Energy Shifts: Why we’re using what we’re using.

Hello All!

My name is Devin Braun, and I’m a rising junior at the College. I am a Government and Environmental Policy double major, so I’m very interested in the future policy course our nation’s energy consumption takes. To do this, one must have a sense of the socio-historical background of our energy consumption and how we’ve gotten to be the society of hydrocarbons that we are. The implications of our hydrocarbon use have linkages to environmental science, sociology, economics, and international politics.

Along with Professor Brent Kaup of Sociology, I will be researching the past determinants of energy shifts between coal, oil, and natural gas. This is not to say that any one of the three has faded from our consumption, but rather that our growing needs have been met by different concentrations of these three sources over time. Evolving notions of resource scarcity (peak-oil, for example), property rights, and economic prosperity, to name a few, are possible explanatory variables.

While the research will at first be geared toward understanding past energy shifts, we also want to understand why, using the same field of explanations, natural gas is now receiving heightened attention. Is it because it’s less carbon-intensive than coal? Is it because it’s more abundant in many places than oil? Is it because it’s cheaper and more efficient to refine? Is it because of changing state or corporate management of domestic economies? These are the questions we hope to answer.

Admittedly, part of the drive to understand these shifts for me is to eventually gear them toward more environmentally-sustainable options. What are the characteristics needed to push biomass, electric cars, or low-impact hydro-electric power? From my point of view, our foreign hydrocarbon addiction has not only proven detrimental to the environment but has also financially solidified rather harmful regimes around the world and has subjected millions of local inhabitants to lives centered around dirty resource extraction.

You’ll probably be able to find me around Swem Library for much of the summer, as I’ll be reading through decades of hydrocarbon industry journals and trying to code for the various determinants of industry practices. When all is said and done, I’ll create a sort of detailed timeline of energy shifts and their determinants. From the end of summer and beyond, Professor Kaup and I will go on to try to explain current trends.

I’ll be on campus from June 7 through August 1 or so. I look forward to the academic and social experiences I’ll have living around such equally dedicated scholars. I know that everyone’s excited about their projects, and I look forward to reading more about them. I’ll be sure to post at intervals the progress I make throughout the summer. Talk to you all soon!

Devin Braun