5 thoughts on “Who Moved My Oil Rig?

  1. Mike Kennedy says:

    Bruce:

    While I agree with you in theory, in practical terms, alternative energy is no where near the horizon when it comes to powering motor engines.

    There are alternatives to coal to generate electricity, such as natural gas and nuclear power. I haven’t heard or don’t remember you promoting either but I may have missed it.

    We need alternatives to oil for cars and other machines, but so far, there is nothing that comes close in efficiency and cost. We are stuck with this for quite a while and I think you and I will be long departed before we see the end of the oil age.

    1. john sherman says:

      Still, there are electric cars and hybrids currently available; how many more and how fast is up for grabs. Of course, that isn’t a lot of help if the electricity to power them comes from coal.

      I think the problem is that we’re all waiting for some great technological leap forward which will allow us to live exactly the lives we’re currently living, except for free–the old “too cheap to meter” prediction for nuclear power–and with no harm to the environment. Or maybe somebody can find a way to turn mosquitoes into bio-fuel or generate electricity from the hot air on talk radio.

      Instead, we should look for hundreds of boring little changes we can make which will collectively improve things, and I would begin with energy efficiency and conservation. I know Obama got jeered for suggesting that everyone see that their tires are properly inflated and that Jimmy Carter got ridiculed for turning down the thermostat and wearing a sweater, but if millions of people did what they advised, the nation would be better off.

      I remember reading in a Newsweek a remark made about housing in California–this was so long ago that the story was on the building boom and Newsweek was worth reading–and the author mentioned in passing that one California builder was producing houses that were 30%-40% more energy efficient than the competition. My first thought was find out what that guy is doing and make it code. There are millions of structures is this country that were built before anyone thought about energy efficiency, and they all could be retro-fitted, tightened up and otherwise improved. To the extent that homes and other buildings are heated by fuel oil, there’s an automatic improvement in our dependence on oil. The nice thing about efficiency is that it benefits the end user day in and day out without further expenditure. Also not a bad way to give people jobs.

  2. Mike Kennedy says:

    I agree with everything you’ve said.

    I think conservation is all we can do until someone comes up with an alternative fuel or fuels that are as cheap and efficient as oil. No doubt there is a lot of energy waste and we could all do better to turn down the lights, the heat and get off our collective behinds and walk a bit, bike a bit and take public transportation.

    And yes, new houses can and should be made more energy efficient.

  3. Mike and John, good discussion.

    My friend Leonard Prescott, former chair of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota, is working on getting energy-efficient housing for Indians on reservations and urban areas. The buildings are insulated concrete block where the walls go down below the frost level, conducting ground warmth into the house in winter and ground cool in summer.
    There are a lot of things we can do to use less energy — but that’s been true for four decades, and Americans have chosen to do very few of them. Will the Gulf disaster make us change our habits? I fear only filthy lucre will do that — gas at $4 a gallon. Ask Tom Friedman about that.

    Mike, I’m dismayed by your view that it will take a long long time to get significant alternative energy. It sounds like what well-meaning liberals (I’m not accusing you of being a liberal, just to be clear) told blacks in the Fifties and Sixties — have patience, change will come. Change won’t come until we make it come, until we push it.

    We could push alternative energy with tax policy, with incentives, with leadership. We give oil huge subsidies, we give internal combustion engines huge subsidies. And we don’t figure in the hidden — now not so hidden — costs of pollution, from health costs to the cost of cleanup. How efficient is oil as an energy source when spills destroy the Gulf economy and cost thousands of jobs? The cost of unemployment? Add that in to the cost of oil and solar energy becomes competitive.

    Nuclear? Tell me the solution to nuclear waste storage and transportation. And the cost.

    Natural gas? A cleaner alternative in some ways, but still pollutes. A transition fuel at best.

    Conservation and creativity are the answers — with tax and incentive policy that takes the future into account, the world our kids will live in. All-out government/private sector/educational institutions collaboration to make alternative energy sources real. While you and I are still alive, mi amigo.

  4. Mike Kennedy says:

    Bruce:

    Good points. But there is no current economic scenario where solar is more economical than oil. It would take more than the effects of the spill. Besides, if you are going to do that, you need to account for all the jobs and income the oil industry produces in the gulf.

    A true cost benefit analysis has to figure in all angles. Consider all the subsidies oil gets. Fair enough. Even with them, oil is more economical and efficient than any other alternative.

    The fact is that 2 billion people in the world have never turned on a light switch. They don’t have access to the cheap energy we have.

    The earth gets 174 million billion watts of sunlight so that a patch of ground five yards by five yards could supply a person with all the energy he or she needs, but this power does not come in the form of electricity or anything viable. In addition, we have the inconvenience of clouds, night, winter, trees etc.

    In Matt Riddley’s new books he states that in order to supply just our country with our current power demand, we would need solar panels the size of Spain; or wind farms the size of Kazakhstan; or woodland the size of India and Pakistan; or hayfields for horses the size of Cadada and Russia combined; or hydro dams with catchments one third larger than all the continents combined.

    “The world economy needs plentiful joules of energy if it is not to run on slaves, and at the moment by the far the cheapest source of those joules is the burning of hydrocarbons. About 600 kilograms of carbon dioxide are emitted per thousand dollars of economic activity. No country is remotely on a path toward cutting that number substantially,” says physicist David MacKay, in the book. “It could be done but only at a vast cost, both environmental as well as physical.”

    Wind farms kill eagles and other birds; orang-utans are killed when the get in the way of oil-palm biofuel plantations, all wildlife suffers from loss of estuaries, free flowing rivers and open country used for dams, to say nothing of all the land it would take out of production to produce energy made with grains.

    “Let’s stop sanctifying false and minor gods,'” says energy expert Jesse Ausubel, “and heretically chant “Renewables are not green”

    Nuclear produces more power from a smaller footprint, with fewer fatal accidents and less pollution than any other energy technology, writes Riddley..

    The waste they produce is equal to a Coke can per person per lifetime.

    Ask France how the whole nuclear thing is working. I believe they get about 80 percent of their power from nuclear.

    There are alternatives, many of them at a cost no where near affordable for us, much less poorer countries and those in the Third World. Those that are viable, like nuclear, have been demonized by environmental catastrophists.

    Is it possible that can change? Yes. Is is likely any time in the near future — no.

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