The Ruthless Recklessness of Initiatives like
Oil and Coal-by-Rail Export Terminals in the Pacific Northwest

forestalling renewables

The public comment period for the largest proposed oil-by-rail project in the Northwest U.S. has closed and now Washington State's EFSEC must recommend a decision to Governor Jay Inslee. Tesoro-Savage's proposal is to ship 360,000 barrels of crude oil per day -- four trains, each 1.5 miles long -- through urban areas and along the Columbia River to the Port of Vancouver.


Another is Millennium Bulk's proposal for a coal export facility in Longview, Washington, the largest proposed coal-by-rail project in the Northwest. Washington State's Draft Environmental Impact Statement was scheduled for release on April 30, 2016 with a public comment period to follow.


These are but two of several initiatives for the extraction, transportation and export of coal, oil and gas from the western regions of the U.S. and Canada. They possess enormous inertial momentum and their cumulative effect would be disastrous at all levels -- local, regional, national and global.


However, popular resistance grows fierce as citizens become increasingly aware of the intricate and extensive scope of the issue -- again at all levels. And this understanding of both the stark potential for disaster (potentially species-terminal at the global level) and the exquisitely beneficial-to-all, immediately available-to-all alternative can and must lead to a correction of course toward the right solution.


We are now at that moment when both the remarkable growth of efficiency and renewables and a tsunami of new investment enable the swiftest possible transition. This must not be forestalled by continued fossil (or nuclear) investments and subsidies.


I sought to contribute to that understanding by submitting the following comments to Washington State's EFSEC in January 2016 and presented them in the Mental Mouthfuls prose format so successfully developed by Buckminster Fuller. Here they are, slightly updated for the next round of comments:


Only if we expand

the boundaries of our scoping

can we simultaneously

solve this survival-critical matrix

of inter-related issues.


Only by thinking

comprehensively enough

to integrate all relevant

scientifically redemonstrable


can we discover

we possess

a vastly superior alternative

to extracting, transporting and combusting

coal, oil, natural gas and uranium

for energy-production technologies.


Our exquisite alternative

mitigates and virtually eliminates

adverse fossil and nuclear impacts;

from the most serious

-- either climate turbulence from

species-threatening anthropogenic carbon

or catastrophic releases of ionizing radiation --

to the more local and regional impacts of pollution

by mercury, lead, arsenic, sulphur dioxide, coal dust;

oil tanker leaks or explosions

in urban or sensitive environmental areas; etc.


Further, our alternative mitigates

the extremely dangerous impact of

the grievous, evermore foolish forestalling

of the swift and necessary deployment

of this proven and powerful alternative


-- the only comprehensively viable alternative --


which is to deploy

an elegant mix

of efficiency and renewables

to achieve

sustainable energy abundance,

resilient economies with abundant jobs,

safe and healthy environments,

regenerative ecosystems

and durable peace.


Only efficiency and renewables

can mitigate and virtually eliminate

fossil and nuclear energy's

now reckless, ruthless, destructive,

potentially species-terminal


of irreversible climate turbulence,

nuclear waste and weapons proliferation,

costly and unhealthy pollution,

ecosystems collapse, and

increasingly intense conflicts over

ever-scarcer energy resources. (5)


Efficiency and renewables

are proven

to be safer and cleaner

more durable, flexible and resilient

more flexibly scalable,

cheaper and more jobs intensive,

than coal, oil, gas or nuclear;

and capable of delivering

universal energy abundance.



Europe's industrial heartland,

a renewables leader,

now has more solar workers

than the U.S. has steel workers.


There are now more jobs per unit of delivered energy

and more people employed in solar, wind and efficiency

than in the fossil and nuclear industries.


"The world is now

adding more capacity

from renewable power each year

than coal, natural gas, and oil combined."  (6)


There's no going back.

But how fast can we go forward?

Since 1970 U.S. investments

in energy efficiency have

cut energy use per dollar of GNP

by well over 50%,

while increasing associated comforts and benefits:

things like warmer houses and safer cars. (4)

Today it's an engineering certainty

that we can more than double

our efficiency again by 2050. (2)


We've also been deploying

Ever-better renewable energy generation.


Back in 2007 the U.S. added more wind capacity

than it had added in coal-fired capacity

over the previous 5 years. 


For the 4 years prior to 2013

half  the world's

new generating capacity

was clean renewables.

Also half in 2014 and 70% in 2015,

despite the one-sided $490 billion

in annual fossil fuel subsidies.


Installed wind capacity in the U.S.

surpassed 60 GW in 2013,

adding more than that of over 50

average nuclear power plants,

or about 90 average coal fired power plants.

Allowing for conventionally assumed capacity factors

(thereby ignoring the fact that mixed types of

dispersed, distributed and forecast-able

renewables systems

will have much higher capacity factors),

this represents more generating power than

44 coal-fired power plants

or 11 nuclear power plants,

avoids emitting as much carbon dioxide as

taking 14 million cars off the road,

while saving 30 billion gallons of water a year,

costing less and delivering more jobs.

Installed wind capacity keeps growing:

to over 74 GW by the end of 2015.


Way back in the 20th Century

Buckminster Fuller (RBF) --

the Leonardo da Vinci of our times --

assured us we could

transition to efficiency and renewables

in just a decade.


This trend can and must continue

its swift acceleration.

Evolutionary economist Hazel Henderson

speaks encouragingly

of a wall of private investment

now surging toward

sustainable efficiency and renewables (7)

as they are safer,

lower risk investments

with quicker return.


In 2010, global renewable energy

(excluding large hydro)

got $151 billion of private investment,

surging to $270 billion in 2014

and $329 billion in 2015 (6)

and surpassed the total installed capacity of nuclear power

after adding about 120 GW in just one year.

And now in 2016

our clean energy investments are

"seeing twice as much global funding

as fossil fuels." (8)


Most significantly,

the world can now add

Upwards of 120 GW of renewable wind and solar each year,

roughly 30% of U.S. coal generation capacity,

or roughly the nameplate capacity of all 104 U.S. nuclear power plants.

Each year, this annual delivery capacity grows swiftly

-- as it must.


The first five references below offer

sufficiently comprehensive and detailed

scientific studies,

two for the Pentagon (4,5),

for clarifying the physical and engineering

certainty and necessity of this alternative:


Scientific American published a study

detailing how wind, water and solar technologies

could provide 100 percent of the world's energy by 2030,

eliminating all fossil fuels. (2)


A Stanford University study

ranked energy systems according to their impacts

on global warming, pollution, water supply

and other so-called economic externalities,

concluding that the very best options were

wind, solar, geothermal

and other clean renewables;

while coal (even with carbon capture)

and nuclear

ranked poorly. (3)


In 2011, a comprehensive and detailed

technical and economic

blueprint for transition

demonstrated available savings of $5 trillion

over business as usual

by deploying an elegant mix

of efficiency and renewables,

for all uses,

to completely phase out coal, oil and nuclear by 2050,

while growing our economy more than 150%,

and reducing our carbon footprint by about 85%. (1)


Given this

expanded and comprehensive context,

it is evident

that extracting and consuming

fossil and nuclear resources

for today's energy production systems

is extremely harmful

possibly terminal for humanity,

and represents merely the utter selfishness

of far less than a tenth of a percent of humans

who, with the power of very deep pockets,

act in their own short-term interest,

as Adam Smith once observed,

"regardless of the impact on everyone else."


Men and women currently working

in fossil and nuclear energy technologies,

are seductively surrounded by odes to their value

from these remote, ruthless profiteers --

the Tesoros, Enrons and Exxons,

the Kochs, Peabodys and JPMorgans, etc. --

who deceitfully seek their fealty

while readily exporting their jobs,

often to countries

where U.S. backed oligarchies

seek entry into the billionaire class

by violently suppressing

environmental and labor movements:

thereby maintaining

a "good business climate"

for their foreign investors.  (9)


These men and women currently working

in fossil and nuclear energy technologies

can expect to find superior opportunities

in the emerging renewables-based economy:

jobs that are more abundant, stable, local and safer.

And, an informed popular demand

for economic justice

can streamline their personal transitions

by protecting their homes and pensions,

providing training and relocation services;

and thereby deploying

reliable and lucrative social investments

into the now emerging

renewables-based economy --

leading swiftly to

abundance for all

at the expense of none.


It is clear and certain now:

allowing Texas petroleum refiner Tesoro's

Tesoro-Savage terminal,

Hedge-fund owned Lighthouse Resources Inc's

Millenium Bulk terminal,

and other terminals, extractions and power plants

would be reckless foolishness,

indicating that we humans

may yet prove ourselves to be

no wiser than

lemmings headed for the cliff,

failing to see

"it is now highly feasible

to take care of everybody on Earth

at a higher standard of living

than any have ever known.

It no longer has to be you or me.

Selfishness is unnecessary.

War is obsolete.

It is a mater of converting

the high technology

from weaponry to livingry." (RBF)


Please evaluate this mitigating alternative

The only one that can deliver

abundance, safety and security

to all humans.

If you do, I'm confident

you'll do all you can

to leave it in the ground.


Linked References:


(1) Lovins, A.B. & Rocky Mountain Institute, Reinventing Fire, Chelsa Green Publishing, VT, September 2011.


(2) Jacobson, Mark Z.  and Delucchi, Mark A.  A Plan to Power 100 Percent of the Planet with Renewables, Scientific American Magazine, November 2009.


(3) Jacobson, Mark Z.  Review of Solutions to Global Warming, Air Pollution, and Energy Security.  Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California, June 2008.


(4) Lovins, Amory B., etal. Winning the Oil Endgame, Innovation for Profits, Jobs and Security. Snowmass, Colorado: Rocky Mountain Institute, 2005.


(5) Lovins, A.B. & L.H., Brittle Power: Energy Strategy for National Security, Brick House, Andover MA, 1981.

(6) Frankfort School –United Nations Environment Program, Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2015, and Bloomberg Business, As Oil Crashed Renewables Attract Record $329 Billion,

(7) Hazel Henderson, It's Our Money with Ellen Brown – Is Your Money Better Off in a Mattress?,

(8) Tom Randall, Wind and Solar Are Crushing Fossil Fuels – Record clean energy investment outpaces gas and coal 2 to 1. April 6, 2016.

(9) Greg Grandin,  The Clinton-Backed Honduran Regime Is Picking Off Indigenous Leaders. March 3, 2016.


Mike Nuess is the author of General Plenty -- Always and Only the Path to Peace.