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michael e. webber

Crystal ball science: In the energy sector, follow the money in 2015

Five years ago this month, in these pages, I and a number of other contributors looked deep into our crystal balls to predict what the following year might bring. This year, I thought I’d try it again. As I did then, I’ll add this caveat now: Due to the intertwined relationship of energy with every sector in the economy and the complicated behavior of commodity prices and financial markets, only a fool would be bold enough to put pen to paper to add his or her predictions about energy to the permanent written record. I am one such fool.

05 Dec 2014

Can renewable energy and desalination tackle two problems at once?

In an era of extended droughts combined with increasing water demand, water-scarce areas of the world are considering expensive and far-flung water sources. At the same time, electric grids are straining to meet surging demand for electricity. Could wind- and solar-powered desalination plants be the solution to both problems?

26 Oct 2014

World War G: Zombies, energy and the geosciences

In lieu of doing a "year in review" issue this year, EARTH asked our staff and some frequent contributors to write a short commentary on something that grabbed their attention in 2013. We gave everyone carte blanche. What follows is a collection of extremely varied, often very personal insights into how the planet impacted each individual. In this commentary, EARTH contributing editor Michael Webber draws parallels between zombies and the geosciences.

22 Nov 2013

The energy-water nexus: Managing water in an energy-constrained world

Water can be tricky. With too little, crops die, industries move away, power plants fail, ecosystems suffer and people go thirsty. With too much, floods ruin infrastructure, destroy crops, spread waterborne diseases, and disrupt flows of clean water, wastewater, power and transportation. We want water at the right time and in the right place because moving and storing water require effort. We also want it at the right quality and the right temperature. If we had unlimited clean energy at our disposal, we could desalinate the ocean, providing enough potable water for everyone, everywhere. Energy provides a constraining factor on the world’s management of water issues; likewise, water is a constraining factor on the world’s energy supply. This interdependence is the energy-water nexus and the way we manage the delicate relationship between energy and water will have major implications for the future of both critical resources.

30 Jun 2013

Highlights of 2012: Outlook on natural gas

Natural gas’s bright future in the United States

Thanks to new developments, we now can affordably produce natural gas from rock formations that previously were inaccessible. And thanks to these developments, we now have more natural gas than ever before. The glut has decreased prices for at least a little while. If recent trends continue — namely if those prices stay low and various political, environmental and economic pressures to transition to a cleaner, domestic source of energy remain in place, it’s likely that over the next decade or two, natural gas will overtake petroleum to become the most popular primary energy source in the U.S.
09 Dec 2012

Trash-to-treasure: Turning nonrecycled waste into low-carbon fuel

Americans produce more than four pounds of trash per person per day, amounting to 20 percent of the world’s waste. Although recycling rates have increased over the past few decades — out of the 4.4 pounds of trash (per capita) that we produce in the U.S. each day, we compost or recycle about 1.5 pounds and incinerate another 0.5 pounds — more than 50 percent of our waste still ends up buried in landfills.

31 Jul 2012