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This is What Extraction Looks Like
I keep seeing this term “Production” used to describe the process of extracting a natural material and sending it on its way to becoming pollution.  That’s wrong, and we should all commit to using the correct word, which is:

This is so basic.

What you extract something, it’s gone.  Like my left upper molar.  I can try to convince myself that the object now there is just as good as the real thing.  The good news is that it doesn’t hurt any more when exposed to a hot drink.  But I am reminded every time I floss under it (yes under it!), that it is not the same thing as that which was once a firmly attached part of me.  And the endontist was very clear on the range of bad outcomes (bone surgery, anyone?) if I do not maintain it.

Let’s apply this to an example out in the wider world.   There is a large piece of land, federal land by the way, and thus owned by all of us.  Once it had grazing land above the surface, and water and coal below.   A coal company came along and decided it was a good idea to “Produce” all that coal.  So they got the federal government lease at an “auction” where they were the only bidder.  Then they proceeded to destroy the range land, pollute the water, sell the coal, and pocket the money.

Let’s be clear that nothing was produced.  Material was extracted, and now it’s gone.  As is the grazing land and the water resource.

Setting aside for a moment the ridiculously long list of pollution impacts, let’s focus on the fact that the material is gone.

This particular spot was chosen for an open pit mine because it was the most “economic”.  That translates, one way or another, into having the highest available Energy Return on Investment (EROI).  By rule, the location with the highest EROI will generally be chosen first.  So when each resource is gone, the next one will have a lower EROI.  More cost and more pollution to get that next fix of energy.

This effect is dramatically visible in the move to extract unconventional liquid hydrocarbons.  “Unconventional” means hydrocarbons whose EROI is so bad, or whose location is so remote and dangerous, that they never would have been considered until the easier reserves were gone.  Don’t be fooled by descriptions of new technology that now makes it possible to extract the new sources – it is technology born of desperation.

Before and After Extraction
It is broadly true that the EROI of all carbon fuels extracted is going down, year after year.  So, to get a given amount of energy, it requires expending a steadily increasing amount of energy.  And that’s bad news, because, as the total global extraction rate stays the same or even increases, lower EROI means more and more pollution, including and especially of greenhouse gases.  Tars sands is the most visible poster child for this extra energy use and extra pollution per unit of useful energy, but the trend is clear across the board.

So please accept these worthy missions:

1)    Never use the term “Production” when referring to extraction of carbon fuels, or any other natural material.

2)    When you see or hear this term “Production” in this context, challenge it.

3)    Remember, and remind people, of the total cost of extraction.  The cost is not just pollution.  The full cost of any extracted fuel is: (Direct Cost) + (Pollution) + (Lowered EROI for the next batch of fuel).

4)    When you think of extraction, think of my former tooth.  Extraction, of anything that nature intended to be in a certain place, hurts.

Use any method you deem fit to challenge the use of misleading terms, such as “Production”.  Perhaps a visual.  

Perhaps a few choice words from your heart.  Here are a few from mine, recalling when I used to walk my dogs past the long abandoned open pits in the coal country of east Tennessee:
When they say Production
We know what that means
They peel back the skin
Of She who has given us so much
And leave her to die.

A few incisive words for our future from Citisven in the comments:

Ask not what you can extract from the planet. Ask what you can replenish.
Our Future - Worth  Saving
Any time you think that you don't have a choice, you actually do.

Any time you think you have to do something that's wrong, you don't.

Not Here
Not Today
Not Any More

We shall not participate in our own destruction.


Coal mine images by Paul K Anderson

Tar Sands Before and After image by Greenpeace via kossack Agathena

Tar Sands image from Tar Sands Blockade

Originally posted to James Wells on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 08:47 AM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Change SOS and Community Spotlight.

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