In the field of energy, trade and co-operation is, and always has been, essential. In the time before petroleum products, muddied methane and killer coal ruled the stock markets, people organised together to light, heat and mobilise. And now to combat climate change, increase energy efficiency and spread out access to energy for all, people need to organise again.
Collecting and storing firewood is an activity as old as civilisation, as much part of humanity’s collective memory as drawing fresh water. Arranging the provision of wood, water and light for the night are all part of myths, tales and legends, endlessly retold. Before money was used to trade, strong social and familial obligations made the gathering, storing and sharing of energy and water occupations that formed part of the collective human survival protocol.
Today, despite whatever political, military or social drama is in the throes of being played out, people continue to trade in energy (and increasingly, water), across boundaries and borders, through grids and networks, and fleets of tanks and tankers, on land and sea. When energy trade stops, it because a region or a nation has received the ultimate sanction against their governmental body. People don’t deny people energy (and increasingly, water), unless there is a resident evil that needs to be purged. Arguably, the Third Reich of the National Socialists in Germany was broken through an energy embargo and an airborne campaign against indigenous energy production facilities.
Even as climate change worsens, and efforts mount to combat it, energy (and increasingly, water) sharing through trade must continue, to guarantee humane living conditions, economic development, and the advancement of civilisation through learning and technology. Even where political co-operation and economic treaties are sacrificed for whatever reason, energy trade (and increasingly, water) must continue to keep peace, keep stability, keep progress.
Energy is a sprawling and integral social enterprise, regardless of the ownership and management of the organisations that exist to produce and trade energy (and increasingly, water). Energy creates a brotherhood and sisterhood between private corporations, national agencies, governments and manufacturers. You and I can only address a small personal portion of global warming emissions – the energy system around us, that we are locked into, with its many complex and powerful actors, is responsible for upwards of half of the carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emissions attributed to us as individuals in global warming accounting. The energy system is the governments who commission energy projects; the energy companies; the vehicle manufacturers; the globalised traders and the entire edifice of the commercial economy, all interdependent. It is this interlocked wheel or whorl of bodies that makes action on climate change so difficult. And yet, it is the fact that these organisations move in lock-step that can make some changes fast and light.
One of the strategies that can break the hold of fossil carbon in the global economy is to use all the levers available to change the contents of the basket of inputs into the energy system. Where we want electricity as an output, substitute renewable electricity for fossil electricity. Where we want heat, move from Natural Gas to Renewable Gas. But what do we do where we want movement, transportation ? What can substitute for crude petroleum oil ? And how do we do this without breaking the global economy – and hence civilisation ?
Any solutions proffered must involve all the players in the tightly-packed and interlocked energy game, and they must address all the problems : climate change, air pollution, energy security, economic depression, energy access, and, increasingly, water security.
This is where chemical engineering of useful low-to-zero carbon fuels, including Renewable Methane, Renewable Hydrogen and base chemicals such as Renewable Methanol, could break the greatest deadlock caused by the dead weight of petroleum.