Bike Miles today: 12
Nothing really exciting to talk about on the ride today. I went to the drug store this morning to get a Rx so that is where the extra miles came from. After my epic lunch time ride yesterday my legs were dead today so it was a struggle to get to work and back, not to mention the ever present winds. But enough about that, let’s talk about puppet boy.
After the speech last night I thought I would add some opinion and explanation to a few of his points.
First 25 minutes of boring talk about the war, terrorism, etc:
I don’t have any thing to add. I think this is the same speech we’ve been hearing since 9/11. I did like the Staff Sgt story and how puppet boy (I will now shorten this to PB) winked to the guy’s family and looked like he was almost crying. That was cool. I do certainly respect everything that the military does for our country, the people who do it and their dedication to their task. I don’t respect the ways that our “leaders” use the military and how that impacts the world. I have had plenty of family members in Iraq and I know first hand that the stories we hear from the news don’t match the stories from the government and none match what the people who were there actually tell me.
I was most excited that PB would talk about “America’s addiction to oil.” This is ground breaking in the fact that a high ranking government official would finally acknowledged our problem. Not to mention all the people that “work” with him and their oil ties. Unfortunately, it was not to be. He didn’t really explain what he meant by addicted to oil and PB did not mention anything about conservation or higher mileage standards for cars, the two things that would have the largest impact on our oil use. He did mention Ethanol and zero emission coal plants.
First we will address Ethanol. Ethanol is a great potential product. Research is underway to produce Ethanol from waste agricultural products like corn stalks, straw, switch grass, wood chips, etc and some viable business groups are working on this. (Most notably the Royal Dutch/Shell company) I don’t see this as a bad thing because most of these waste products are burned in the fields today. So why not burn them or synthesize them to make energy? Sounds good to me. Ethanol is produced now using corn, and unfortunately it has to be heavily subsidized, both in the production of the corn and the production of the Ethanol. Hopefully this will change over time. The main problem I see with Ethanol is that it is a net energy loss. If you take into account all the energy required to make the Ethanol it actually takes more energy to make the Ethanol than it produces. No one ever takes this factor into account when they talk about using Ethanol. But it is important. Eventually when we start running out of oil (projected to happen in 2030-2050) will our electricity be as cheap as it is now? No. So why would we expect that the cost of the energy input into something wouldn’t matter? Perhaps if the big oil companies get behind PB’s ethanol initiative (and they most certainly will because I’m sure there will be some $ from Uncle Sam in there somewhere) they can bring the cost to produce Ethanol down, and if this is a viable long term energy solution, I think the producers will take it upon themselves to produce their own energy to use in the production of Ethanol rather than relying on the national grid. How they make this energy I don’t know. Perhaps they set up their own power plants, or set up renewable energy programs at the plant locations. I’m not really sure. Otherwise, I don’t see how it can be produced and profited from, barring massive subsidies from Uncle Sam. By the way, hydrogen has these exact same problems so moving to a hydrogen society doesn’t fix our problems. For more info on Ethanol from a recent story see this story in Fortune here.
The other thing I wanted to discuss was zero emission coal. This is another potential gold mine (but it’s fool’s gold) as America has coal reserves estimated to last about another 250 years. The problem once again is how do you mine coal in a world with reduced oil? The cost of oil will be so high that it is prohibitive to run large machinery to mine the coal. Which you have to have because we have already used all the coal that is easily accessible. Not to mention the electricity problem again to run the conveyer belts and such. And the environmental impact from mining for more coal is staggering. We are already destroying our world to obtain the coal we currently use, what happens when demand doubles? How huge will the environmental disasters be? And what about our air? I know the coal should be zero emission, and hypothetically there are ways to achieve this, but they are costly and not proven yet. PB’s nuclear ambitions are also fraught with some of these same challenges.
What should PB have done? I’m glad you asked.
1.) Focus on conservation. They should put resources behind this effort first and foremost. Conserving has the most direct and quickest impact to our oil usage. Funds should be made available to reward consumers who choose to purchase energy efficient appliances, furnaces, A/Cs, and for people to massively insulate their houses. For a small investment of funds to help subsidize these measures you can have a huge impact on the usage patterns of our country. Higher fuel mileage standards fall into this arena too. Cars can easily get double the mileage they get now if we force car makers to develop the technologies and move away from SUVs. Continued sprawling of our cities should not be encouraged. This promotes useless commuting and wastes tremendous amounts of energy in traffic and driving all the ridiculous places we go. Make the cities more compact and more people could walk or bike. This would help with the obesity problems too.
2.) Encourage energy production at location of consumption. Generating energy in a central location and transporting it over wires is extremely inefficient. It is estimated that no better than half the energy generated at the power plant makes it down the power lines to the houses. We should encourage wind turbines and solar panel arrays for houses and localize energy production. This would mean you would only need half the “power plant” to support the same usage because you are removing the waste factors. These renewable energy sources are coming down in price, and as production is ramped up the prices will fall further. Japan just announced subsidies for solar panels. Why not us?
3.) Stop hiding the problem and start having frank discussions about oil depletion and it’s impacts. We are running out of oil. We need to address and develop a solution. Our entire world from farming, shipping, transportation, retailing and manufacturing are built on the idea that there is an unlimited amount of oil and it will be cheap forever. This is not the case. How will our country look if there is no oil to ship products from overseas here for us to buy? What will we buy? We have outsourced everything to other countries and now we aren’t able to produce anything locally. What if it is too expensive to ship things from California to Iowa? Would we be able to cope? And vice versa. Or what about places like Las Vegas or Hawaii that are dependent on low oil prices for people to fly there and be tourists? And even worse, places like Phoenix where there is a metro area of 3M but no way they could grow enough food to feed them all locally. What if oil is too costly to use to ship food in from all over the country? What do you do then? All these things need to be planned for and thought of but they aren’t.
So, in short (although I think that is too late) while it is nice to have a high level acknowledgement of the problems surrounding oil depletion PB didn’t really suggest any solutions that are really that feasible. At least in my opinion. I will now descend from my soapbox.