Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Green thoughts

I paid $32.30 today to fill up at the local Shell station. O.K., my car is a small four cylinder Toyota so I’ll admit that gas prices haven’t exactly financially clobbered me and my family. Still, I have noticed that it takes about ten to twenty bucks more to fill ‘er up. My lord, I can’t imagine having to fill up one of those giant SUV’s. Ouch! Current high gas prices are due to a weak dollar, the herd mentality of commodity speculation, and growing demand in China and India that has not abated.

Unfortunately, Americans are going to have to get used to these high prices. Our lame politicians serve up weak solutions (Sorry, but a “tax holiday” or windfall profit taxes on oil companies will not make gas prices drop and they will certainly not make any difference in the long run) that only pander to susceptible voters. Coupled with our current cultural obsession with everything and anything having to do with the environment, they have pretty much guaranteed pricier gas for decades to come.

We Americans are a strange lot; we want cheap gas for our cars but we shun most offshore oil drilling and refuse to tap resources in desolate landscapes like ANWR (even though less than fifty miles away, there is the major oil facility of Prudhoe Bay): A fitful contradiction that probably drives politicians looking for votes to make stupid suggestions on lowering gas prices and it certainly leads to bad national energy policy.

There’s a part of me that actually welcomes high prices; Gasoline consumers are already starting to cut back on their fuel use. Auto consumers are carefully weighing fuel economy in cars they intend to purchase. Auto manufactures are getting the hint that they need to design and build cars that are more fuel efficient: this is the market magic at work here, folks. Despite all the bellyaching, it is working just as it should.

But what is most worrisome, is that Americans do not seem to understand that for the foreseeable future, energy prices in general are going to be higher than they have in the past and for a far longer period of time. For the last thirty years or so, our country has been committing energy suicide: We have failed to build new petroleum refineries to meet growing demand, new oil and gas pipelines have not been built, and nuclear power has been off the table as a viable source of clean energy for decades. Americans will finally see how expensive it really is to be wholly “green.” As it has been envisioned by those that believe that to severely restrict oil, gas, and nuclear energy production (with enough litigation to bog any sensible progress) will therefore get us to the promised land of magic alternative fuels or the super green infrastructure that will be cheap, clean, produce no carbon emissions, and will cause Greens everywhere to smugly exclaim “I told you so, don’t you feel ashamed now, you idiot?”

Except that the Green economy, as envisioned by individuals like Al Gore, is going to be ferociously expensive. The technology to reduce emissions to the levels that environmentalist’s desire simply is not there or is not politically viable (i.e. nuclear power). So now we are stuck with not enough conventional energy to meet our growing demand and not nearly enough alternative energy too. When the average American starts to fork over a sizable amount of their income to comply with rising energy needs, a backlash may occur and the most likely candidates for a drubbing will be those very same politicians that pushed unrealistic energy goals.

Now don’t misunderstand me on the climate change issue or on pollution in general. I don’t believe that industries, corporations or even individuals should be allowed to pollute without penalty. If I have a business that pumps unhealthful fumes into the air that a city is downwind from and that they may end up breathing, I should at least have to pay a penalty or a recompense for my use/polluting of everyone’s air. If you have read this blog for some time you know that I have always advocated a national carbon tax on polluters and that the carbon tax is far more efficient than a carbon trading scheme. But I digress. What I object to is that most environmental policy has been forged in a climate of hysteria. This has led to some of the policies alluded to above that most likely will fritter away billions in precious investment capital that could have been used to develop efficient technologies of the future. Instead, we are going to have to settle for what we have now as far as an energy infrastructure and hope that energy costs don’t spike as fast or as painfully as filling your car.


Offgrid said...

Whatever we do - we better do more research into possible side effects of green energy (like ethanol) before we go whole hog into mass production. It's pretty disgusting to learn after the fact that ethanol uses more oil to produce the same amount of bio-fuel. I wonder how many other frankenstein's are lurking out there in the world of "green" energy technology.

Offgrid said...

Check this out - Neatherlands Inventor
Maybe we can come up with something better.

VH said...

Thanks for your comments. I agree with you, we need to be careful on how we apply or jump on fads that we feel may curb pollution. Ethanol also uses up roughly 4 gallons of water for 1 gallon of ethanol produced...not good. In California, we had groups pushing MBTE to be used in gasoline as an oxygenate and it turned out to be very poisonous to the water table.
I wouldn't rule out all bio-fuels--there is still hope with switch grasses.

Great video! Hmmm...now a practical application is needed. Thanks for the link:)