Environmental Influences On and Responses To Changing Patterns In Energy Supply

CIM Bulletin, Vol. 69, No. 776, 1976

Joseph D. Martinez, Director, Institute for Environmental Studies, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana Presented at the 89th Annual Meeting of The Mining Society of Nova Scotia, 1976

The benefits of modern technology can readily be identified with energy availability. A clear correlation has been established between per-capita energy consumption and the GNP for various nations. The United States is an outstanding example of a nation which has benefited from vast energy reserves. The nation is now challenged, however, by dwindling reserves and the need to develop neiv sources consistent with the preservation of environmental quality. The development of new, virtually inexhaustible and environmentally acceptable sources cannot be expected for several decades. Meanwhile, we will have to depend on coal, nuclear energy and/or rigorous conservation measures. The net effect of environmental considerations has been to delay and perhaps ultimately eliminate the nuclear energy option as a national energy alternative. This forces a more positive move toward coal as the next major source of electrical power. Our coal resources are large, but the use and production of coal is also a threat to the environment. Thus, we seem to be moving from one major accessible source to another due to environmental concern only to face the probability that the alternative is also environmentally unacceptable. Controversies revolving about energy choices must be resolved by an analysis of the relative benefits and impacts of these two sources and others. The pattern of changing energy sources is not new. We have moved from wood to coal to oil and gas in the past and must learn to adapt in the future. Rational decisions must be made relative to the utilization of intermediate energy sources pending development of promising future approaches. A collapse of current levels of energy supply could threaten our technological society and the means to develop a new energy base.