making an important contribution to the energy mix. Research on biofuels is continuing and biodiesel is looking more and more promising.
Many of our new energy sources will be able to hitch rides on rapidly developing techniques in nanotech and biotech. For example, solar panels can be more efficiently made using nanotech, which can allow less expensive materials to be substituted for scarce ones. Biotech will certainly help with things like biodiesel and maybe cellulose ethanol.
I am talking about good news in energy, but there is another area of success … and challenge. Success always come with challenges, otherwise life would be boring.
The guy who came to fix my furnace a while back told me that he couldn’t find a helper willing to train and do the work despite the fact that he could make around $80,000 a year. Now I read about a shortage of skilled blue-collar workers. The American manufacturing-base is twice as big as it was in 1970, but productivity gains mean that many fewer workers are required for the greater production AND the workers left are mostly higher skilled. There just is not much grunt work left.
Since 2009, the number of job openings in manufacturing has been rising, with average annual earnings of $73,000 (reference the above link). Booming American energy production, natural gas in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania and oil in unlikely locations such as North Dakota, are already driving a manufacturing renaissance that is putting a strain on available skilled labor sources.
Americans are resilient. We respond to challenges. I graduated with my undergraduate degree in those dark times of the late 1970s. At that time, many of the experts were writing us off. We were running out of everything, they told us. Nobody would have believed back then how much we progressed in the last few decades.
America’s best days are ahead of us. We don’t need to go back, we can look forward. Despite what the pessimists told me in the late 1970s, my life has been better than my father’s. And despite what the pessimists tell me now, I know that my kid’s will have more choices than I had. We will get through these hard times and when we do all those pinheads currently crying about the end of prosperity will think that they knew it all the time.
My title is inspired by Carl Sandburg’s poem, “Fog.” I think it accurately describes change.
THE FOG comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.