Burn oil, not food

One of the environmental solutions hailed by past Earth Days is now seen to be creating huge environmental problems. Using ethanol, made from corn and other agricultural products, has been found to use more energy than it produces, adds to pollution, and now is contributing to a global food crisis.

See Lester Brown and Jonathan Lewis – Ethanol’s Failed Promise – washingtonpost.com.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • WebMonk

    This is news?

    The funny/sad part of this is that it really isn’t news at all. If you look at the reports that these stories are using, they’re 15 or 20 years old. It’s one of those items that anyone who did any real checking-up on ethanol already knew. It was just the environmental promotion of anti-oil that made the ethanol a “good” thing.

    Amount of land needed to produce the ethanol, the cost of production, the energy content, the pollution of production, the pollution of use — these were all really obvious facts that made ethanol a bad idea, but in the anti-oil fervor they were all glossed over or ignored.

  • WebMonk

    This is news?

    The funny/sad part of this is that it really isn’t news at all. If you look at the reports that these stories are using, they’re 15 or 20 years old. It’s one of those items that anyone who did any real checking-up on ethanol already knew. It was just the environmental promotion of anti-oil that made the ethanol a “good” thing.

    Amount of land needed to produce the ethanol, the cost of production, the energy content, the pollution of production, the pollution of use — these were all really obvious facts that made ethanol a bad idea, but in the anti-oil fervor they were all glossed over or ignored.

  • http://sermons.wattswhat.net Jonathan Watt

    This goes to the idea that environmentalism isn’t about resources (oil / food) but about modifying lifestyle. Nothing “good” can replace fossil fuels. The goal of the movement is to change people. Personal transportation is one of the primary demons of the movement.

  • http://sermons.wattswhat.net Jonathan Watt

    This goes to the idea that environmentalism isn’t about resources (oil / food) but about modifying lifestyle. Nothing “good” can replace fossil fuels. The goal of the movement is to change people. Personal transportation is one of the primary demons of the movement.

  • Don S

    Of course, the problem now is that even many environmentalists realize that biofuels made from food crops was a hugely dumb idea. But, like all things the government mandates and funds, once the program gets going it is impossible to stop. There is a huge political constituency invested in biofuels and the agriculture lobby loves the high crop prices which are resultant from these programs.

  • Don S

    Of course, the problem now is that even many environmentalists realize that biofuels made from food crops was a hugely dumb idea. But, like all things the government mandates and funds, once the program gets going it is impossible to stop. There is a huge political constituency invested in biofuels and the agriculture lobby loves the high crop prices which are resultant from these programs.

  • Bruce

    You might want to check out this website: http://www.setamericafree.org/wordpress/ for a perspective on the corn-for-ethanol argument.

    While ethanol from corn is perhaps not such a great long term idea, the idea of creating fuels from renewable resources such as grains may not be so terrible., as research goes forward. The idea of keeping amany billion dollars a year here in the Midwest rather than sending it to Saudi Arabia or Venezuela is also appealing.

  • Bruce

    You might want to check out this website: http://www.setamericafree.org/wordpress/ for a perspective on the corn-for-ethanol argument.

    While ethanol from corn is perhaps not such a great long term idea, the idea of creating fuels from renewable resources such as grains may not be so terrible., as research goes forward. The idea of keeping amany billion dollars a year here in the Midwest rather than sending it to Saudi Arabia or Venezuela is also appealing.

  • Don S

    I object to the government subsidies and mandates. If this conversion were market-driven, I would have less trouble with it. However, there is no question that diversion of food crops to fuel production is causing cost increases. There are alternatives such as switchgrass which are more sound, but again, the government should not be in the business of creating this huge dependent class. Once it is created, you can’t get rid of it. We will never get out of the biofuels from food crops business now because of political considerations preventing the mandates from being repealed.

    Government almost always causes more problems than it solves.

  • Don S

    I object to the government subsidies and mandates. If this conversion were market-driven, I would have less trouble with it. However, there is no question that diversion of food crops to fuel production is causing cost increases. There are alternatives such as switchgrass which are more sound, but again, the government should not be in the business of creating this huge dependent class. Once it is created, you can’t get rid of it. We will never get out of the biofuels from food crops business now because of political considerations preventing the mandates from being repealed.

    Government almost always causes more problems than it solves.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Dr. Veith, can you give any support for your opening sentence? “One of the environmental solutions hailed by past Earth Days …” Is Earth Day an organization that can support various ideas? And even if you merely meant to refer to environmentalists in general, can you cite which environmental people or groups supported ethanol in the past? I can’t find anything in that article, or anywhere else.

    As far as I can tell, this push to use ethanol is largely Congress’ fault (the article hints as much), specifically due to the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Maybe environmentalists were in support of that bill and I missed it, but I see no evidence for that. In fact, while many Democrats supported the bill (for whatever, likely foolish, reasons), it was mainly a Republican bill — remember who controlled Congress at the time. The overwhelming majority of those opposing it were Democrats. Remember Bush’s State of the Union mention of “switchgrass”? Is Bush a crazy liberal environmentalist? Oh well, at least Don S (@6) and I agree about government subsidies to farmers (for this or any other reason) and ethanol producers.

    Most of the support for ethanol as a car fuel comes out of a desire for oil independence — or at least a desire to stop buying oil from the Middle East — not any good environmental logic. It doesn’t help that Iowa starts out the political silly season, convincing pretty much every presidential candidate to make foolish promises about ethanol just to win votes. (If the road to the White House started in Idaho, would we be talking about ethanol from potatoes?)

    Brazil is a great example of using ethanol to reduce oil imports — it is 30% of Brazil’s auto fuel (though theirs comes from sugar cane, the production of which is 5 to 6 times more efficient than that of corn-based ethanol). Due to this, they recently become self-sufficient with respect to oil. Of course, it comes at a huge price, as the article notes: the Amazon is being mowed down. Hardly an environmental win there, in several ways. But hey, they’re not importing oil any more!

    Ultimately, Jonathan (@2) is sort of right, his conspiratorial tone notwithstanding. America and the West in general have, in the past century, built their lives and societies around the idea of cheap energy, with little concern for what impact that energy might have on air quality, soil quality, foreign relations, lives, and so on. Replacing some percentage of gasoline with ethanol isn’t going to solve the problem, any more than replacing Oreos with Snackwells but eating the same amount is unlikely to make you skinnier.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Dr. Veith, can you give any support for your opening sentence? “One of the environmental solutions hailed by past Earth Days …” Is Earth Day an organization that can support various ideas? And even if you merely meant to refer to environmentalists in general, can you cite which environmental people or groups supported ethanol in the past? I can’t find anything in that article, or anywhere else.

    As far as I can tell, this push to use ethanol is largely Congress’ fault (the article hints as much), specifically due to the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Maybe environmentalists were in support of that bill and I missed it, but I see no evidence for that. In fact, while many Democrats supported the bill (for whatever, likely foolish, reasons), it was mainly a Republican bill — remember who controlled Congress at the time. The overwhelming majority of those opposing it were Democrats. Remember Bush’s State of the Union mention of “switchgrass”? Is Bush a crazy liberal environmentalist? Oh well, at least Don S (@6) and I agree about government subsidies to farmers (for this or any other reason) and ethanol producers.

    Most of the support for ethanol as a car fuel comes out of a desire for oil independence — or at least a desire to stop buying oil from the Middle East — not any good environmental logic. It doesn’t help that Iowa starts out the political silly season, convincing pretty much every presidential candidate to make foolish promises about ethanol just to win votes. (If the road to the White House started in Idaho, would we be talking about ethanol from potatoes?)

    Brazil is a great example of using ethanol to reduce oil imports — it is 30% of Brazil’s auto fuel (though theirs comes from sugar cane, the production of which is 5 to 6 times more efficient than that of corn-based ethanol). Due to this, they recently become self-sufficient with respect to oil. Of course, it comes at a huge price, as the article notes: the Amazon is being mowed down. Hardly an environmental win there, in several ways. But hey, they’re not importing oil any more!

    Ultimately, Jonathan (@2) is sort of right, his conspiratorial tone notwithstanding. America and the West in general have, in the past century, built their lives and societies around the idea of cheap energy, with little concern for what impact that energy might have on air quality, soil quality, foreign relations, lives, and so on. Replacing some percentage of gasoline with ethanol isn’t going to solve the problem, any more than replacing Oreos with Snackwells but eating the same amount is unlikely to make you skinnier.

  • Feral Cat

    I can give one citation as to why Ethanol is a poor fuel:
    from Hemmings Motor News http://tinyurl.com/2537lh
    —————————
    Legislation
    Environmental lawsuits block ethanol expansion
    So let’s get this straight: Ethanol is supposed to be the gasoline replacement that eases our oil imports and pays a dividend for the American farmer, while at the same time yielding environmental benefits from a cleaner, renewable fuel, right? So why are environmental groups around the country suing to halt construction of ethanol-producing facilities? If you haven’t learned by now that things that sound too good to be true are too good to be true, I’d like to talk about how you can make millions selling real estate without a single dollar down… but that’s another matter.

    Now that the bloom is off the corn fuel, er, flower, some hard truths are emerging. By now, you probably know about speculation and wild fluctuations in grain futures, about pork-barrel projects, and about questions of how much energy goes into ethanol production in the first place. What you may not have heard about is the strain that the 140 or so existing ethanol plants place on local infrastructure.

    When US Envirofuels began the permitting process for Florida’s first ethanol plant in Tampa, the city put their plans on hold when it emerged that the facility would require 400,000 gallons of water per day to operate — far more than the drought-stricken municipality can safely supply.

    Tampa shouldn’t have been surprised, though. In Missouri, Gulfstream Bioflex Energy’s plans to build a plant near Fordlands has run into a lawsuit by the local Citizens for Groundwater Protection, over Gulfstream’s plans to draw over 1.3 million gallons a day from the depleted Ozark aquifer. Missouri water rights currently allow anyone to use as much as they desire.

    Similar legal battles are being fought in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Illinois. “Green,” it turns out, is a matter of perspective.
    - By David Traver Adolphus
    —————–

    This was given to me one of the Chemical Engineers, at my work place. The Chemists and Chem Engr. lampooned the Corn Ethanol craze was such eloquence that I nearly split my sides from laughing so hard.

    The solution is to ride bikes and give up on the automobiles. I realize that few of the right wing readers (I suppose most of the readership is of that persuasion) of this blog would ever acknowledge that as a legitimate solution. First off, to ride a bike or walk is seen as a stigma of poverty. Secondly, the majority of Americans would sooner trade in the Bill of Rights than part with their Ford pickup truck.

  • Feral Cat

    I can give one citation as to why Ethanol is a poor fuel:
    from Hemmings Motor News http://tinyurl.com/2537lh
    —————————
    Legislation
    Environmental lawsuits block ethanol expansion
    So let’s get this straight: Ethanol is supposed to be the gasoline replacement that eases our oil imports and pays a dividend for the American farmer, while at the same time yielding environmental benefits from a cleaner, renewable fuel, right? So why are environmental groups around the country suing to halt construction of ethanol-producing facilities? If you haven’t learned by now that things that sound too good to be true are too good to be true, I’d like to talk about how you can make millions selling real estate without a single dollar down… but that’s another matter.

    Now that the bloom is off the corn fuel, er, flower, some hard truths are emerging. By now, you probably know about speculation and wild fluctuations in grain futures, about pork-barrel projects, and about questions of how much energy goes into ethanol production in the first place. What you may not have heard about is the strain that the 140 or so existing ethanol plants place on local infrastructure.

    When US Envirofuels began the permitting process for Florida’s first ethanol plant in Tampa, the city put their plans on hold when it emerged that the facility would require 400,000 gallons of water per day to operate — far more than the drought-stricken municipality can safely supply.

    Tampa shouldn’t have been surprised, though. In Missouri, Gulfstream Bioflex Energy’s plans to build a plant near Fordlands has run into a lawsuit by the local Citizens for Groundwater Protection, over Gulfstream’s plans to draw over 1.3 million gallons a day from the depleted Ozark aquifer. Missouri water rights currently allow anyone to use as much as they desire.

    Similar legal battles are being fought in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Illinois. “Green,” it turns out, is a matter of perspective.
    - By David Traver Adolphus
    —————–

    This was given to me one of the Chemical Engineers, at my work place. The Chemists and Chem Engr. lampooned the Corn Ethanol craze was such eloquence that I nearly split my sides from laughing so hard.

    The solution is to ride bikes and give up on the automobiles. I realize that few of the right wing readers (I suppose most of the readership is of that persuasion) of this blog would ever acknowledge that as a legitimate solution. First off, to ride a bike or walk is seen as a stigma of poverty. Secondly, the majority of Americans would sooner trade in the Bill of Rights than part with their Ford pickup truck.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Don’t drive a pickup. Not even a Ford.
    And i won’t be bike-riding 15 miles each way to work.
    The idea that it’s either/or being a greedy gas-guzzler/or a bike rider is what frosts me.
    People, we’re near to losing the battle for energy independence, because the other side is laying the boundaries, let alone framing the debate.
    To them, you’re either green and clean, or you’re just mean.
    Can we not just say there’s life–and use!–left in the old gasoline engine? Not to mention freedom?
    Why are we so against the freedom of the gasoline engine?

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Don’t drive a pickup. Not even a Ford.
    And i won’t be bike-riding 15 miles each way to work.
    The idea that it’s either/or being a greedy gas-guzzler/or a bike rider is what frosts me.
    People, we’re near to losing the battle for energy independence, because the other side is laying the boundaries, let alone framing the debate.
    To them, you’re either green and clean, or you’re just mean.
    Can we not just say there’s life–and use!–left in the old gasoline engine? Not to mention freedom?
    Why are we so against the freedom of the gasoline engine?

  • Don S

    Feral, just because ethanol is a failure (which many of us always knew) we have to park our cars and ride bikes? There’s still, at minimum, a 60 year supply of oil, probably a lot more, particularly if we start to utilize some of the vast supply of oil shale we have in this country.

    Not that I’m opposed to riding bikes. I enjoy bike riding, and it is good for your health. But they’re no substitute for cars.

  • Don S

    Feral, just because ethanol is a failure (which many of us always knew) we have to park our cars and ride bikes? There’s still, at minimum, a 60 year supply of oil, probably a lot more, particularly if we start to utilize some of the vast supply of oil shale we have in this country.

    Not that I’m opposed to riding bikes. I enjoy bike riding, and it is good for your health. But they’re no substitute for cars.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Susan (@8), “Why are we so against the freedom of the gasoline engine?” I doubt the opposition is to the “freedom” it provides, but rather the environmental damage it provides, as well as the foreign entanglements it creates. Also, the “freedom” gasoline provides us Americans isn’t free. Or is it mere coincidence that our military has been so involved in the Middle East in recent decades (to say nothing of government funds used to benefit oil companies in various ways)?

    You want energy independence? Okay, do you want it enough to do your part to buy less oil from foreign countries? To do so, you’ll have to conserve, a word that isn’t very, well, conservative these days.

    And Don S (@9), are bikes “no substitute for cars”? Depends where you live. They certainly substitute quite well where I live.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Susan (@8), “Why are we so against the freedom of the gasoline engine?” I doubt the opposition is to the “freedom” it provides, but rather the environmental damage it provides, as well as the foreign entanglements it creates. Also, the “freedom” gasoline provides us Americans isn’t free. Or is it mere coincidence that our military has been so involved in the Middle East in recent decades (to say nothing of government funds used to benefit oil companies in various ways)?

    You want energy independence? Okay, do you want it enough to do your part to buy less oil from foreign countries? To do so, you’ll have to conserve, a word that isn’t very, well, conservative these days.

    And Don S (@9), are bikes “no substitute for cars”? Depends where you live. They certainly substitute quite well where I live.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    ‘You want energy independence? Okay, do you want it enough to do your part to buy less oil from foreign countries? To do so, you’ll have to conserve, a word that isn’t very, well, conservative these days.’
    No, tODD. I’d rather see us tap into more fossil fuels and have more refineries. We haven’t given exploration, drilling, and refining half a chance for a long time. If we can trust technology to get us out of this quagmire, why can’t we trust it to make our current system more reliable, safer, less harmful to the world? We don’t even try, alas, but run in the way of near-panic to alternatives that don’t meet our needs.
    Having to change our needs is what troubles me. That’s what ruins economies and threatens lifestyles.
    More American oil is the answer, not reliance on foreign oil. And nuclear power.

    ‘And Don S (@9), are bikes “no substitute for cars”? Depends where you live. They certainly substitute quite well where I live.’
    Well, bully for you, tODD, for living in such a sublime place. So do what works for you. That’s the point: others of us are where we are, with the demands we have. It used to be called freedom of choice–to live where you wanted, move as you needed to move.
    Who said freedom is free? Not me! Oil certainly isn’t free. (Why you insist on arguing with points never made I don’t know, but it’s a sign of the weakness of your own point, maybe.)
    The great unspokens–the things Americans are being shouted down and bullied from saying–are American oil, off-shore, ANWR, the Dakotas, etc., and nuclear energy, and then we’d not have those pesky foreign entanglements. If only we were honest about answering our needs, and honest in holding forth that we can answer our own needs.
    The presumption that we have no choice but to conserve or alter lifestyles or all move to places where bikes are a reasonable alternative is based on a false pretense, and based on only half the conversation.
    It is conservative to want to open up the discussion; it is not conservative to cave in and accept the terms of the debate.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    ‘You want energy independence? Okay, do you want it enough to do your part to buy less oil from foreign countries? To do so, you’ll have to conserve, a word that isn’t very, well, conservative these days.’
    No, tODD. I’d rather see us tap into more fossil fuels and have more refineries. We haven’t given exploration, drilling, and refining half a chance for a long time. If we can trust technology to get us out of this quagmire, why can’t we trust it to make our current system more reliable, safer, less harmful to the world? We don’t even try, alas, but run in the way of near-panic to alternatives that don’t meet our needs.
    Having to change our needs is what troubles me. That’s what ruins economies and threatens lifestyles.
    More American oil is the answer, not reliance on foreign oil. And nuclear power.

    ‘And Don S (@9), are bikes “no substitute for cars”? Depends where you live. They certainly substitute quite well where I live.’
    Well, bully for you, tODD, for living in such a sublime place. So do what works for you. That’s the point: others of us are where we are, with the demands we have. It used to be called freedom of choice–to live where you wanted, move as you needed to move.
    Who said freedom is free? Not me! Oil certainly isn’t free. (Why you insist on arguing with points never made I don’t know, but it’s a sign of the weakness of your own point, maybe.)
    The great unspokens–the things Americans are being shouted down and bullied from saying–are American oil, off-shore, ANWR, the Dakotas, etc., and nuclear energy, and then we’d not have those pesky foreign entanglements. If only we were honest about answering our needs, and honest in holding forth that we can answer our own needs.
    The presumption that we have no choice but to conserve or alter lifestyles or all move to places where bikes are a reasonable alternative is based on a false pretense, and based on only half the conversation.
    It is conservative to want to open up the discussion; it is not conservative to cave in and accept the terms of the debate.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Susan (@11), why don’t you want to do anything about America’s oil consumption? Do you think it’s not your responsibility? Not your problem? Is it only a problem that suppliers should solve? And if so, why?

    Your quip about “technology” doesn’t make sense. There is no singular technology, but different technologies in consideration here. One of them clearly pollutes our air, and quite frequently our water. The other one, it is hoped, would not.

    “Having to change our needs is what troubles me.” Yes, I know. But there was a time when Americans considered sacrifice a good thing. They admitted that many of their “needs” were really wants, and they gave up some of their wants in order to achieve a greater good. That doesn’t seem to be something many people want to do any more. When was the last time a candidate or president called for sacrifice?

    But changing our lifestyles (or “needs”) doesn’t ruin economies. Our lifestyles are always changing. How long do you think we’ve been driving as much as we do? Our per capita oil consumption has increased dramatically since the 70s. Does that change trouble you? Or is it only calls for decreases that you don’t like?

    “Others of us are where we are, with the demands we have. It used to be called freedom of choice – to live where you wanted.” No one’s denying you the freedom of that choice. But you are not free of the consequences (economic or otherwise) of that choice. I can move to the middle of the desert, but if I subsequently complain about my inability to get any decent produce year-round (like arugula, the elitist’s leaf of choice), do you think my complaints are valid?

    As to my saying “freedom isn’t free”, have you never heard that phrase before? It’s usually leveled by (conservative) military types at people exercising their free speech, usually when they don’t like that speech. The point is that freedoms exist, but there are costs to them on an individual and societal scale. You mentioned the “freedom” gasoline provides. I merely turned that common phrase around and applied it in this case. I didn’t say, “Susan, you said, ‘Freedom is free.’”

    Again, you have a choice to drive as much as you want. But that choice is not without consequences — both in our environment and in your wallet. Choose wisely.

    “It is not conservative to cave in and accept the terms of the debate.” Then, clearly, I am a conservative. :)

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Susan (@11), why don’t you want to do anything about America’s oil consumption? Do you think it’s not your responsibility? Not your problem? Is it only a problem that suppliers should solve? And if so, why?

    Your quip about “technology” doesn’t make sense. There is no singular technology, but different technologies in consideration here. One of them clearly pollutes our air, and quite frequently our water. The other one, it is hoped, would not.

    “Having to change our needs is what troubles me.” Yes, I know. But there was a time when Americans considered sacrifice a good thing. They admitted that many of their “needs” were really wants, and they gave up some of their wants in order to achieve a greater good. That doesn’t seem to be something many people want to do any more. When was the last time a candidate or president called for sacrifice?

    But changing our lifestyles (or “needs”) doesn’t ruin economies. Our lifestyles are always changing. How long do you think we’ve been driving as much as we do? Our per capita oil consumption has increased dramatically since the 70s. Does that change trouble you? Or is it only calls for decreases that you don’t like?

    “Others of us are where we are, with the demands we have. It used to be called freedom of choice – to live where you wanted.” No one’s denying you the freedom of that choice. But you are not free of the consequences (economic or otherwise) of that choice. I can move to the middle of the desert, but if I subsequently complain about my inability to get any decent produce year-round (like arugula, the elitist’s leaf of choice), do you think my complaints are valid?

    As to my saying “freedom isn’t free”, have you never heard that phrase before? It’s usually leveled by (conservative) military types at people exercising their free speech, usually when they don’t like that speech. The point is that freedoms exist, but there are costs to them on an individual and societal scale. You mentioned the “freedom” gasoline provides. I merely turned that common phrase around and applied it in this case. I didn’t say, “Susan, you said, ‘Freedom is free.’”

    Again, you have a choice to drive as much as you want. But that choice is not without consequences — both in our environment and in your wallet. Choose wisely.

    “It is not conservative to cave in and accept the terms of the debate.” Then, clearly, I am a conservative. :)

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Do you not understand freedom, meaning also the freedom to overcome our current limitations through the freedom of industry to develop technologies to make things work better?
    We need release! Not more restriction! The earth and its resources are ours to harness, not to misuse, granted, but not to abandon either, without fully understanding how they can be used and what all can be done with them.
    We’re already behaving as if that avenue is closed, and I’m not ready to accept that it is. I don’t think industry and science are ready to throw in the towel either, but their hands are evermore being tied by a politically-driven (not science-driven) rush to judgment.
    Heck, the rush is over and the matter’s already judged: we’re evil, oil’s evil; we’ve no choice but to gravitate to alternatives, nevermind the cost, the impact, the practicality, or even the facts backing up this awful conclusion.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Do you not understand freedom, meaning also the freedom to overcome our current limitations through the freedom of industry to develop technologies to make things work better?
    We need release! Not more restriction! The earth and its resources are ours to harness, not to misuse, granted, but not to abandon either, without fully understanding how they can be used and what all can be done with them.
    We’re already behaving as if that avenue is closed, and I’m not ready to accept that it is. I don’t think industry and science are ready to throw in the towel either, but their hands are evermore being tied by a politically-driven (not science-driven) rush to judgment.
    Heck, the rush is over and the matter’s already judged: we’re evil, oil’s evil; we’ve no choice but to gravitate to alternatives, nevermind the cost, the impact, the practicality, or even the facts backing up this awful conclusion.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    I don’t think freedom means what you think it does. Industry is free to “develop technologies to make things work better”. It’s not free to despoil our natural resources willy-nilly in the process. The oil industry isn’t terribly interested in developing new technologies, regardless. But I can see reducing demand is clearly off the table, though it is the only thing individuals can do and it’s rather a proven technology.

    And what, exactly, would constitute a “misuse” of natural resources? Is there any place you wouldn’t consider worthy of drilling? Is there any wilderness you think wouldn’t be better off with a pipeline running through it? Is there any coastline you’d prefer to have tar-free? Can we put a refinery behind your house? Is there any amount of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, smog, etc., that you’d consider too much? Or is it all worth it in the name of our “needs” and “freedom”?

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    I don’t think freedom means what you think it does. Industry is free to “develop technologies to make things work better”. It’s not free to despoil our natural resources willy-nilly in the process. The oil industry isn’t terribly interested in developing new technologies, regardless. But I can see reducing demand is clearly off the table, though it is the only thing individuals can do and it’s rather a proven technology.

    And what, exactly, would constitute a “misuse” of natural resources? Is there any place you wouldn’t consider worthy of drilling? Is there any wilderness you think wouldn’t be better off with a pipeline running through it? Is there any coastline you’d prefer to have tar-free? Can we put a refinery behind your house? Is there any amount of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, smog, etc., that you’d consider too much? Or is it all worth it in the name of our “needs” and “freedom”?

  • Don S

    tODD @ #12 — “Our per capita oil consumption has increased dramatically since the 70s” — this statement is not at all true. In 1975, U.S. population was approx. 212 million and daily oil consumption was 18 mil. bbl, for annual per capita consumption of 31 bbl. In 2005, U.S. population was approx. 300 million and daily oil consumption was 21 mil. bbl, for annual per capital consumption of 25.5 bbl.

  • Don S

    tODD @ #12 — “Our per capita oil consumption has increased dramatically since the 70s” — this statement is not at all true. In 1975, U.S. population was approx. 212 million and daily oil consumption was 18 mil. bbl, for annual per capita consumption of 31 bbl. In 2005, U.S. population was approx. 300 million and daily oil consumption was 21 mil. bbl, for annual per capital consumption of 25.5 bbl.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Don S (@15), sorry, you are right. Perhaps I was looking at overall oil consumption, not per capita.

    But now I’ve gone back and looked at some more data, and I noticed that 1975 occurs at the end of an extraordinary increase in oil consumption in the U.S. If we look at per capita oil consumption since 1960, we again see an increase from 1960 until 2005, by about 25%.

    To be fair, if we look at things since 1981 (when there has been a fairly steady graph), there has only been a 5% increase in per capita oil consumption. All of this to say that most of our major lifestyle changing (with regards to oil consumption) occurred in the 60s.

    What I’d really like to know is how oil consumption due to automobile travel (or non-industrial use at least) has changed in that time period.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Don S (@15), sorry, you are right. Perhaps I was looking at overall oil consumption, not per capita.

    But now I’ve gone back and looked at some more data, and I noticed that 1975 occurs at the end of an extraordinary increase in oil consumption in the U.S. If we look at per capita oil consumption since 1960, we again see an increase from 1960 until 2005, by about 25%.

    To be fair, if we look at things since 1981 (when there has been a fairly steady graph), there has only been a 5% increase in per capita oil consumption. All of this to say that most of our major lifestyle changing (with regards to oil consumption) occurred in the 60s.

    What I’d really like to know is how oil consumption due to automobile travel (or non-industrial use at least) has changed in that time period.

  • Don S

    tODD, you may find this link useful [actually, I can't seem to post the link. However, if you Google Energy Information Administration, go to that site, then use its internal search engine to find ENERGY PERSPECTIVES, you will find this link as the first hit]

    It has a lot of information about historical usage and production of various fuels, including transportation/motor fuels. More data than you could ever hope to absorb.

    Fig. 2 is interesting, in that it charts overall energy usage per person from 1949 to the present. Our consumption per person today is about 50% higher than in 1949, but relatively flat in the past 30 years. Most likely largely represents the advent of air conditioning and all of the electronic devices we enjoy today, as well as air travel for the masses. Houses are, on average, about twice as large today as they were in 1960 and we have twice as many cars per capita.

    Actually, the increase in oil consumption per capita from 1960 to today is not that much. It was about 20 bbl per person annually then, and is 25 bbl per person today. The spike in oil consumption in the 60′s appears to correllate with a significant reduction in coal consumption — I believe at that time a lot of heavy industry converted from coal to oil because of early environmental regulations. Subsequent to 1975, much of heavy industry and electrical generation has converted to natural gas.

  • Don S

    tODD, you may find this link useful [actually, I can't seem to post the link. However, if you Google Energy Information Administration, go to that site, then use its internal search engine to find ENERGY PERSPECTIVES, you will find this link as the first hit]

    It has a lot of information about historical usage and production of various fuels, including transportation/motor fuels. More data than you could ever hope to absorb.

    Fig. 2 is interesting, in that it charts overall energy usage per person from 1949 to the present. Our consumption per person today is about 50% higher than in 1949, but relatively flat in the past 30 years. Most likely largely represents the advent of air conditioning and all of the electronic devices we enjoy today, as well as air travel for the masses. Houses are, on average, about twice as large today as they were in 1960 and we have twice as many cars per capita.

    Actually, the increase in oil consumption per capita from 1960 to today is not that much. It was about 20 bbl per person annually then, and is 25 bbl per person today. The spike in oil consumption in the 60′s appears to correllate with a significant reduction in coal consumption — I believe at that time a lot of heavy industry converted from coal to oil because of early environmental regulations. Subsequent to 1975, much of heavy industry and electrical generation has converted to natural gas.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Don S (@17), great resource — thanks! Nothing better to bring to a discussion than data.

    Agreed that things haven’t changed nearly as much in the past 30 years as in the 30 years before that, but that still leaves unanswered the question of whether the rate we’ve been more-or-less holding at is sustainable.

    But I’m not sure why you said, “Actually, the increase in oil consumption per capita from 1960 to today is not that much.”

    I’d said (@16) that there was “an increase from 1960 until 2005, by about 25%.” You said, “It was about 20 bbl per person annually then, and is 25 bbl per person today.” Those statements both agree, do they not?

    I’m also not where you’re getting that “the spike in oil consumption in the 60’s appears to correllate with a significant reduction in coal consumption.” Look at Figure 5 on that EIA/DOE page you cited (or Figure 38). Coal use has been increasing steadily since the 60s — mainly due to its use for electric power (Figure 39).

    Also, natural gas consumption has been relatively flat in the past 30 years (Figure 34). I agree that electric power has increased its use of gas (in the past 20 years at least — see Figure 37), but industry has been up and down (but overall flat) since 1975.

    What’s fascinating to me is that it’s clear that petroleum is the biggest chunk of our energy consumption (Fig. 5), that this is mainly in the form of motor gasoline (Fig. 7 & 19), and that the main sector contributing to increase right now is transportation. And by transportation, we mean trucks (as in semis — see Fig. 31 & 32). Trucks’ number of miles driven has doubled in the past 30 years, while their MPG has remained flat in the same time.

    All of which leads me to wonder if the best thing we could do to reduce energy consumption and pollution would be to buy locally, thereby reducing the demand for products to be trucked everywhere (I’d guess that many of these trucks are just the last leg of the journey for many products).

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Don S (@17), great resource — thanks! Nothing better to bring to a discussion than data.

    Agreed that things haven’t changed nearly as much in the past 30 years as in the 30 years before that, but that still leaves unanswered the question of whether the rate we’ve been more-or-less holding at is sustainable.

    But I’m not sure why you said, “Actually, the increase in oil consumption per capita from 1960 to today is not that much.”

    I’d said (@16) that there was “an increase from 1960 until 2005, by about 25%.” You said, “It was about 20 bbl per person annually then, and is 25 bbl per person today.” Those statements both agree, do they not?

    I’m also not where you’re getting that “the spike in oil consumption in the 60’s appears to correllate with a significant reduction in coal consumption.” Look at Figure 5 on that EIA/DOE page you cited (or Figure 38). Coal use has been increasing steadily since the 60s — mainly due to its use for electric power (Figure 39).

    Also, natural gas consumption has been relatively flat in the past 30 years (Figure 34). I agree that electric power has increased its use of gas (in the past 20 years at least — see Figure 37), but industry has been up and down (but overall flat) since 1975.

    What’s fascinating to me is that it’s clear that petroleum is the biggest chunk of our energy consumption (Fig. 5), that this is mainly in the form of motor gasoline (Fig. 7 & 19), and that the main sector contributing to increase right now is transportation. And by transportation, we mean trucks (as in semis — see Fig. 31 & 32). Trucks’ number of miles driven has doubled in the past 30 years, while their MPG has remained flat in the same time.

    All of which leads me to wonder if the best thing we could do to reduce energy consumption and pollution would be to buy locally, thereby reducing the demand for products to be trucked everywhere (I’d guess that many of these trucks are just the last leg of the journey for many products).

  • Don S

    tODD, I don’t know why I wrote that either — somehow I had it in my head that your data indicated a 50% increase since 1960 — I probably should re-read posts before blathering.

    Regarding the coal issue, I was looking at Fig. 9 which shows fuel usage in the industrial sector. Coal starts going downwardly in the late 50′s and oil starts spiking about the same time. It correllates with my own recollection as a child in the 60′s that there was a massive move from coal to oil both for home heating and heavy industry during that period of time because of pollution concerns. I thought that probably explained part of the increase in oil use during the 60′s. I’m sure additional factors were increasing home sizes and the advent of freeways, as well as more accessible air travel. The 60′s is really when we became the mobile society we are today.

    You’re right about truck transportation. I would guess a lot of that is also the increasing importation of manufactured goods via containerized cargo. Most of our goods come into ports and are either trucked or railroaded to distribution centers, where they are trucked out to retailers. Most of the manufactured goods on the East Coast now travel all the way across the country from the west coast, after traveling across the Pacific all the way from China. A lot different than when our manufacturing was here.

    Buy locally is probably one of the best things we can do to reduce energy consumption, though it’s sadly often not really an option.

    In any event, I think you’re on to something. Now, how can we bring some of this manufacturing back to the states in a competitive way?

  • Don S

    tODD, I don’t know why I wrote that either — somehow I had it in my head that your data indicated a 50% increase since 1960 — I probably should re-read posts before blathering.

    Regarding the coal issue, I was looking at Fig. 9 which shows fuel usage in the industrial sector. Coal starts going downwardly in the late 50′s and oil starts spiking about the same time. It correllates with my own recollection as a child in the 60′s that there was a massive move from coal to oil both for home heating and heavy industry during that period of time because of pollution concerns. I thought that probably explained part of the increase in oil use during the 60′s. I’m sure additional factors were increasing home sizes and the advent of freeways, as well as more accessible air travel. The 60′s is really when we became the mobile society we are today.

    You’re right about truck transportation. I would guess a lot of that is also the increasing importation of manufactured goods via containerized cargo. Most of our goods come into ports and are either trucked or railroaded to distribution centers, where they are trucked out to retailers. Most of the manufactured goods on the East Coast now travel all the way across the country from the west coast, after traveling across the Pacific all the way from China. A lot different than when our manufacturing was here.

    Buy locally is probably one of the best things we can do to reduce energy consumption, though it’s sadly often not really an option.

    In any event, I think you’re on to something. Now, how can we bring some of this manufacturing back to the states in a competitive way?


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