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Energy Independence and Peak Oil
August 26, 2009 2:57 PM   Subscribe

A Saudi Prince tells America to give up futile dreams of energy independence. Op-Ed in the NYT says Peak Oil is a waste of energy and an illusion. Meanwhile, the OECD's energy advisors, the IEA are saying cheap oil will run out in ten years, a decade sooner than estimates made as recently as 2007.
posted by bystander (88 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
PEAK OIL!
posted by dios at 3:00 PM on August 26, 2009


Lisa: I feel like I'm gonna die, Bart.
Bart: We're all gonna die, Lis.
Lisa: I meant soon!
Bart: So did I.
posted by you just lost the game at 3:03 PM on August 26, 2009 [9 favorites]


PEE OINK!
posted by The World Famous at 3:03 PM on August 26, 2009


PEE COIL.

aaah, a page right from Metafilter Classix.

If I were positioned to be on the supply side of peak oil, I'd be sure to get everyone in a status-quo business as usual mindset. I'm not saying that in any kind of tin foil conspiracy crazy way, but there's no downside for Saudis if people stick with oil, is there?
posted by boo_radley at 3:04 PM on August 26, 2009


He who controls the spice controls our destiny.
posted by billysumday at 3:06 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Err the cheap oil ended a few years ago when oil was $10 a barrel.

Oil production *will* peak as the Earth is a finite closed system. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you a bill of goods.

As for energy independence for the US of A - the US was importing oil just after WWII, so the nation hasn't been independant for years. But the US is a nation of denial. Look at the Texas Railroad commission - its only in the last few years they've admitted that production will stay down off the high.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:08 PM on August 26, 2009


Yes, Peak Oil. Why the sarcasm? It's fairly harrowing.
posted by phrontist at 3:09 PM on August 26, 2009


Thank god I'll be dead first.
posted by GuyZero at 3:11 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, Peak Oil. Why the sarcasm? It's fairly harrowing.

Some of us have learned to walk without rhythm, so we're not afraid of the worm.
posted by The World Famous at 3:12 PM on August 26, 2009 [10 favorites]


so, lynch's argument is that there is a ton more oil in the ground then people say based on the oil companies reporting methods. But, aren't there geologists who have already determined estimates for the amount of usable crude left on the planet? correct me if I'm wrong.

Also, investing the motivation for investing in alternative and clean energy shouldn't be just to "diversify". he didn't even hint that there may be an environmental component to this issue
posted by Think_Long at 3:12 PM on August 26, 2009


ahem, my previous sentence should not have that extra 'investing' at the beginning. I may have passed peak coherency awhile ago
posted by Think_Long at 3:14 PM on August 26, 2009


He said that it "bankrolls dictators, pays for nuclear proliferation, and funds both sides of our struggle against terrorism,"

Interestingly, the good Prince never addresses the truth of any of these points.

Someone selling you a bill of goods will always say its in your interests to keep buying. Aside from increased scarcity, Saudi Arabia's editorial position is no surprise.

Moving from oil to renewable biofuels would have several major benefits for the United States, improved environment and energy harvesting and scientific research jobs notwithstanding. It would also get us out of the Middle East and other countries where our presence provokes strife.

We don't owe the Saudis anything.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:16 PM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


my country of Saudi Arabia, which gets blamed for everything from global terrorism to high gasoline prices.

Well, the first part can be attributed to the whole fifteen of the nineteen attackers of our most visible recent terrorist attack were from your country. As for the second part, you say this in your very next sentence:

Saudi Arabia holds about 25 percent of the world's proven oil reserves, is by far the largest exporter of oil,

He might not be wrong, but it seems disingenious to ignore these elephants dancing around the room. And being lectured about how to deal with our dependence on Saudi oil by a Saudi prince feels like being told how to control my crack addiction by my dealer.

He raised some interesting points, but it felt kind of abrasive for some reason.
posted by quin at 3:17 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Faisal is completely full of shit, of course, carefully ignoring any mention of, for example, the huge issue of petroleum-based energy's massive environmental impact. He also laments the lack of the United States developing larger refinery infrastructure (which would of course allow Saudi Arabia to sell more oil) and again, deciding to ignore the equal reality that the same necessary financing could go toward alternative and cleaner energy that just happens to not be profitable for his country. I'll leave his shocked-that-gambling-is-going-on-here pap about terrorism links to the Saudis to the people who want to pretend they don't know he's lying.

I don't begrudge him on this editorial- he's accepting the reality of the situation and putting a spin on it. Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy country amidst a region of comparative poverty, and given that Capitalism and massive wealth disparity don't look like they're going away anytime soon, it can only continue to be so with a sizable bankroll. But it's mostly spin, and will likely be linked by and praised as fodder for the conservative field who respond to terms like "peak oil" and "energy independence" with condescending giggles.

Of course we'll never stop using oil entirely. It's where plastic comes from, for Christ's sakes. But the financial incentive for Saudi Arabia is to prevent the United States from having any alternative energy precautions, because if and when a consumption bubble bursts, it means they can make even more money than ever imagined- and that's in terms of people already making billions.

That said, kudos to him for being very polite in donning the costume of Captain Obvious in the graf very delicately pointing out that you'd have a lot cheaper oil right now if you didn't invade the third largest source of it.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 3:25 PM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


But, aren't there geologists who have already determined estimates for the amount of usable crude left on the planet?

"I find most geologists to be pretty Gloomy Gus these days, so it’s nice to see someone with the courage to make up such nice numbers."
posted by effbot at 3:26 PM on August 26, 2009 [9 favorites]


I am reassured by the first two articles. The next few decades of oil consumption will be just a smooth and uncomplicated as the last few decades. There is no need to panic, everything will be fine.
posted by Sova at 3:30 PM on August 26, 2009


C'mon Space Based Solar!
posted by mikelieman at 3:39 PM on August 26, 2009


Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy country amidst a region of comparative poverty

Hmmmm. I guess if you're a descendant of Saud you're wealthy. But for the rest of the country? The majority? No, they're not wealthy. They're poor and uneducated and angry. And Saudi Arabia is really a lot less wealthy, per capita, than the surrounding emirates and Kuwait. Saudi Arabia is an infinitely interesting, complicated, and completely fucked-up country. I doubt it lasts another 25 years. The ruling family has always had an alliance with the Wahhabis, but the trust between the two tribes is fracturing and those who are growing up in the madrassas would like nothing more than to see the destruction of the disgraceful royal family.
posted by billysumday at 3:40 PM on August 26, 2009


Oil production

There is no oil production in the world today.

Only extraction.
posted by ymgve at 3:41 PM on August 26, 2009 [20 favorites]


Man,

Maelipeck and Sheplin p0wned Lynch. Interesting to note that one of then works for the oil industry.
posted by dibblda at 3:41 PM on August 26, 2009


them that is
posted by dibblda at 3:41 PM on August 26, 2009


This article is a part of a series. Coming up next: The CEO of RJ Reynolds talks about why it's pointless to quit smoking. "Think you can get by with nicotine gum and lollipops? Think again."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:41 PM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


There is no technology on the horizon that can completely replace oil as the fuel for the United States' massive manufacturing, transportation, and military needs; any future, no matter how wishful, will include a mix of renewable and nonrenewable fuels.

There is no technology on the horizon that can replace even 10 percent of the U.S. oil needs. It's oil or back to the 19th century, baby. The search for chimerical "alternative" energies diverts talent and resources from the search for more efficient ways of using the oil we have -- which, like this Saudi Prince, I believe we have a hell of a lot more than the self-interested peak-oil gang claims.
posted by Faze at 3:42 PM on August 26, 2009


I guess what I'm trying to say there is that Saudi Arabia needs to worry about the order in its own house before criticizing the United States about how to implement our energy system. The stability of the government of Saudi Arabia is an illusion, and god help us when it falls apart completely. We'll be up shit creek, then, so yes, let's get on with this alternative energy and localized power grids and whatnot because even without peak oil, we're in trouble if we put too many of our eggs in the basket in Riyadh.
posted by billysumday at 3:44 PM on August 26, 2009


There is no oil production in the world today.

Well, if you're going to be pedantic (and clearly you are), there is... just not enough to matter (oil production is an ongoing process of nature, it hasn't stopped, it just happens at a ridiculously small rate compared to extraction).
posted by wildcrdj at 3:45 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Clearly, there's no peak horizon for flame bait.
posted by billysumday at 3:46 PM on August 26, 2009


C'mon Space Based Solar!

Why? Turns out land based solar is only in theory 2x better than existing land PV.

So why go through the extra hassle of putting it in space?
posted by rough ashlar at 3:47 PM on August 26, 2009


My reaction to Lynch's column was very much like the folks in effbot's link, which is truly worth the three minutes it takes to read. I really hope, for Lynch's sake, that he is far more sophisticated than he comes across, because he comes across as incredibly mis-informed and naive. Far more sophisticated and convincing arguments from the "cornucopian camp", if you're interested: Cambridge Energy Research Associates, M. A. Adelman.
posted by bumpkin at 3:48 PM on August 26, 2009


There is no technology on the horizon that can replace even 10 percent of the U.S. oil needs

Huh? Plug-in hybrids and/or electric vehicles can easily offset a large amount of transportation-related oil usage, and almost no electrical power in the US comes from oil. That's not only on the horizon, it's here. Now, if we wanted to speed up adoption, the government would have to step in with some serious incentives, but it's possible.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:50 PM on August 26, 2009


There is no technology on the horizon that can replace even 10 percent of the U.S. oil needs.^H at the price people used to pay for oil.

There. Fixed that for ya.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:51 PM on August 26, 2009


The search for chimerical "alternative" energies diverts talent and resources from the search for more efficient ways of using the oil we have -- which, like this Saudi Prince, I believe we have a hell of a lot more than the self-interested peak-oil gang claims.


Doesn't have to be either / or. Greater efficieny and decreased use is clearly the best way to extend a finite resource (subject to some well-known effects where greater efficiencies often provoke increased use, etc).

And, while I'm glad that you believe we have as much oil as Lynch claims (or, at least, more than the Peakers), I am not sure what you base your optimism on. The USGS, for instance, assesses undiscovered petroleum resources less than one-tenth the amount that Lynch glibly tosses out. Its a hard estimate to make, to be sure, but an order of magnitude is a whole lot of wrong.
posted by bumpkin at 3:56 PM on August 26, 2009


Why would he lie? What would he have to gain??
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:57 PM on August 26, 2009


it just happens at a ridiculously small rate compared to extraction

One cubic mile of Crude oil a year Bay-Bee.

I'm betting the fat (oil) made by various plants and animals is over 1 cubic mile per year - but most of that production is "spoken for".
posted by rough ashlar at 3:57 PM on August 26, 2009


Bring me the fuel! For the glory of Humungus!
posted by mr.ersatz at 3:58 PM on August 26, 2009


Bring me the fuel! For the glory of Humungus!

Hear, hear! There's been too much pain, too much blood shed.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:00 PM on August 26, 2009


I just love the idea of "Hey, our extraction technologies are way more powerful than in previous years! That means we can pump even more oil out of the ground forever!"

It's like nobody else stopped to think, "wait, doesn't that mean we're going to run out even faster?"
posted by Avenger at 4:03 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Peak Oil is a waste of energy

Truer words have never been said.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:19 PM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


"this "energy independence" motto is political posturing at its worst"

Brought to you by Turki al-Faisal... as in:

"the former Head of Saudi Intelligence, Turqi Al Faisal, was a major conduit of material and financial support to Osama, and that indeed that Osama was sent to Afghanistan essentially as an agent of Saudi Intelligence."

Al-Faisal met Bin Laden in June 2001 in a hospital in Dubai, together with CIA agent Larry Mitchell, as reported by the Guardian UK.

All in all, not the first person I'd want to listen to regarding US energy policy.
posted by markkraft at 4:20 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


That no new refining capacity is being built in the United States - despite how barely adequate the current capacity is - tells me all I need to know about the future of oil.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:32 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Good gravy, I could drive one of those outsized tarsands dump trucks through the gaping cavernous holes in Lynch's argument. Before I did so, though, I'd want him to promise to meet me on the Ghawar oil field in 2020 (the IEA's estimate of the global peak in production) to sell me all the oil I'd need to do so for the life of the vehicle at $30/barrel.

I mean, surely that'd look like an easy bet to a guy willing to go on the record in America's paper of record with the assertion that drilling boreholes through 5,000 feet of seabed in water 20,000 feet deep from billion-dollar offshore platforms will one day soon seem no more complicated than poking holes in the sand with mule-drawn rigs. Because, hey, he's just dispensing common sense here. And who would want to bet against common sense?
posted by gompa at 4:33 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


tells me all I need to know about the future of oil

Actually it tells you all you need to know about environmental protection law and how they've changed in 30 years. Growing up in an oil town, refineries suck. A colleague recently found himself in my hometown for some reason and described it to me as "Mordor-like". It never struck me that way because when you grow up in Mordor, having buring oil flares going all night just seems normal.
posted by GuyZero at 4:34 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


We don't owe the Saudis anything.

Except our way of life. Will you be the first to tear up the roads and install more rail lines? Or is hydrogen power reliable yet? Electric vehicles are great, but people have this weird fixation with lots of "elbow room" in the United States. That means more driving, or at least less shared commuter space. Could we even cut back our consumption by 25%? Sure, we could buy our fuel from other sources, but at some point we'll need their supplies, or those supplies will be part of the global supply chain.

Good closing line, but it's hard to make those words stick.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:36 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


He said that it "bankrolls dictators, pays for nuclear proliferation, and funds both sides of our struggle against terrorism,"

Well, it does all of these things, doesn't it? I mean, the connections seem pretty self-evident to me.

Or was he not referring to the oil trade here?
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:40 PM on August 26, 2009


We don't owe the Saudis anything.

Actually, according to the Census Bureau, you owed them $42B in 2008.
posted by GuyZero at 4:40 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oil will never run out, so we should keep burning as much of it as we can. What can go wrong?
posted by carfilhiot at 4:53 PM on August 26, 2009


Will you be the first to tear up the roads and install more rail lines?

To the extent that once pavement is put down it is almost never torn up in this country, absolutely. I'd be first in line.

I voted for leaders who support public transit and alternative energy research. I bike to work and to run errands. I buy local stuff where I can. I limit my use of plastic.

I guess I don't think we need to be forced to subsidize the lifestyles of wasteful rich Americans and warlords, terrorists and despots outside the country — most of whom would probably be happy to stop writing editorials and start ramping up their chaos and misery for the rest of us if it makes them an extra buck.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:58 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


“Someone selling you a bill of goods will always say its in your interests to keep buying.”

Well, a bill of goods or heroin, yeah.

“And it is often deployed as little more than code for arguing that the United States has a dangerous reliance on my country of Saudi Arabia, which gets blamed for everything from global terrorism to high gasoline prices.”

Except that it’s all true. Also go to hell you bastard.
Plus - Jimmy Carter (who was fairly meh as a president, but was right about this)

The debate peak oil – et.al. distracts from is exactly our dependence on foreign powers for a critical resource. It’s always galled me that people argue one side of this issue (that we should continue using oil, etc. – regardless of the truth or falsity of peak oil) completely ignore that it’s usurping our foreign policy decision making freedom. Oh, and screwing up the environment, and generally less efficient, etc.

Jesus, the whole side of that argument boils down to ‘if it’s too hard to do, if it’s going to take too long to do, why do it or even look at getting started? ’
F’ing pussies.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:11 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Fuck the Saudis. Refurb our rail lines! Buy local! Ride a bike!
posted by Scoo at 5:12 PM on August 26, 2009


You ever notice the same sorts of people who sarcastically snark "HURFDURF PEAK OIL!" are the same people who snark "HURFDURF GLOBAL WARMING!", "HURFDURF HOUSING BUBBLE!", and "HURFDURF IRAQ WAR!"

So yeah. Not a great track record as far being on the right side of important issues.
posted by tkchrist at 5:23 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


"sorts of people?" That's an impressively nebulous group-ad-hominem attack. Yes, those "sorts of people" do have a bad track record.
posted by The World Famous at 5:26 PM on August 26, 2009


> There is no oil production in the world today.

Says you. I spend my weekends in the garage with a tank of hydrogen, a pile of pure graphite, and a tiny, tiny, tiny hammer.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:29 PM on August 26, 2009 [5 favorites]


But, aren't there geologists who have already determined estimates for the amount of usable crude left on the planet?

I think gompa doesn't want to self-link, but I found this article of his rather insightful on the topic.
posted by never used baby shoes at 6:08 PM on August 26, 2009


I have just realized that I am an idiot and do not deserve a voice in this thread. I apologize to everybody.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:33 PM on August 26, 2009


So why go through the extra hassle of putting it in space?

Aside from the whole, "We get access to the stars" thing?

Here's a brief overview.
posted by mikelieman at 6:45 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


There is no technology on the horizon that can replace even 10 percent of the U.S. oil needs

No single technology, maybe. But why would we restrict ourselves to one? Why couldn't we use a suite of alternative energy technologies? Wind power where it's windy. Tidal power on the coasts. Solar power where possible. Why is it always this one technology can't replace oil?
posted by kirkaracha at 6:50 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, this smacks of a heroin dealer telling us we aren't addicts.
posted by loquacious at 7:29 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I prefer this headliney phrasing: Give Up Your Futile Dreams, America, Declares Saudi Prince
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:50 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, a close friend of mine from college who was once a VP at a major oil company, and whose specialty was oil production, told me that most in the industry consider that the peak is well in the past. You can never say for sure because we don't know everything that is is below the surface.

And they didn't finish the quote:
A Saudi Prince tells America "Give up futile your dreams of energy independence, you fools! Mwah-ha-ha-ha-hah-ha-ha-ha-hah!"
posted by eye of newt at 8:23 PM on August 26, 2009


There is no technology on the horizon that can replace even 10 percent of the U.S. oil needs. It's oil or back to the 19th century, baby

That is incorrect.
posted by flabdablet at 8:24 PM on August 26, 2009


Yeah, for better or worse we have the technology. We just need to stop being lazy and apply it and learn how to accept and adapt to massive paradigm changes in our individual lives.

People need to get used to the idea of less being more, and that numbers aren't everything.

I just don't want to see the planet turn into Geidi Prime or Philip K. Dick's version of Los Angeles - suffering from massive heat overload, kipple-ization and total global urban domination.

(On that note: Plant gardens, catch and store water, compost, feed whatever soil you have. I have a feeling shit is going to get rough. Do it.)
posted by loquacious at 8:53 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Will you be the first to tear up the roads and install more rail lines?

Sweet Christ, yes.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:22 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


No single technology, maybe. But why would we restrict ourselves to one? Why couldn't we use a suite of alternative energy technologies? Wind power where it's windy. Tidal power on the coasts. Solar power where possible. Why is it always this one technology can't replace oil?

Because those technologies are all used to produce electricity, and not internal combustion. To replace oil with solar or wind or whatnot will require a massive shift from ICE to electric/hybrid cars. At the moment, the battery technology just isn't where we need it to be. It's possible that it may be someday, and the more people adpot it the more quickly it'll get there -- but it's an open question of whether "someday" will occur before the decline in oil supplies really starts to bite our ass. I mean, you could argue that it already is....the global economy is basically flatlining at the mo, and oil's been hovering around $75 a barrel. If we were to actually experience growth --- you know, the thing that creates jobs --- then we might well see summer '08 all over again. Or worse.

But anyway, from an environmental perspective, if we do manage to switch to electric for transport it may actually worsen global warming, because we get a shitload of our electricity generation from coal. Further, coal is incredibly cheap compared to other potential sources of energy. (Here's one estimate I dug up --- 1 Kilowat hour of solar: 38 cents. Natural gas, per Kwh: A nickel. Coal? 6/10ths of one cent. More than 60 times as much.) Sure, solar and other alternatives will come down with more investment --- but 60x is a big damn difference.

Sorry to bitch at such length, but I feel like on this subject there's a widespread, and naive, assumption that runs "You know what the problem is? The problem is a lack of gumption. We have the tech, we're just too lazy!" You can see it in this thread. But the problem with switching to alternative energy sources is not willpower. It's that doing so will cost a fuckload of money and fuck up people's lives. When gas prices tripled last year, you could see the effects everywhere, you probably felt them yourself. Permanently higher energy costs are going to cause changes to society as massive as low transportation costs did in the first place.
posted by Diablevert at 10:06 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


use the auto-sector bailout money to build

i) light rail mass transportation
ii) renewable energy plants (wind farms, solar farms etc.) and
iii) high efficiency breeder nuclear plants

take the tiny amount of eventual nuclear waste produced and blast it into the sun

use the electricity produced by all these to fuel mass transportation and small personal cars (electric or fuel cell)

nuclear will likely be an important ingredient in this transition from the current oil based system to pure renewables - planning for it now will be a big advantage
posted by sloe at 10:13 PM on August 26, 2009


But the problem with switching to alternative energy sources is not willpower. It's that doing so will cost a fuckload of money and fuck up people's lives

That is incorrect.
posted by flabdablet at 10:18 PM on August 26, 2009


nuclear will likely be an important ingredient in this transition from the current oil based system to pure renewables

There is actually no reason why this should be true. Every dollar allocated to buying nuclear power generation would save at least twice as much CO2 emissions if spent on natural-gas-fired cogenerators instead.
posted by flabdablet at 10:20 PM on August 26, 2009


"There is no technology on the horizon that can replace even 10 percent of the U.S. oil needs"

This oft-repeated nugget of "common sense" is just flat out wrong. U.S. oil consumption is approximately 21 million barrels/day. A barrel of oil is equivalent to 6.1 GJ of energy. Existing solar technology produces about 4 kWh, or about 0.0144 GJ, per square meter per day. Let's call it 14400 GJ per square kilometer.

"10 percent of the U.S. oil needs" would be 2.1 million barrels of oil per day. So, that's 12,810,000 GJ per day. Thus, we could replace 10 percent of the US's oil needs with about 900 square kilometers of solar panels, or about 230 thousand acres. By comparison, we use 349,000 thousand acres in the US for crop production. So, if we devoted 1/1000 of the land we use for crops to solar energy production, we could replace all the energy we get from 10% of our oil consumption. In fact, from these numbers it's easy to see that solar energy production could replace all of the energy we derive from oil.

Solar energy costs about $0.30 per kWh. The Tesla roadster gets 110 Wh / km. That works out to about 0.0531 dollars per mile or, taking the inverse, 18 miles to the dollar. Assuming you drove a car that got 30 mpg, that's the equivalent of gas being $1.60 a gallon.

The idea that no other energy technology can replace our oil needs is observably, provably false. It is a myth. The only way oil outperforms any other energy production technology is portability - electric vehicles probably won't be able to compete with gas vehicles on range for a few decades at least. However, existing technology gets you a range of at least 60 mi per day, and twice that if you're lucky. That's more than enough daily range for the vast majority of people, and that could be greatly improved with the right infrastructure.

The only factors keeping us dependent on oil are political and economic. We subsidize oil in the US heavily with free land. Electric vehicles will need a significant investment in infrastructure to become practical. Other countries are making different choices.
posted by heathkit at 10:49 PM on August 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


But anyway, from an environmental perspective, if we do manage to switch to electric for transport it may actually worsen global warming, because we get a shitload of our electricity generation from coal. Further, coal is incredibly cheap compared to other potential sources of energy. (Here's one estimate I dug up --- 1 Kilowat hour of solar: 38 cents. Natural gas, per Kwh: A nickel. Coal? 6/10ths of one cent. More than 60 times as much.

That's as maybe, but no one in the US pays $0.006 per kWh for electricity. It varies from $0.06 to $0.12, depending on where you live. If we had a proper carbon tax then coal, which emits much more CO2 when burned then natural gas, would be much more expensive. We could use the money from the carbon tax to subsidize residential solar. Once again, other countries are already doing this.

Plus, as I pointed out earlier, solar is already competitive with gas on a cost-per-mile basis, even at $0.30 per kWh. In other words, people already pay much more to get their driving energy from gas than they pay for the energy to run their TVs.
posted by heathkit at 11:00 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


"There is no technology on the horizon that can replace even 10 percent of the U.S. oil needs"

Ford EcoBoost/GM Direct Injection (15% reduction of fuel for the same power)
Plug-in hybrids (30-50% reduction based on driving patterns)
GM Voltec (60-90% reduction based on driving patterns)
Tesla, Nissan and other EVs (100%)

Just between the three of them that should easily take 10% off the top. EcoBoost will be available on most Fords by 2013, and GM will have 18 models in 2010 with DI. Voltec powetrains should be in about 5M cars by 2020 (hopefullly!), and about another 1M EVs will be sold by then.
posted by SirOmega at 11:27 PM on August 26, 2009


take the tiny amount of eventual nuclear waste produced and blast it into the sun

What if Superman accidentally drops some of the nuclear waste on your house while he's flying it to the Sun? Or, alternatively, what if the rocket taking it to the sun has a leaky gasket and blows up while still in the atmosphere, raining nuclear waste bits? Rockets to the Sun are an awesome image, but not practical.
posted by The World Famous at 11:48 PM on August 26, 2009


The capital cost of building alternative energy infrastructure used to look too high. Now there are trillion dollar debts that bought, well, nothing much (a more stable financial system?) it looks like chump change for the benefits. The trouble is that the people advocating for a finance industry bailout are able to make their case, and to date, the alt energy crowd are still really just butting their heads.
It doesn't help that the well funded traditional energy lobby is so entrenched. Who is going to fight them when there is so much work to do in finance/healthcare/whatever?
posted by bystander at 5:06 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Aside from the whole, "We get access to the stars" thing?

Unless you know something I do not, the only 'stars' space travel gets man these days is singular - the sun.

The more 'space travel' man does, the more crap is left in orbit until it will be no longer possible to have 'space travel'. Unless the NEXT make work program is 'orbital janitor'.


Further, coal is incredibly cheap compared to other potential sources of energy. (Here's one estimate I dug up --- 1 Kilowat hour of solar: 38 cents. Natural gas, per Kwh: A nickel. Coal? 6/10ths of one cent.

And yet, solar uses photons in the now VS coal's very old and very many photons.

If one wants to compare units - why not photons as they have at least SOME form of equality.


It's that doing so will cost a fuckload of money and fuck up people's lives

Perhaps oil has been historically underpriced? So that 'fuckload' isn't all that big if one was accounting for the cost in a fair manner?
posted by rough ashlar at 5:15 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Today's nuclear waste may be tomorrow's energy source. But hey, maybe we don't have to use that stuff like that, and can leave it safely in the ground for awhile. There's a good reason why "renewable" is the key.
posted by Goofyy at 6:24 AM on August 27, 2009


tl;dr: 'Hi, I'm giving you oil and want you to remain dependent on it because we get money. Never mind the fact that we're a tyrannical, backward regime of theocratic morons.'
posted by kldickson at 7:12 AM on August 27, 2009


The problem is that we are going to be dependent on oil until we absolutely need to find something else. Why because oil is easy right now. Everything is setup for oil. If we "needed" and not "wanted" to get off oil we could be done with it within a year. However currently we only want to get off of oil and there are far too many rich assholes make far to much absurd amounts of money off oil to let anything else happen. So until a time comes when necessity takes over we will continue to use oil.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:16 AM on August 27, 2009


Oil production

There is no oil production in the world today.

Only extraction.


My rape (canola) fields beg to differ.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:19 AM on August 27, 2009


That is incorrect.

Read with interest. I disagree with him about biofuels and I haven't seen anything by him where he addresses Jevon's paradox. Do you know of anything? Seems like a smart guy, maybe he does address it somewhere, and if he does I'd be interested to read it. So far the history has been that greater efficiency leads to more consumption, and I wonder why he thinks the future will be different. Unless resource contraint compells efficiency, but in that case it won't be cheaper. It seems to me a massive problem for his argument.

If we had a proper carbon tax then coal, which emits much more CO2 when burned then natural gas, would be much more expensive. We could use the money from the carbon tax to subsidize residential solar.

Well, sure. And in some ways I might support a carbon tax for that reason. But I don't think that alters my point, which is this: This transition will cost a shitload of money. But if forced by constraint to do it rapidly over the next decade, it will be very painful. And in that context cheap is going to be very tempting indeed.

Perhaps oil has been historically underpriced? So that 'fuckload' isn't all that big if one was accounting for the cost in a fair manner?

It's been so underpriced it's been free, and all we pay for is the costs of getting it out of the ground. That doesn't mean that having to pay a lot more that we're used is not going to be very, very, painful, in subtle and insidious ways. Could you afford to live where you live, if gas cost $10 a gallon? If it cost 5x more to heat your house? Could you afford to visit your relatives? To have you or your kid go a college 2,000 miles away? There was a recent Planet Money epidose where they had a mideval historian on, who suggested that one of the main reasons for the relative economic stasis of Europe in the Middle Ages was high transportation costs' inhibitory effect on trade. In other words, due to shit roads and primitive tech, it cost you more in donkey feed than you'd get in profit to ship a wagon load of wheat more than about 50 miles. That simple fact explains a hell of a lot about the geography or Europe, the social and economic conditions of its people, and therefore the political systems underwhich they operated. (E.g.,the vast majority of people have to be farmers, and they mostly live in small villages clustered quite close together.) Is this a broad generalization? Sure, hella broad. But all I'm trying to point to is the way in which these small costs can add up to a lot about the shape of the world. Our world is built on cheap energy, and has been ever since they first burned coal to fire up steam engines.
posted by Diablevert at 9:22 AM on August 27, 2009


Could you afford to visit your relatives? To have you or your kid go a college 2,000 miles away?

People still visited distant relatives and sent kids to distant colleges before the automotive age.

Additionally, I don't think bad roads could trump Feudalism for the economic stasis of the middle ages. Symptoms are not the disease.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:57 AM on August 27, 2009


People still visited distant relatives and sent kids to distant colleges before the automotive age.

Yeah, my great-great grandmother totally took the train and then steamship to England and back from the middle of the U.S. once a year to visit her parents. Totally.
posted by The World Famous at 11:19 AM on August 27, 2009


Joe Beese Actually, the bit about "no new refining capacity" is one of those wonderful half truths that the oil industry loves to toss around. Its usually coupled with an outright lie that the reason for the supposed lack of new refineries is (sinister music here) evil environmental regulations!

The reality is somewhat different. Their lie, like all the best lies, does contain a kernel of truth: there have been no new refineries built for over 30 years.

What they leave out is that the reason there have been no new refineries built for 30 years is that the existent refineries have been continually upgraded since their construction and that advancing technology has made them vastly more efficient than they were 30 years ago. Basically it was cheaper for the refining corporations to upgrade than to build new facilities. The output of refined oil has increased steadily over the past 30 years.

Environmental regulations have diddly squat to do with the lack of new refineries.

And that, I think, tells you everything you really need to know about arguments from the oil industry. They lie through their teeth.
posted by sotonohito at 11:21 AM on August 27, 2009


So I am not really a refinery expert but I have a certain amount of second-hand knowledge.

Basically it was cheaper for the refining corporations to upgrade than to build new facilities. The output of refined oil has increased steadily over the past 30 years.

Sure, but that's because part of the cost of a new refinery is meeting new environmental regulations. Old refineries get grandfathered in - they don't have to do new expensive assessments at any rate. In other chemical industries companies walk away from 30 year-old plants to build brand-new plants because they're that much more efficient. But certainly refineries have consolidated a lit - in Canada, Imperial Oil closed Dartmouth & Vancouver refineries as they expanded facilities in the prairies and elsewhere. Why not expand them all? Because the old, small refineries weren't worth improving.

Also, gas is like everything other manufactured product - as the cost of transportation dropped it's cheaper to make huge central plants and ship the finished product around as opposed to having many more small plants.
posted by GuyZero at 11:28 AM on August 27, 2009


The otehr issue with fewer refineries is that it results in single points of failure - when Katrina took all the Gulf refineries off-line it had a huge impact on gas prices.

They lie through their teeth.

I think you're misinterpreting someone explaining something with someone blaming or complaining. Regardless of who you listen to, the simple fact is that oil companies face huge costs to build new refineries and the demand for refined oil products is pretty inelastic, so why bother spending money on building new capacity when you can just charge more for whatever amount of product you make?

Oil companies may be greedy and lazy and I suppose they've lied a lot about other stuff, but the economics of oil refineries aren't a big mystery or secret.
posted by GuyZero at 11:41 AM on August 27, 2009


Yeah, my great-great grandmother totally took the train and then steamship to England and back from the middle of the U.S. once a year to visit her parents.

All sarcasm aside people could and did. Point is the loss of oil or automobiles isn't going to throw us into some sudden dark ages. We will figure out how to transition. We aren't going to wake up tommorrow to no gas or even $10 gas. There will be $5 gas and the next year $6 and so forth, while vehicles become more and more efficient and energy production becomes less and less reliant on oil. It's already happening.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:20 PM on August 27, 2009


There will be $5 gas and the next year $6 and so forth

I think one of the arguments is that non-market traded oil contracts - like China signing a deal direct with Venezuela for 20 years - reduces the amount of oil publicly traded, magnifying volatility. I think we assume that the developed world will have the financial muscle to buy oil as necessary, but if the supplies available are lower than the demand, then the price of oil could rise extremely quickly, until enough demand is destroyed.
And if I am competing with you to buy a gallon of gas, we both might be prepared to pay a very high price for it.
Note also another factor in this is that oil exporters are increasingly using more of their production domestically. Iran may wish to capitalise on future high oil prices, but it needs to supply enough oil domestically to stop rioting before it has any to trade. And that could be very disruptive for oil consuming nations.
posted by bystander at 2:41 PM on August 27, 2009


People still visited distant relatives and sent kids to distant colleges before the automotive age.

Yes. They were called rich people. F'r instance: Here's some facts and figures on the titianic --- looks like the cheapest (one way, 3rd class fare) was roughly equivalent to 1 month's wages for a steward or stewardess. That was during the automobile age, of course. Although likely the bigger problem would have been time --- the crossing took 6 days, and this was long before standard two week's paid vacation. So probably you'd have to get permission to get substantial unpaid time off --- a big investment, so thinking, week there, week back, you'd want at least two weeks in between, minimum --- say 25-50% of a blue collar worker's yearly salary, to visit the old country.

But one can quibble with this figures left right and center, I pulled them out my ass. I'm not trying to argue YOU'LL NEVER SEE GRANNY AGAIN. That's dumb. Where the effects will happen is at the margin, erosive, not explosive change. Do I take this job that's far away, if I only get to seem my family every couple of months? Sure. Every couple of years? Maybe not. Do I go to collee back east, or to State U? Well, eastern college is better but I'll cost me 5 grand a year more if I plan to come back for Christmas, etc. So maybe not.

Additionally, I don't think bad roads could trump Feudalism for the economic stasis of the middle ages. Symptoms are not the disease.

They're clearly interlinked. But when you can have plenty in one village and famime 60 miles away, I'd say those economic effects are shaping your society pretty profoundly.
posted by Diablevert at 2:49 PM on August 27, 2009


More from Amory Lovins.
posted by flabdablet at 4:52 PM on August 27, 2009


And if we're going to present handwaving arguments on the basis of figures pulled out of our arses, here's mine: the Jevons paradox is driven by the economic effect of increased efficiency, not by the efficiency per se.

In general, new machinery designs will consume less fuel per unit of useful work output than old machinery designs do. That's part of new machinery's competitive advantage, and it remains an advantage regardless of fuel price (unless fuel costs are so low compared to the price of the enterprise's other inputs that they simply disappear into the background noise). Therefore, as new machinery replaces old, fuel efficiency will naturally tend to rise.

In an environment where fuel prices rise in line with the general inflation rate, rising fuel efficiency will indeed free up budget for increased fuel consumption, and per Jevons will indeed tend to increase that consumption.

But if fuel prices rise faster than the general inflation rate (perhaps driven by carbon taxes or cap-and-trade schemes or some other generally-applied policy) then rising fuel efficiency becomes necessary to stay competitive; the effect is to offset the rising fuel price, not to make more budget available for fuel. If the proportion of any given budget spent on fuel remains roughly constant even as efficiencies increase (which it can be coerced to do, given an appropriate policy environment) the Jevons incentive disappears.

Looking at this another way: yes, the Jevons effect does mean that simply mandating increased efficiency will not work as well as some people seem to believe. But the flip side of that is that there's a kind of "reverse Jevons" effect that applies to rising fuel prices, meaning that these will not have anywhere near the disastrous knock-on effect the anti-renewable-energy brigade routinely predicts.
posted by flabdablet at 10:14 PM on August 27, 2009


Switching to alternative energy sources is not willpower. It's that doing so will cost a fuckload of money and fuck up people's lives.

Saudi Prince adds: "Fuck up people's lives? America, get over yourself."
posted by rokusan at 11:37 PM on August 27, 2009


But when you can have plenty in one village and famime 60 miles away, I'd say those economic effects are shaping your society pretty profoundly.

So it's the quality of the roads that have caused inner-city decay?

Because I can already find "plenty" and "famine" pretty easily right inside the same cities.
posted by rokusan at 11:39 PM on August 27, 2009


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