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A Transition to Cleaner Energy

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At an event Tuesday at the Center for American Progress, Robert Hefner, Founder and CEO of GHK Exploration, pointed out that the consumption of energy is a vital component of civilization, and he forecasted that civilization is about to transition from unsustainable, limited forms of liquid energy to a future of cleaner, abundant forms of gaseous energy. These are ideas presented in his new book, The GET: Grand Energy Transition, which was presented at the event during a panel discussion moderated by Sharon Burke, Senior Fellow for the Center for a New American Security, which also included closing remarks by Kurt Campbell, CEO and Founder of the Center for a New American Security.

Hefner was introduced by CAP President and CEO John Podesta as one of “the most powerful voices on the issue of energy transformation and energy security.” Hefner outlined a chart that he called “The Age of Energy Gases,” which is the bedrock of his book’s theory. The theory outlines two stages of energy consumption, with a transition occurring in the mid-2000s. The first stage shows an increasing pattern in the use of oil and coal from the mid-1800s until the year 2000.

According to Hefner, our current civilization is moving toward the second stage, which involves the use of clean forms of energy such as natural gas, wind, solar, hydrogen, and lastly, nuclear fusion, after a brief liquid transition. By switching to these new sources of energy, he explained that it will eliminate the “threatening consequences of coal and oil consumption.”

Hefner cited what he called “the three intolerables,” or the consequences the United States and the rest of the world have faced as a result of the continuing use of coal and oil: (1) the oil price-shock linked to destabilization of the global economy; (2) the loss of energy security for the United States that translates into economic reliance on oil-exporting nations, as well as a loss of geostrategic advantage; and (3) the risks of costs equal to the Great Depression and the World Wars combined and the jeopardized existence of civilization given the increasing possibility of catastrophic climate change.

In his book, Hefner highlights the long story of natural gas as a superior fuel, but currently of limited use in the United States, and argues that this energy source is a larger resource than liquid oil in the world. When asked about the potential use of natural gas in other countries, Hefner underscored that Singapore runs its energy grid with natural gas, whereas several African nations still lag behind cleaner energy alternatives. “I believe in the abundance of natural gas,” Hefner said. “Everywhere we find coal or oil, natural gas is also found, and there are countries with large resources of natural gas like the United States, Indonesia or Australia.” In his book, he argues that U.S natural gas reserves are probably as large as—or larger than—the country’s remaining minable coal.

“The reason I think it’s abundant first is because natural gas is made wherever oil is made. [It is the] same thing with coal … you make natural gas the whole time you’re making coal. [Natural gas] is abundant in both in the universe, our solar system and on earth,” Hefner said as he explained the hazardous consequences of using carbon and oil. “Coal is highly carbon and it’s got a lot of other nasty stuff in it unfortunately. It has arsenic, mercury, and other elements that are polluting our streams, our fish and so forth. It has particulates that get into people’s lungs and it is thought that [it] causes cancer. Oil has some of the same problems as coal, because gasoline produces the finest particulates on earth.”

Hefner said he believed certain actions could speed the transition to cleaner fuels such as natural gas. Because tax, economic, energy, and environmental polices are intrinsically connected, he proposed two policy plans that would assist the initiative and help forestall the “three intolerables.”

First, he called for the elimination of taxes on labor and capital that would be replaced with a green consumption-based tax levied initially upon the use of oil and coal. Secondly, the Energy and Industrial Recovery Plan, a new piece of legislation proposed by Hefner, seeks to retrofit and transform half the U.S. automobile fleet to natural gas by 2020. He explained that an essential piece of infrastructure for this plan would be a 2.2 million-mile natural gas pipeline grid that would link the majority of U.S. metropolitan gas stations, as well as 63 million homes where nearly 130 million cars can be filled with home-fueling appliances.

He concluded by saying that the $1.5 trillion-dollar Energy and Industrial Recovery Plan, if passed, would also accomplish a number of economic, strategic, and climate goals, such as saving tens of thousands of jobs in the automobile industry; reduce oil imports by more than 5 million barrels per day; save trillions of dollars in payments to foreign oil partners that can instead be invested in the United States; lower carbon dioxide emissions by hundreds of millions of tons annually; and restore U.S. leadership in global energy—to name a few.

For more details on this event, please visit the events page.

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