High density energy spares landscapes; low density consumes it.

by Pete Geddes

Over millennia, plants and animals have adapted to changing climates by migrating to more favorable locales. If the climate continues to change in a manner consistent with current expectations, most warming will occur in the high latitudes. In order for plants and animals to adapt, large areas of habitat -- especially those along north-south gradients -- must be available for movement. This has direct implications for future energy policies.

As this piece in The New York Times illustrates (and an earlier post on the PERColator discusses), we should carefully consider the footprint our choices imply. In terms of sparing landscapes, energy sources with high energy densities (i.e., the amount of energy per unit of volume or mass) are important. Just as high-yield agriculture reduces pressure to convert native ecosystems to cropland, high-density fuels make it possible for the roughly 60 million residents of the United Kingdom to live on a small island while still protecting nearly a quarter of England’s landscape in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Regarding electricity production, today only two sources fit this bill: fossil fuels and nuclear power. Of these two, which do you prefer?