Carbon saving from existing federal policy is not good enough

The US Energy Information Administration’s April 30th Today In Energy post presented a graph similar to the one shown here. The figure compares CO2 emissions with and without the extension of policies that encourage conservation and promote low-carbon energy production. The figure shows that extending existing policies (orange line) reduces CO2 emissions relative to the reference, no extension case (blue line).
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Does “sustainable” have any meaning at all?

Ocean waves are a source of renewable energy.  Which is why I find the use of the word sustainable in this press release odd.  Take this line for example:

monitoring underwater noise generated by wave energy conversion devices, represents a significant step toward the ability to successfully and sustainably utilize the ocean as a new renewable energy resource.

The sustainability of a activity has to do with meeting our current needs without compromising the the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Wave energy conversion is sustainable.  Sure, harvesting wave energy causes environmental impacts.  All human activities cause environmental impacts.  Knowing as much as we can about these impact is important. Which is why the research IBM is doing to evaluate noise emissions is of value. However, suggesting that the technology can not be considered sustainable if some sound threshold is exceeded puts the focus in the wrong place.  Wave energy, like wind and sunlight are by their nature non-consumptive. Current use does not prevent future use.

Wave energy conversion is much more sustainable than burning fossil fuels.  This should be the starting point.  The goal then becomes to minimize, as much as is possible, the environmental impact of exploiting this abundant, sustainable resource.

This is more than a simple semantic argument.  Focusing on the study as an assessment if the impacts of an sustainable activity, puts the research into an appropriate comparative context. The questions this research is addressing are

  • How does the noise pollution caused by this technology compare to current ocean uses such as oil exploration and shipping?
  • How does the environmental impact of wave energy conversion compare with the impact from other energy sources?

How loud would this technology have to be to make compare unfavorably with climate change driven by continued dependence on carbon based fuels?  How much noise would the system need to produce to make  risking another deepwater horizon spill look good?