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Going to extremes

Going to extremes

It only took us a century to use up the best of the planet’s finite reserves of fossil fuels. The dawning century will be a lot different.

In the autumn of 1987 I often sipped my morning coffee while watching a slow parade roll through the hazy dawn.

I had given up my apartment for a few months, so I could spend the rent money on quality bike-camping equipment for a planned trip to the Canadian arctic. My substitute lodgings were what is now referred to as “wild camping”, though most nights I slept in the heart of downtown Toronto. One of my favourite sites afforded a panoramic view of the scenic Don Valley Parkway, which was and remains a key automobile route from the suburbs into the city.

Even thirty-five years ago, the bumper-to-bumper traffic at “rush hour” had earned this route the nickname “Don Valley Parking Lot”. On weekday mornings, the endless procession of cars, most of them carrying a single passenger but powered by heat-throwing engines of a hundred or two hundred horsepower, lumbered downtown at speeds that could have been matched by your average cyclist.

Sometimes I would try to calculate how much heavy work could have been done by all that power … let’s see, 1000 cars/lane/hour X 3 lanes = 3000 cars/hour, X 200 horsepower each = the power of 600,000 horses! Think of all the pyramids, or Stonehenges, or wagon-loads of grain, that could be moved every hour by those 600,000 horses, if they weren’t busy hauling 3000 humans to the office.

This car culture is making someone a lot of money, I thought, but it isn’t making a lot of sense.

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an outside chance,

Between the Devil and the Green New Deal

We cannot legislate and spend our way out of catastrophic global warming.

From space, the Bayan Obo mine in China, where 70 percent of the world’s rare earth minerals are extracted and refined, almost looks like a painting. The paisleys of the radioactive tailings ponds, miles long, concentrate the hidden colors of the earth: mineral aquamarines and ochres of the sort a painter might employ to flatter the rulers of a dying empire.

To meet the demands of the Green New Deal, which proposes to convert the US economy to zero emissions, renewable power by 2030, there will be a lot more of these mines gouged into the crust of the earth. That’s because nearly every renewable energy source depends upon non-renewable and frequently hard-to-access minerals: solar panels use indium, turbines use neodymium, batteries use lithium, and all require kilotons of steel, tin, silver, and copper. The renewable-energy supply chain is a complicated hopscotch around the periodic table and around the world. To make a high-capacity solar panel, one might need copper (atomic number 29) from Chile, indium (49) from Australia, gallium (31) from China, and selenium (34) from Germany. Many of the most efficient, direct-drive wind turbines require a couple pounds of the rare-earth metal neodymium, and there’s 140 pounds of lithium in each Tesla.

It’s not for nothing that coal miners were, for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the very image of capitalist immiseration—it’s exhausting, dangerous, ugly work. Le Voreux, “the voracious one”—that’s what Émile Zola names the coal mine in Germinal, his novel of class struggle in a French company town.

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green new deal, commune, mining, renewable energy, JASPER BERNES, fossil fuels, finite resources

How Will We Pay for the Energy Transition?

How Will We Pay for the Energy Transition?

Earlier this month, the International Renewable Energy Agency said the world needed to invest $131 trillion by 2050 in order to limit the estimated global rise in average temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius. That’s 30 percent more than what is currently planned. It’s also equal to investments of $4.4 trillion every year from now until 2050. How realistic are these spending goals?

Well, it appears that the realism of IRENA’s estimates depends on how you look at the energy transition: as simply an increase in renewable energy generating capacity and a consequent increase in the share of electricity in national energy mixes. While not exactly wrong, this widely shared perspective fails to account for the sheer scale of the change we are in the process of undertaking.

James Bradford, chief executive of asset manager Vivid Capital management, compared the energy transition to the Industrial Age in terms of significance—an era that will present substantial challenges and numerous opportunities.

“There will be some spectacular growth industries developed along the way,” Bradford told Oilprice. “Installed solar capacity for example is expected to grow from less than 1TW today to nearly 10TW by 2050. That’s 10x growth, which is enormous growth, for any industry.”

And solar is just one example. When you add all the other renewable forms of energy such as wind or biomass, or hydro, and the ambitious plans many governments have about hydrogen, the scale of the transition—and the fitting size of the investment needed to implement it—becomes more obvious.

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irina slav, oilprice.com, renewable energy, energy transition, fossil fuels, irea, international renewable energy agency

The last of the fossil fuels ?

If the story of humankind starts with the invention of fire, then wood is the fuel that changed the world. But fast forward a million or so years to the Anthropocene age, and more than a third of the people on this planet are still so impoverished that they have no alternative. They must either search and gather wood for fuel if they live close to woodlands and forests or purchase the fuel as charcoal in the marketplace.

The pressure on the world’s forests is intense. When three billion people cook with wood and charcoal each day what is, in principle, a renewable source of energy is overwhelmed by the needs of millions of poor families that have no alternative but to gather wood wherever they can find it, or to cut down young trees if they can’t.

Analysts speak of an energy ladder.  Families are imagined as ascending from biomass fuels like firewood and charcoal, to kerosene and liquid petroleum gas (LPG), and finally to natural gas and then to the most powerful and magical of all fuels: electricity.

Around 3 billion people in developing countries (mostly women and girls) cook with wood and charcoal. The exposure to smoke and household air pollution kills several million women and young children every year.

For most low-income families in the developing world this idea is a fairy tale. They may have electricity, but in such small quantities that it is used for the most important tasks: lighting, and charging the ubiquitous (and essential) mobile phone.  Why waste precious electricity on something as mundane as cooking?

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Why every state is vulnerable to a Texas-style power crisis

Why every state is vulnerable to a Texas-style power crisis

“The infrastructure we have built right now really isn’t ready.”

Workers repair a power line in Austin, Texas, on February 18, 2021.
Power outages in Texas after Winter Storm Uri left millions in the dark. Such outages are a growing threat throughout the country.
 Thomas Ryan Allison/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The blackouts that gripped parts of Texas for days as temperatures dipped to record lows last month were stunning for a state that prides itself on its diverse and abundant energy supplies. Texas is the country’s largest oil producer, largest lignite coal producer, largest natural gas producer, and largest wind energy producer.

Yet despite its bountiful resources, every electricity source — natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar — fell short just as Texans needed to warm up the most.

Now that Texas has thawed out after an icy freeze left more than 4 million people in the cold and dark, heads are rolling.

This week, Texas Public Utility Commissioner Shelly Botkin resigned, leaving just one commissioner of the three-member group remaining. This follows a wave of resignations at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the group that oversees the state’s power grid.

It’s not yet clear how many Texans died amid the cold, but several people died after they lost power, including an 11-year-old boy. Others died from carbon monoxide poisoning as they burned fuel indoors or ran their cars in desperate attempts to stay warm. Millions lost drinking water for days.

The blackouts cost the state economy upward of $130 billion in damages and losses, and some people who did have power saw their bills spike by thousands of dollars. Grid operators say that the situation could actually have been a lot worse, with the system minutes away from a months-long blackout.

Texas politicians have not earned much sympathy from the ordeal. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz derided California’s “failed energy policies” when the Golden State suffered blackouts last year. Gov. Greg Abbott went on television to erroneously link the power outages to the Green New Deal. Other Texas politicos blamed iced-up wind turbines for the electricity shortfall when the majority of the power losses were from natural gas.

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Fossil Fuels Are Wildly More Expensive Than Previously Thought, Study Says

Fossil Fuels Are Wildly More Expensive Than Previously Thought, Study Says

Overinflated fossil fuel investments might be a ‘worthless’ bubble waiting to trigger the next crash, while renewables seem more appealing than ever.

A new study finds that conventional electric power plants powered by fossil fuels and hydro are massively overvalued by the world’s leading analyst organizations. The report says they are overvalued to such a degree that the trillions of dollars of investment in these industries could amount to a “bubble” similar to the subprime mortgage housing bubble whose collapse triggered the 2008 financial crash.

The stunning findings imply not only that renewable energies such as solar, wind and battery storage are far cheaper than believed, but that they are already outcompeting coal, natural gas, nuclear, and hydro power. This fact, however, has been masked by distorted calculations based on a fundamentally incorrect metric: the ‘Levelized Cost of Electricity’ (LCOE).

The new report by independent technology think tank RethinkX, titled The Great Stranding: How Inaccurate Mainstream LCOE Estimates are Creating a Trillion-Dollar Bubble in Conventional Energy Assets is written by environmental social scientist Dr. Adam Dorr, a Research Fellow at RethinkX, and the think tank’s co-founder Tony Seba, a serial entrepreneur and Stanford University lecturer in technology disruption.

Their new analysis, which is likely to send shockwaves across fossil fuel industries and utilities, probes into the science around a conventional power plant’s LCOE—which basically measures the average cost of generating electricity across the entire lifetime of the plant, including its building and operating costs.

Energy hype

Dorr and Seba show that mainstream LCOE assessments for conventional coal, gas, nuclear, and hydro power plants are simply false. In reality, due to the growing inefficiencies of these forms of energy, the amount of electricity conventional power plants produce falls over time, in some cases quite dramatically…

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Science : No single or combination of alternative energy resources can replace fossil fuels

Science : No single or combination of alternative energy resources can replace fossil fuels

Preface. Even though this research was from 2002, it is still true today.   There simply are no replacements for the fossil fuels that power our civilization.  If only scientists could violate the laws of thermodynamics and physics.

Even if there were Something Else, we’re running out of time, energy, and mineral resources to replace fossil fuels despite having had all of human history and the last few centuries to find alternatives. Energy transitions take decades. It took 50 years for oil to capture 10% of global energy after it was first drilled in the 1860s, and 30 more years to provide 25% of all energy. It took 70 years for natural gas to go from 1% to 20% of global energy (Smil 2010).

The larger the scale of existing infrastructure, the longer fossil substitution will take. In 2019, wind and solar contributed just 1.3% of total world energy consumption (BP 2020).

* * *

Experts question new energy sources. Oct 31, 2002. AP.

None of the known alternate energy sources are technically ready to take the place of fossil fuels experts say in a new study.

The study by 18 scientists and engineers in university, government and private labs evaluated technologies that would make energy without burning oil, coal or natural gas and found that no single system or combination of systems could replace these fossil fuels.

Hoffert said a combination of renewable energy sources — such as wind and solar power generation, or electrical power beamed from orbiting solar satellites, and nuclear fusion power plants — “are theoretically capable of keeping our civilization going into the future, but the problem is that we haven’t taken the challenge seriously enough to do research in it. We are putting practically nothing into really, seriously studying the problem.”

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Past world economic production constrains current energy demands: Persistent scaling with implications for economic growth and climate change mitigation


Climate change has become intertwined with the global economy. Here, we describe the contribution of inertia to future trends. Drawing from thermodynamic principles, and using 38 years of available statistics between 1980 to 2017, we find a constant scaling between current rates of world primary energy consumption  and the historical time integral W of past world inflation-adjusted economic production Y, or . In each year, over a period during which both  and W more than doubled, the ratio of the two remained nearly unchanged, that is  Gigawatts per trillion 2010 US dollars. What this near constant implies is that current growth trends in energy consumption, population, and standard of living, perhaps counterintuitively, are determined by past innovations that have improved the economic production efficiency, or enabled use of less energy to transform raw materials into the makeup of civilization. Current observed growth rates agree well with predictions derived from available historical data. Future efforts to stabilize carbon dioxide emissions are likely also to be constrained by the contributions of past innovation to growth. Assuming no further efficiency gains, options look limited to rapid decarbonization of energy consumption through sustained implementation of at least one Gigawatt of renewable or nuclear power capacity per day. Alternatively, with continued reliance on fossil fuels, civilization could shift to a steady-state economy, one that devotes economic production exclusively to maintining ongoing metabolic needs rather than to material expansion. Even if such actions could be achieved immediately, energy consumption would continue at its current level, and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations would only begin to balance natural sinks at concentrations exceeding 500 ppmv.

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Achtung Baby! (It’s Cold Outside) – Germany’s ‘Green’ Energy Fail Rescued by Coal and Gas

Achtung Baby! (It’s Cold Outside) – Germany’s ‘Green’ Energy Fail Rescued by Coal and Gas

Barely a week after Davos luminaries met with world leaders and Silicon Valley oligarchs to plot their latest phase of the Great Reset, the underlying provenance of their entire ‘climate emergency’ thesis is still struggling to correspond with reality.

Their much-celebrated “Zero Carbon” agenda which virtue-signaling leaders like Justin Trudeau, Boris Johnson and Joe Biden are currently advocating for – is proving to be a lot more difficult to achieve in reality than it is on their elaborate UN Agenda 2030 Powerpoint slides, computer modeled projections and Zoom calls.

No one is being hit with this sobering reality more than the Europe’s premier green trailblazer, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is currently in the grips of Europe’s record-breaking freeze this winter.

Stop These Things reports…

Germany’s held up as the world’s wind and solar capital. But, at the moment, the ‘green’ stuff can’t be purchased, at any price.

Its millions of solar panels are blanketed in snow and ice and breathless, freezing weather is encouraging its 30,000 wind turbines to do absolutely nothing, at all. [Note: don’t forget about the constant supply of electricity from the grid that these things chew up heating their internal workings so they don’t freeze up solid!]

So much for the ‘transition’ to an all wind and sun powered future – aka the ‘Energiewende’.

Despite being the object of consternation and much vilification over the last 20 years, Germany’s coal-fired plants are now being appreciated for what they are: truly meaningful power generation sources, available on demand, whatever the weather. With a Nationwide blackout a heartbeat away, the German obsession with unreliable wind and solar is like a time bomb set to explode.

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New research on forests and oceans suggest projections of future warming may be too conservative, with serious consequences

New research on forests and oceans suggest projections of future warming may be too conservative, with serious consequences

How much will the world warm with ongoing fossil-fuel carbon emissions? It’s a big question that preoccupies policymakers and activists, with important discussions about when the world will hit two degrees, are we really on a path to four degrees of warming with current Paris commitments, and so on.

And the answer is that the world is likely to warm more than current projections, if two recently published pieces of research on the terrestrial and ocean carbon sinks are any guide.

Warming projections and carbon sinks. Future warming projections come from complex climate models, which combine historic data, current observations, equations that encompass current understandings of the bio-geo-physical processes, and some assumptions about processes where direct observation or modelling is more difficult.

About 30% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) that humans are pouring into the atmosphere mixes with the top layer of the ocean (making the water more acidic and posing a growing acidification threat to ocean life), about 30% is absorbed by the terrestrial biosphere (trees and plants), and about 40% stays in the air, heating the planet.

Assumptions about those processes in the future fundamentally affect projections of future warming. If these ocean and terrestrial carbon stores (or “carbon sinks”) become less efficient, then a greater proportion of human emissions will stay in the air, and warming will be faster than currently projected for a given level of emissions.

So the models make assumptions about these carbon stores:

  1. For the terrestrial carbon sink, it has been observed that with more CO2, plants grow faster because there is more CO2 “food” for them to absorb.  This is known as the “fertilisation effect”, and while there are highly divergent sink trajectories from Earth system models, the models “nevertheless agree on continued futures increases in sink strength due to the CO2 fertilisation effect.

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Denouncing ‘Handouts to Big Oil,’ Biden Calls on Congress to End $40 Billion in Taxpayer Subsidies for Fossil Fuels

Denouncing ‘Handouts to Big Oil,’ Biden Calls on Congress to End $40 Billion in Taxpayer Subsidies for Fossil Fuels

“Biden campaigned on eliminating fossil fuel giveaways, and voters agree by a huge margin,” said one climate activist.

Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry listens as President Joe Biden speaks on tackling climate change in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on January 27, 2021.

Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry listens as President Joe Biden speaks on tackling climate change in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on January 27, 2021. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

In a speech Wednesday outlining his new executive actions aimed at confronting the “existential threat” of the climate crisis, President Joe Biden said he plans to ask the Democrat-controlled Congress to pass legislation eliminating the tens of billions in taxpayer subsidies the federal government continues to hand Big Oil even as the planetary emergency wreaks havoc in the U.S. and across the globe.

“Unlike previous administrations, I don’t think the federal government should give handouts to Big Oil to the tune of $40 billion in fossil fuel subsidies,” said Biden. “I’m gonna be going to the Congress and asking them to eliminate those subsidies.”

While the president did not offer specifics on what he would want a potential bill to look like, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and other progressive lawmakers introduced legislation last year that proposed ending direct federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and “abolishing dozens of tax loopholes, subsidies, and other special interest giveaways littered throughout the federal tax code.”

The lawmakers estimated the End Polluter Welfare Act would save taxpayers up to $150 billion over the next decade.

Watch Biden’s remarks:

Biden’s call for legislative action on fossil fuel subsidies came just before he signed an executive order that, according to a White House summary, “directs federal agencies to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies as consistent with applicable law”—a move that would not touch handouts mandated by Congress.

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Are EVs good for the environment? – Mostly Not!

Are EVs good for the environment? – Mostly Not!

EVs Still Charged By Electricity From Fossil Fuel

The idea Electric vehicles are less damaging to the environment has been broadly accepted by many people as fact. The notion EVs are good for the planet is a key factor for many of those deciding to buy an electric car. This debate has become rather political with a recent article in Barron’s pointing out that some of the research damning electric cars has been funded by Saudi oil interest. Part of the argument flowing out of this centers on the idea that policies incentivizing electric-car production will lead to the creation of more carbon emissions during coming years than if we were to instead encourage the use of efficient gasoline engines.

It is not surprising that people are going to try and shape conclusions and public opinion to serve their strategic interests. The direction society takes is a high-stakes game since the EU, Japan, Korea, and 110 other countries have pledged carbon neutrality by 2050. This is why countries such as China have extended $100 billion thus far in EV subsidies, the fact is China wants to make many of these vehicles. This is the main reason shares in Chinese EV manufacturers such as NIO and Xpeng have followed Tesla stock higher in recent months.

Adding to claims of agenda “propaganda” is the fact that a lengthy and detailed EV study by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), published in the scientific journal “Nature Communications,” was paid for by oil giant Saudi Aramco, which counts China as its largest customer. This indicates how little transparency exists around private companies’ financial or other involvement in the U.S. Department of Energy’s research. Some analysts say that Aramco’s role in producing the research is a potential conflict of interest and that the relationship between Aramco and ORNL highlights a broader concern about how some companies fund scientific research only to directly support their business interests.  

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Methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells underestimated

Methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells underestimated

Methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells underestimated
Bubbles of methane gas in water around an unplugged oil/gas well in Pennsylvania. Credit: Mary Kang

A recent McGill study published in Environmental Science and Technology finds that annual methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas (AOG) wells in Canada and the US have been greatly underestimated—by as much as 150% in Canada, and by 20% in the US. Indeed, the research suggests that methane gas emissions from AOG wells are currently the 10th and 11th largest sources of anthropogenic methane emission in the US and Canada, respectively. Since methane gas is a more important contributor to global warming than carbon dioxide, especially over the short term, the researchers believe that it is essential to gain a clearer understanding of methane emissions from AOG wells to understand their broader environmental impacts and move towards mitigating the problem.

Multiple sources of uncertainty

The researchers show that the difficulties in estimating overall  emissions from AOG  in both countries are due to a lack of information about both the quantities of methane gas being emitted annually from AOG wells (depending on whether and how well they have been capped), and about the number of AOG wells themselves.

“Oil and gas development started in the late 1850s both in Canada and the US,” explains Mary Kang, the senior author on the paper and an assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at McGill. “Many companies that dug wells have come and gone since then, so it can be hard to find records of the wells that once existed.”

Thousands of undocumented AOG wells

To determine the number of AOG wells, the researchers analyzed information from 47 state, provincial or territorial databases as well as from research articles and national repositories of drilled and active wells in the US and Canada.

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How BC’s Fossil Fuel Fights Link to a String of Wins in the US

How BC’s Fossil Fuel Fights Link to a String of Wins in the US

A thin green line with global impact. Latest in a series on creating a zero-carbon bioregion.

On a brisk December morning in 2012, Montana ranchers in cowboy hats walked alongside members of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in traditional regalia through the streets of Seattle in search of a good breakfast. After eating, they headed to Seattle’s convention centre to square off against multinational companies aiming to move coal on trains through the Pacific Northwest to be loaded on ships bound for Asia.

Their partnership went the distance. Three years after that hearing, the proposed Washington coal terminal was dead. Those trains bearing Montana and Wyoming coal never rolled.

Opponents’ victory in that case was emblematic of how environmentalists, Indigenous Peoples, ranchers, politicians, doctors, fishermen and even windsurfers worked for a decade to fend off more than 20 proposals to ship fossil fuels across the Pacific Ocean, from near Prince Rupert, British Columbia clear south to San Luis Obispo, Calif.

While readers of The Tyee will be aware of ongoing resistance in B.C. against extracting and transporting fossil fuels, this is the story of how such efforts have for years crossed borders to connect with activism up and down the West Coast. The range of projects fought, from shipping coal and oil by train to pumping gas and oil through pipes, is a reminder of how sprawling and persistent the fossil fuel industry’s global export agenda is. And it demonstrates the power of grassroots organizing.

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Electricity Has Been in a Slump for 14 Years, But All Heck Has Broken Loose in How it’s Generated

Electricity Has Been in a Slump for 14 Years, But All Heck Has Broken Loose in How it’s Generated

Electricity generating capacity additions & retirements in 2021, and the long-term change in the power mix.

In 2021, developers and power plant owners plan to bring 39.7 gigawatts (GW) of new electricity generating capacity on line, and retire 9.1 GW in generating capacity, for a net increase in capacity of 30.6 GW, according to the EIA today. 70% of the capacity additions will be from wind and solar, 16% will be from natural gas, and 3% will be from a nuclear reactor. These are utility-scale power generators and exclude rooftop solar. Of the retirements, 86% will be coal and nuclear.

Electricity generation in the US has been a no-growth business since 2006, as efficiencies in electrical equipment (LED lights, appliances, air conditioning, etc.) and further offshoring of manufacturing have kept consumption roughly stable despite growth in the economy and population. But where all heck has broken loose is in how this power is being generated (data via the EIA).

Coal-fired power generation has collapsed by over 60% in 12 years, from around 169 GW hours per month on average in 2008 to 65 GW hours per month on average over the past 12 months, according to data from the EIA. It went from “King Coal” by a wide margin in 2008 (black line in the chart below) to #3, after surging natural gas-fired power generation (green line) blew by it in 2015 as the US has become the largest NG producer in world. And toward the end of 2020, coal fell even below nuclear power (brown line).

In a few years, wind and solar combined (red line) will blow by coal as well. With wind and solar, the big enticement for power generators is that the “fuel” is free and that there won’t be any “fuel” price increases in the future, no matter what inflation will do:

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wolfstreet, wolf richter, electricity generation, fossil fuels, renewable power, electricity

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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