At Common Dreams, Michael Klare advises us that easy (i.e., cheap oil) tends to run in concert with prosperity, but that Americans are stunningly obtuse about the fact that we’re running out of easy oil:
If American power is in decline, so is the relative status of oil in the global energy equation. In the 2000 edition of its International Energy Outlook, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the U.S. Department of Energy confidently foresaw ever-expanding oil production in Africa, Alaska, the Persian Gulf area, and the Gulf of Mexico, among other areas. It predicted, in fact, that world oil output would reach 97 million barrels per day in 2010 and a staggering 115 million barrels in 2020. EIA number-crunchers concluded as well that oil would long retain its position as the world’s leading source of energy. Its 38% share of the global energy supply, they said, would remain unchanged.
What a difference a decade makes. By 2010, a new understanding about the natural limits of oil production had sunk in at the EIA and its experts were predicting a disappointingly modest petroleum future. In that year, world oil output had reached just 82 million barrels per day, a stunning 15 million less than expected.
What’s the solution?
[T]he United States needs to move quickly to reduce its reliance on oil and increase the availability of other energy sources, especially renewable ones that pose no threat to the environment. This is not merely a matter of reducing our reliance on imported oil, as some have suggested. As long as oil remains our preeminent source of energy, we will be painfully vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the global oil market, wherever problems may arise. Only by embracing forms of energy immune to international disruption and capable of promoting investment at home can the foundations be laid for future economic progress. Of course, this is easy enough to write, but with Washington in the grip of near-total political paralysis, it appears that continuing American decline, possibly of a precipitous sort, could be in the cards.
For a lot more on this problem of peak oil, check out some of Brynn Jacobs’ writings at this website, including this article.
Let’s see. What oil rich region should the United States next invade? Hmmm. Politicians and oil companies are increasingly telling us that our future oil lies in the tar sands of Canada. Only one thing lies between the United States and that oil: Canada might not simply give us their tar sands. Problems like these, however, are ready-made for the United States military solutions. Hence, today I imagined that we might soon see the following news story.
I don’t really believe that the United States has any plans to invade Canada, but I am trying to make a few serious points with this image.
We all know how to pull this sort of land grab, because Americans are well-practiced in simply taking land from other people (ask Mexico and native Americans, and check out the size of the American Embassy in Iraq). We are experts at inventing the need to go to war. Here’s a simplified version of the plan: We claim that there are weapons of mass destruction in Canada. We claim that there are French terrorists threatening America; we are good at inventing stories that serve as excuses to go to war. Our mass-media goes along with the ploy because they are amoral conflict-mongers. Eventually, the United States simply takes over the tar sands region of Canada. Or at least that’s how it goes in my imagination.
It’s increasingly clear we have entered peak world-wide oil production, but American politicians don’t not dare to urge American citizens to cut down on their use of energy. Conservation is widely seen as un-American because it is usually framed as an approach that deprives Americans of their life-style, even though conservation and renewable energy makes far too much sense on many levels. And all of this crazy framing of the debate takes place while reputable scientists are offering solid evidence that with current technology and reasonable conservation measures we could now begin replace much of American fossil fuel usage with renewables.
If I had to place a bet, though, I would put my chips on a future where Americans continue, as long as they are financially and militarily able, to engage in profligate oil usage (we use more than 9,000 gallons per second, enough to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool every minute of every day). They will do this despite the fact that tar sands oil is an environmental disaster in the making .
At the recent Earth Day celebration in St. Louis, Chris Klarer of Advanced Energy Solutions offered to give a video statement on the advantages of solar. In addition to producing clean and sustainable energy, there are substantial tax advantages for owners of businesses and homes.
I went to the site of AES and used its calculator, determining that a solar system on my roof could provide more than half of my family’s electricity. This was quite interesting, of course. What made things even more interesting are those tax advantages. In addition to talking with Chris, I discussed these tax advantages with another a man who was promoting solar at his own booth (he was not selling anything, onlypromoting the use of solar panels). His numbers were even rosier than those suggested by Chris — click on the thumbnail to see how he reduced the cost of a $12,000 installation to only about $2,000.
I am, indeed, going to look further into solar electric for my home, but here is a hurdle: I live in an historic neighborhood, and I suspect that I’m going to have a struggle over getting a permit. I’ll make my best arguments and see how far I get – – it would seem that there should be a way–after all, the state of Missouri is offering tax credits for solar, making it official public policy that solar electric is to be encouraged. I’ll report back after I learn more.
What follows is not real data; it is only my hunch. What would the result be if Americans could vote, using a secret ballot, on the following option: Would they rather have widespread democracy in the Middle East or cheap oil at home? Would they rather support continued US coddling of corrupt Middle East leaders who keep order with violent crackdowns or would they prefer that the people of these countries have freedom of speech and free elections?
Let’s assume the price of a gallon of gas would go up an additional 50 cents if the people of Middle Eastern countries (e.g., Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq) kicked out all the remaining brutal dictators and changed over to meaningful self-rule–some meaningful form of democracy. Would Americans vote for their pocketbook or for high ideals? I suspect that the result would be something like this:
The price of gas is shooting up again, and who knows how high it’s going to get. Panic is starting to set in because, in one of history’s most incredible displays of poor planning (or lack of planning), the American economy will fall apart unless there is plenty cheap oil. We burn an insane amount of this precious and dwindling resource: 10,000 gallons of oil per second (this is not a typo). We already burned off our cheap oil, and the only oil remaining is difficult to extract and therefore expensive. Our politicians refuse to say the phrase “peak oil,” but that’s what we are now facing.
Obama’s administration is now considering the following “solution”: tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. That’s because America has a huge amount of oil in its reserves–more than 727 million barrels of oil. That’s enough oil to last us for [drum roll] about a month [sound of balloon deflating]. That’s because we burn 21 millions barrels per day. Those who find solace in tapping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserves are either foolish or intentionally dishonest.
We could embark on using less oil, but American politicians can’t bear to even mention conservation or else they would face the torches and pitchforks of the populace. Conservation is a powerful tool to use–every barrel of oil that we don’t burn is a barrel that we don’t need to yank out of the ground from 5 miles under the Gulf of Mexico. With the amount of oil we could save through modest conservation, we could completely fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in about a month. But no politician dares to mention conservation because it amounts to telling Americans that there are limitations on their “freedom.” Even though conservation will enhance our freedoms.
You won’t hear any politicians uttering the “C” word. Perhaps for this reason. Or these reasons. And though the conservatives have taken the lead on this dysfunctionality, “liberal” politicians are largely silent, and therefore complicit.
In this video, you can see the power of two square meters of sunshine. As a child I used to set fire to a piece of paper outside with a small hand held magnifying glass. This sophisticated mirror is several magnitudes more impressive.
You might be wondering whether sort of device could be used for cooking. The answer is yes, and these cheap devices can help slow deforestation and desertification. Here is a video demonstration of the cooking power of the sun:
Conservative politicians insist that the United States is the Middle East of coal, and that we have no energy worries if we could only just get over our global warming worries. They often claim that the United States has enough coal to supply us for 250 years. They also insist, without any basis, that there is a way to burn coal cleanly, economically, and efficiently. There are many reasons to doubt these claims of conservatives, but let’s assume that they are correct about all of them. Those who want to base our energy policy on coal have another huge problem.
The November 18, 2010 issue of Nature available online only to subscribers) warns that recent forecasts suggest that coal reserves are running out much faster than most people believe. Therefore, “energy policies relying on cheap coal have no future.” Authors Richard Heinberg and David Fridley indicate that “world energy policy is gripped by a fallacy–the idea that coal is destined to stay cheap for decades to come.” They give two reasons for their urgent warning:
First, a spate of recent studies suggest that available, useful coal may be less abundant than has been assumed-indeed that the peak of world coal production may be only years away. One pessimistic study published in 2010 concluded that global energy derived from coal could peak as early as 2011. Second, global demand is growing rapidly, largely driven by China.… Since 2000 it has been surging at 3.8% per year… Economic shocks from rising coal prices will be felt by every sector of society.
Yet, most energy policies assume a “bottomless coal pit.” The authors point out that in terms of energy output, “US coal production peaked in the late 1990s (volume continued to increase, but the coal was of lower energy content).” They point out that two key mining regions in the United States “show rapid depletion of high-quality reserves.” They urge the federal government to complete a new national coal survey. It is their conclusion that it is unlikely that world coal supplies can continue to meet projected demand beyond 2020.
After the election of 2008, we fans of the rational and provable had high hopes that government may give as much credence to the scientific process and conclusions as to the disproved aspects of philosophies promulgated by churches and industry shills. We watched with waning hope as a series of attempts to honor that ideal got watered down. But at least it was an improvement.
But the 2010 election quickly reveals a backlash. Those whose cherished misunderstandings had been disrespected for the last couple of years now will have their day. As Phil Plait says, Energy and science in America are in big, big trouble. He begins,
“With the elections last week, the Republicans took over the House once again. The list of things this means is long and troubling, but the most troubling to me come in the forms of two Texas far-right Republicans: Congressmen Ralph Hall and Joe Barton.”
He goes on to explain why. It comes down to them being proven representatives for Young Earth and fossil fuel interests, doing whatever they can to scuttle actual science by any means necessary. Especially where the science contradicts their pet ideas.
Barton has published articles supporting climate change denialism. His main contributors are the extraction industries.
Hall has used parliamentary tricks to attempt to scuttle funding for basic research. The Democrats offered to compromised by cutting funding, and he refused in hopes that the whole bill would fail. It passed. Then Hall publicly called Democrats on the carpet for using tricks to fatten the bill by the amount that they offered to cut. The Proxmire spirit lives on.
I recently visited the website of Rocky Mountain Institute, where I learned that the United States consumes nearly 19 million barrels of oil per day. That sounds like a lot of oil, but how can I put it into a number that I can understand?
Consider, that there are 42 gallons per barrel. I decided to calculate how many gallons American consume each second. The answer? Americans consume 9,236 gallons of oil each second. Consider that an Olympic sized swimming pool holds about 660,000 gallons. Thus, Americans use oil at such a high rate that we could almost fill up an Olympic sized swimming pool every minute, day and night, 365 days a year.
Much of that oil is burned for transportation. What can we do in the transportation sector to use oil more efficiently? As individuals, we can use less by walking, biking, using public transportation, carpooling, combining trips and making sure that your engine is tuned and your tires are fully inflated. No Impact Man Colin Beavan offers a free manual full of ideas (register here). Here are 365 more suggestions.
RMI suggests an additional way to cut back our use of oil: by using “feebates.”
The basic idea of a feebate is simple. Buyers of inefficient vehicles are levied a surcharge (the “fee”), while buyers of efficient vehicles are awarded a rebate (the “bate”). By affecting the purchase cost up front, feebates speed the production and adoption of more efficient vehicles, saving oil, insecurity, cost, and carbon.
One form of a feebate program has been in use in France, where vehicles now have the lowest carbon emissions in the European Union. To read more about feebates, see “Feebates: A Key to Breaking U.S. Oil Addiction.”