Crazy Talk About Energy Conservation

Inconvenient truth in far less than 328 pages. Oil is becoming more scarce and most of it that is left belongs to somebody else who doesn't like us. Making matters worse, there are an enormous number of items made from petrochemicals that don't get ejected from an engine's exhaust (plastics anybody?). The energy content of petroleum (~25-50% greater than coal for example) matched with the relative ease of extracting it (and consequently lower energy costs associated with its recovery) have made oil our favorite energy source. So much so that the U.S.A. gobbles it up at a rate of 20,680,000 barrels/day!

If the U.S.A. is to remain an economic power in the future I believe we will need to invoke a very radical energy policy. [(i.e., past ~ 2040 when all projections show exhaustion of petroleum at CURRENT rates of consumption and assuming we aren't fighting over the last drops (- assumes that China and India don't continue to increase their consumption...)] Below are a series of debate points which might be considered as part of an aggressive energy conservation policy. Some are big and some are small. Let the games begin!

Proposal 0: Add a 50 cent/gallon tax on gas at the pumps to help fund infrastructure requirements. (Gee Pliny why don't you just ease into the discussion with a soft pitch...)

Proposal 1: Bail out the US auto industry before it collapses but require that in 24 months all their cars must make at least 30 mpg. In 5 years 40 mpg. In 7 years 50 mpg. In 5 years begin a progressive excise tax on a vehicle's fuel consumption. Exceptions only for demonstrable work or farm vehicles. Government fleet purchases only cars with >= 30 mpg immediately. Strictly enforce energy efficient speed limits.

Proposal 2: Eliminate truck borne delivery greater than 50 miles. Big-rig trucks are at best estimated to be able to move one ton of freight ~ 59 miles per gallon of fuel. Rail transport can carry the same ton somewhere between 203 and 423 miles depending upon who's doing the estimates. Road wear and tear and pollution would also be decreased. (Requires upgrade to nation's rail system of course)

Proposal 3: Reduce petrochemical fertilizer use by 50% in 3 years. Reduced yields but currently large surpluses particularly of corn.

Proposal 4: Only recyclable plastic to be used in packaging in 2 years. Eliminate excess packing materials.

Proposal 5: No incandescent lights or new lamps manufactured in 2 years. LED lamps only in 5 years.

Proposal 6: Cease all exports of fossil fuels in 12 months. Preserve our stocks for strategic reserves and products such as pharma that need petrochemicals.

Proposal 7: Require 25% increase in energy efficiency in all new construction in 2 years. Additional 15% in 4 years.

Proposal 8: 25% of grid power from nuclear reactors in 10 years. One-to-one replacement of all oil-fired plants in 20 years. (Reduced power supply offset by previous conservation efforts and reduced demand.)

Proposal 9: Optimize time changes to reduce need for work lighting.

Proposal 10: Enhance mass transit and bicycle lanes.

Misc. Got to plug the old service. Navy moves to all nuclear force by 2035. Naval nuclear power plants have proven very robust and reliable and the strategic advantages of such power will offset the added costs in the lifetimes of these ships (30-50 years). Ships in port short of fuel are of no use.

These are just some ideas – some are no doubt just loco! What are your suggestions?


Asylum Seeker said...

I'd say that all of the proposals would probably be effective to some degree, and I hereby regret not putting you in as a right-in candidate for some kind of public office. Proposal 0 and 10 are probably gambles though, since it's hard to tell how people's spending habits would react to a tax on such a relevant good, and the investment required for the making mass transit lanes and bicycle lanes might not be be as productive as it should be for energy conservation, especially given that it would probably be one of the more costly of your proposals. That being said, both would yield positive if you could guarantee a mild change in the way that our society works and functions to make it so that buying less gas and riding bikes instead of driving are actually feasible options.

Michael Lockridge said...

Routing some funding to research and development for alternative technologies seems to me a good idea. It ought to be done fairly liberally, as well. Who knows where the "next great solution" may come from. It would be sad to miss out just because there was an absence of cash for a trip to the hardware store.

Oh, and how about Victory Gardens? They were promoted to some benefit during another difficult time. Composting is practical on a very local level. So are organic choices. The cost in resources for transportation is minimal. It is also something any individual could do to some degree.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Organics are an interesting consideration. In many parts of the country small local organic farms are competing with agribusiness and obviously have lower transport costs. It will be interesting to see if fuel costs return us to a time of decentralization.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Definitely need to fund research on energy alternatives but these are just some thoughts on how to buy some time as well as reset our consumption in order to live with the likely lower energy content/productivity of these alternatives

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

The People's Republic of Portland (Oregon) has had some interesting experiences with mass transit and bike commuting. They are currently ranked first in the nation for bike 'friendliness' and finally have enough mass transit infrastructure to make a difference. It was a tough road until there was enough connectivity to make a difference. Now Seattle is studying Portland's mass transit to see what it can do. Somewhere around 13-15% of Portlanders now commute by bike. That's a pretty impressive number for lazyA Americans - The growth has been tremendous over the last 3 years.

A surprising number of people also use these smart cars - community cars that you rent on an hourly basis. They also get premium parking.

GearHedEd said...

Here's a thought:
Someone's probably already working on this, but how about genetically engineered bacteria that can ferment ANY biomass, such as raked-up leaves, grass clippings, weeds, etc.? If they can engineer bacteria that can suck up crude oil spills, then why not?

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

GHE - Interesting idea. So is potentially harvesting all that frozen methane at the ocean floor.

One concern about the bacteria of course is the ever present concern about mutation and subsequent propagation beyond that intended.

pboyfloyd said...

Yea Ed, you kind of have to picture in your mind how much energy that there IS in a pile of leaves.

It's fall so if you've burned a pile and watched how long it takes to 'woosh' then you can imagine how 'far' that energy might have taken you in your car if it had been converted to 'car usable' form.

Not very far really, is it?

Along the same lines as you though, I was noticing the fires that they have in California at the end of every summer.

Perhaps they could hire some illegals to scour the land for combustibles, payed for by the home-owners and such, using the brush which otherwise contributes to valuable homes going up in flames.

I 'pictured' giant purpose built mowing machines and large crews or minimum wage "out-group-du-jour"s(CEO's of large corporations perhaps, prisoners?)

At least we'd see how many watts of energy is lost due to these unfortunate but forseeable conflagrations every summer!

Hey, maybe the insurance lobby could follow the crews and cry onto the parched bare ground?(just a thought)