Friday, May 06, 2005

Sucking That Petro Teat

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Twelve yards long, two lanes wide
Sixty-five tons of American pride
Canyonero, Canyonero!

- The Simpsons

Here I get to talk a bit about what Bush didn't address in his proposed new energy policy. He would like to convince us that he has a good energy policy, but he missed the boat on that by a wide margin. Without even addressing new oil refineries, nuclear power plants, and somehow making oil-rich countries pump out more fuel, he didn't address the one thing that could be done in the short term and that would make a huge difference in our oil consumption, i.e. forcing fuel efficiencies on SUVs and pickup trucks, and legislating increased fuel economy for all cars. For as much as I'd love to just blame Bush for this, the fact is that Bush I and Clinton both had a shot at doing something about this and both failed to. My bad rub with Bush is that he wants to make you think he's got a wonderful energy policy to move us into the future, but he's not there.

Having a common-sense energy policy isn't just a good idea, it's essential to the sustenance of this country and what it has to deal with in the coming years. It's indeed a national security issue, and that Bush doesn't address the hard things that need to be done to lessen our petro-dependency makes him negligent. Those reading this blog may not have to worry so much, but children in school today, and their children will, so what today's readers are looking at is their legacy and in my way of looking at things we're botching it badly.

There are three realities that come with our present fuel profligacy:

1. We're significantly increasing the amount of greenhouse gases being pumped into the atmosphere. I don't care where you stand on the "how" of global warming, it makes no difference how it's happening. What we can show is that there's warming occurring and it's increasing. I encourage anyone in the least bit interested in this subject to read the three articles by Elizabeth Kolbert on this subject in the New Yorker, starting with The Climate of Man - I.

Some would argue what we're now seeing with regard to global warming is a natural trend, ergo unless you can clearly point to a mechanism that explains what's going on you can't simply finger emissions for what we're seeing. I won't lie, that's a very scientific way of thinking, but the fact is that we know an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide has deleterious effects, to wit the hottest planet, by a factor of about 750 degrees F to 400 degrees F, is Venus, not the planet closest to the Sun, Mercury. And why is that? Because Venus' atmosphere is largely made up of carbon dioxide, which creates a heat trap for any sunlight which strikes the planet's surface, not unlike how a real greenhouse works.

So here's the unarguable fact: when you significantly increase carbon dioxide (it's important to point out that carbon dioxide is NOT the only greenhouse gas that humans spew out into the atmosphere) in the atmosphere you increase the amount of heat you retain. At what point does this become a "real" problem, and how reversible is it when you've reached that point? No one knows, there are no answers to this, so under the cover of ignorance G.W. and company simply don't address the inescapable realities that putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere can't possibly be a good thing. There's so much hope that we'll come up with a technological fix to keep this from becoming a "real" problem, but what if the problem is already engaged, or we're not that far from it being engaged and it's indeed hard to reverse? The technological fix isn't there right now, and it's not on the horizon that I'm aware of, but yet we keep pumping more gas into the air, and we watch as the environment slowly begins to change (the Kolbert articles make this case in ways that we don't appreciate because the most significant changes are occurring in places that most of us will never visit.)

2. This stuff is eventually going to run out, and what are we left with then?

3. As India and China, both of which have populations well in excess of 1 billion folks, up their demand for petro-crack, what do you think competition will be like between these countries and those who are already taking full advantage of the petro-economy such as the U.S. and Europe? I mean when you no longer have to burn dung patties to heat the house and cook your meals it's sort of hard to go back to that when you've had the advantages of oil, and really, who wouldn't want to give up dung-fuel? Are our children or their children going to have to go to war with one of these countries to sustain their energy needs and in part pay for our wasting our energy when we had the chance to make the right decisions?

Having oil countries pump more oil and building more oil refineries here does not tackle the main problem with our current fuel use. We're far too loose and easy with burning fuel, we build vehicles that clearly reflect this, and we're not willing to make the hard choices now to stave off problems in the future. It's sort of like Bush's social security fix --- he doesn't want to increase taxes now to help pay for sustaining benefits, and doing this now would not mean a significant increase in taxes, he just wants to cut benefits. Clinton would stand there and tell you that he felt your pain; Bush will stand there and tell you that he doesn't want you to feel any pain, he wants your kids and grandkids to feel it for you. Hard choices are necessary in the coming years and we're ill-served by the people currently in charge who clearly either haven't the will or the inclination to make those choices.

More on this next time.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

So many good, reasonable points. Whether upping the MPG for vehicles has a measurable effect or not on the atmosphere, we can and should use better engineering to conserve natural resources at every opportunity. That we can do ~ replacing oil and clean water, etc. is not within our skill range.

5:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

forgot to sign!

5:31 PM  

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