the definition of energy

I wish that US politicians and the media would stop using the word energy as shorthand for fossil fuels. The United States is banning the import of Russian oil, gas, and coal, which, while they can be burned to release energy, are not themselves energy.

Equating the word energy with fossil fuels only distorts our perception of the problems and possible solutions. Politicians and pundits panic and look for more oil and gas to replace the Russian supply, even though drilling for additional petroleum and building LNG facilities are time-consuming processes which we must not expand but scale back quickly and dramatically if we are to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius, as the recent IPCC report alarmingly illustrates.

Rather, if we consider energy more broadly, we can see other ways forward that are cheaper, quicker, and better for the environment. A couple of weeks ago, Bill McKibben published a piece outlining how President Biden could invoke the Defense Production Act to churn out heat pumps to send to Europe so that they can break away from dependency on Russian methane for heating. Bonus: this would create jobs in the US and help our country in its own transition away from fossil fuels after the immediate crisis in Europe has passed. Amazingly, McKibben’s eminently practical and sustainable idea is gaining traction and is being studied by the Biden administration.

It’s also wise and practical to take energy efficiency seriously. It’s been said that the cheapest kilowatt/therm is the one that you don’t have to use. It’s helpful to weatherize and retrofit existing buildings so that their heating, cooling, and lighting needs are lessened, making it easier to run them with available and developing renewable energy resources.

At this point, some of the electricity needed will be generated from fossil fuels and nuclear plants but it is shortsighted to expand these rather than phase them out. Developing new drilling and mining sites is a long, expensive process, as is building new plants, which come with decades of environmental and public health consequences. It is quicker, cheaper, and healthier to move to renewable energy.

The same argument goes for the electrification of transportation. Many countries are already moving toward this goal, which helps in both the environmental and political realms.

While Russia is uppermost in everyone’s minds right now, the truth is that fossil fuels have been used as a political weapon by autocrats and oligarchs around the world. (Rachel Maddow’s book Blowout tells this history in fascinating detail.) Their power will be greatly reduced by a rapid phaseout of these fuel sources in favor of wind, sun, water, and geothermal sources.

These gifts of the earth are a common inheritance.

No one owns the sun or wind.

Author: Joanne Corey

Please come visit my eclectic blog, Top of JC's Mind. You can never be sure what you'll find!

16 thoughts on “the definition of energy”

  1. Like your post but don’t see that wind, solar, water and geothermal are reliable enough to produce the amount of energy and materials we are now consuming. That means either new technology or drastic lifestyle changed to reduce our total energy consumption.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s the combination of the resources, in addition to storage, that make the system work. There have been numerous studies that show that, especially when off-shore wind is available as part of the mix. Efficiency is also an important part of the equation. For example, heat pumps use energy much more efficiently than even the most efficient methane furnaces. While advances in technology will likely make more energy available, existing technologies are sufficient to transition. Dr. Mark Jacobson and colleagues have done a lot of research on this. You can see some of their findings and plans here:


      1. Looked over those plans. They call for a world wide reduction in energy usage of 57 per cent. And a lot of windmills that can only be built and maintained by using fossil fuels and rare earth. Same with storage facilities. Same with solar panels. There may be some future technology invented. We don’t have it yet.


        1. The plans are designed to use existing technology, although future technologies will no doubt come online to make things easier. Using less energy to accomplish the same goals is a key. For example, an EV uses less energy to travel a distance than an internal combustion engine. LED lighting uses much less energy than incandescent bulbs. Rare earth minerals are an issue; there will be some new mining but there are also recycling technologies that are being brought to scale, including in the Binghamton NY area where I live. (Most solar panels, by the way, are made with common elements.) There are also many things, like plastics, for which we use fossil fuels because they are currently cheapest, due to their still being massively subsidized by governments, but which can be done with other materials. The alternatives exist, they just aren’t currently implemented.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Michael Mann says yes, Bill Gayes says no. The article is a tie. And it gives no information to support either position. All the research on existing technology, and it is quite a lot, agreed with Gates. Present technology is not sufficient to maintain our present level of consumption. We are going to have to change our lifestyle and reduce consumption to avoid disaster and collaspe.


            1. Increases in efficiency mean that consumption can be reduced without major lifestyle changes. For example, my EV is much more efficient than my gas-powered Corolla. My heat pump is much more efficient than our former gas furnace and central air unit.

              Michael Mann is a scientist with decades of work on climate issues. Bill Gates is not. It is true that scientists are not unanimous about 100% renewables, although all agree that we can replace most fossil fuels. At this point, wind and solar are cheaper than fossil fuels for electricity generation, as well as being quicker to deploy.

              It’s hard to post a lot of links in WordPress comments, but this article has links to scientific papers by Dr. Mark Jacobson and others. The article has some experts who disagree, too, but you can look at some of the studies and see what you think. I’ve been following energy issues for a long time and find the evidence for moving to renewables compelling. Our household has reduced its consumption of fossil fuels to a very low level, so I’ve seen that it is possible to live a comfortable lifestyle that way. I think it is more a matter of political will – and the power of fossil fuel companies over government officials – than technical difficulties that keep us in fossil fuel status quo mode.


    1. Thank you, JoAnna. It helps that I’ve dealt with these issues for years and have had the opportunity to read and hear scientists engaged in current research. The advances in technology and the price fluctuations have been dramatic; things that would have been either impossible or too expensive ten years ago are now among the cheapest options to pursue.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wish you were in charge of this stuff. Seriously. You express yourself well and have a good understanding of the issues. I hope you copy and share some of your post information to people who make decisions.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thank you for the compliment, JoAnna. I’m afraid my sphere of influence is extremely limited, but I know that there are people who are expressing these ideas to some of the decision makers. I occasionally have people ask me to run for office but I don’t have the ability to interact constantly, think of my feet, and raise money that would be needed, not to mention that I don’t belong to a political party.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I understand about not having the ability to interact constantly. I’m not good at thinking on my feet either. Too bad those are requirements and would not be healthy for us. We will do what we can within reason.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Yes. One of the gifts for me in recent years is finding more discussion and support for introverts. Often, introverts have been told how we “should” be, as though who we are is somehow deficient. It feels authentic to be able to be claim my identity without apology.

              There are, of course, politicians and elected officials who are introverts, who can navigate the political parameters that come easily to extraverts. I just know that I can’t.

              Liked by 1 person

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