Energy & Resources


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

Think differently: renewable hydrogen generation

Most of the existing solutions for renewable energy storage represent riffs on our current energy infrastructure. They are either inherent to existing fuel sources (concentrated solar power), or linked directly to the grid (flywheels, pumped storage and compressed air energy storage). But what if the future looks radically different from today, as history has often shown it can? What if the future of energy is based on hydrogen produced by renewable energy sources?

29 Sep 2013

Energy 360: Leaving our corners for the radical middle: New Zealand sets an example

Energy underpins every aspect of modern life, yet it is often a source of conflict in society. Thus, considering the political ramifications of energy policies is both inevitable and important. But separating politics from science and economics can be difficult, in part because everyone, including me, has biases. Bias in and of itself is not bad; some might even consider it an unavoidable byproduct of knowledge (or the lack thereof). The challenge with energy policy discussions is to manage bias and potential conflicts of interest and conscience.

13 Sep 2013

Geologic Column: Assessing energy and mining workforce needs

In his 1971 book, “Encounters with the Archdruid,” John McPhee quoted Charles Park, an economic geologist who worked at the U.S. Geological Survey and then Stanford University, who said, “People seldom stop to think that all these things — planes in the air, cars on the road, Sierra Club cups — once, somewhere, were rock. Our whole economy — our way of doing things, most of what we have, even our culture — rests on these things.” Although McPhee’s emphasis was on the balance between environmental protection and our societal need for raw materials, the book highlighted the fundamental importance of energy exploration and mining, an idea that implies still another significant message: Our society needs scientists, engineers and skilled laborers who can locate and extract raw materials and energy sources from the rocks beneath our feet in order to power our economy and our way of life.

16 Aug 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

Why is the U.S. so insecure about its energy security? Measures of energy independence show it is increasing, not decreasing

In recent years, every time an election has rolled around, politicians have espoused the necessity of energy independence and energy security. According to them, if we are to achieve the necessary level of energy security we need to “drill, baby, drill,” develop “clean coal,” install new pipelines, develop renewable energy, make sure our cars get better gas mileage, or [fill in another sound bite of your choosing here]. A listener could easily conclude that the U.S. lacks energy security. But what do the numbers tell us about our current state of independence?

28 Apr 2013

Apps: Improving home energy efficiency in 2013

‘Tis the season for making New Year’s resolutions. We here at EARTH probably can’t offer much assistance when it comes to diet and exercise tips to help burn off unwanted pounds. But if your goals for 2013 involve understanding your family’s energy consumption patterns and possibly reducing your power bills, you’ve come to the right place.

04 Jan 2013

Here comes the solar maximum: What we know - and don't know - about solar storms and their hazards

As solar science continues to advance, researchers are finding new ways to study and forecast the behavior of our star, whose whims endanger our technology-dependent way of life. But what the upcoming peak means for solar storms, and how those storms will affect Earth, remain to be seen.

17 Dec 2012

Where the rubber meets the road

Lessons Learned From a Cross-country Road Trip in a Natural Gas Vehicle

In what seems like a replay of a bad 1970s movie — with high oil prices, prominent energy security risks, and fluctuating emissions regulations — Americans are looking for alternatives to gasoline. But this time around, many industrial proponents, investors, experts and energy enthusiasts claim they have a solution: natural gas

08 Nov 2011