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Pure Energy

Peak Convenience

In the U.S. (and most of the developed world), people are accustomed to great convenience. We live in climate-controlled homes, wake up each morning, take a hot shower, and then eat a breakfast consisting of foods from halfway around the world. We hop into our cars, adjust the temperature, and head off to work. We fly across the country for a few hundred dollars. We send letters from coast to coast for 42 cents. For us, ‘inconvenience’ occurs when a store is closed on Sunday.

‘Those people’ living in far away places who have to put up with the inconvenience of intermittent power, no heating or cooling, and who have to walk everywhere they go (or ride packed buses/trains) are only images on television. Yet compared to the U.S., much of the rest of the world deals with inconvenience on a daily basis.

But as oil prices have climbed – and have taken almost everything up with them – people are starting to give up some conveniences. According to the American Public Transportation Association, 2007 saw usage of public transportation at a 50-year high. 2008 has seen additional increases in mass transit usage. People are starting to give up the convenience of personal transportation. (For some like me that hate to drive, mass transit isn’t such an inconvenience. If it takes me longer to get to work, I can work on the bus, and I get to let someone else do the driving.)

Some are losing the convenience of air travel:

And you think you’re trying to save gas …

[Dan] Garton [American Airline’s executive vice president of marketing] admits that some current flyers simply will not be able to fly.

“It’s an unfortunate part of this because our country has gotten accustomed to being able to fly somewhere for the weekend,” he said. “Everybody can go see Aunt Millie for her birthday, and some of that may change for some of our customers. Seventy-eight percent of our customers fly once a year. And so some of those people may not be able to fly anymore, because we will raise our prices by hook or by crook.”

Yes, airlines are going to have to raise prices to survive. And the high cost of oil not only takes a bigger cut out of personal transportation budgets, but it drives up the cost of producing food, and the cost of getting the food to the store. For some, growing a garden to help stretch the food budget isn’t necessarily a burden (unless you are 12-years old and would rather play Rock Band on your Xbox than pull weeds in the garden). But it certainly is less convenient than dropping by your local grocery store and finding that your favorite foods are never out of season.

The thought struck me as I got ready for work a couple of days ago that we may have reached ‘peak convenience’ as a result of high oil prices, which I believe are here to stay. Most people are going to find that certain conveniences that we have taken for granted during the age of cheap oil are less attainable (i.e., more expensive) than they once were. I can see a future in which something like the morning shower shifts to later in the day, after the solar water heater has had time to heat up the water. Or we have to drop our electrical usage way down at night because our solar output has dropped off. People are definitely going to have to become accustomed to tracking their electricity usage, to avoid a very big surprise at the end of the month. (On the flip side, I think we will continue to make medical and technological advances, so it isn’t as if I think we are headed back to the Stone Age).

Having grown up without great convenience (by Western standards), I don’t think I will have a difficult time adjusting. However, many I know would never consider public transportation. I know people who would circle the Walmart parking lot 10 times before they would walk from a parking spot that isn’t within 50 feet of the front door. The only food they have ever known comes from the supermarket. These are the same people who scream the loudest for the government to do something about rising gas prices. These are also the people who I think will have the most difficult time adjusting to the new reality imposed by high oil prices. Some will sink ever further into debt as they wait in vain for the government to fix the problem.

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July 13, 2008 - Posted by | airplane transportation, food prices, mass transit, oil prices, Peak Convenience

21 Comments

  1. Let’s play out your scenario a little further. In wintertime, even with super insulation, people wear winter clothing (jackets, long underwear etc.) indoors for days to a small number of weeks at a time. Unfortunately, since it’s almost impossible to retrofit urban living space, winter wear indoors may extend to months in certain parts of the country. Hospitals will be overwhelmed with cases of frostbite and it will be common to see people with shortened fingers and toes from amputations due to winter weather. Additionally, there will be periods where people cannot go to work because it is too cold to stand outside waiting for public transportation.

    The wintertime diet will consist of potatoes, squash, canned vegetables and fruit, and winter store apples. Public health officials will be distributing packets of ascorbic acid, brewers yeast, and calcium plus vitamin D to push back the resurgence of nutrition-based diseases. Fresh grown tomatoes, lettuce and other vegetables will be available if you are truly wealthy and can afford to pay the greenhouse fees.

    You’ll be able to tell when springtime returns not only from the weather or from the visibility of bandages on hands, ears, and noses. The springtime diet will be reduced as supplies of winter store tubers and apples are exhausted and people are restricted to canned vegetables only. By this time the cost of frozen vegetables have risen to the price of fresh vegetables because of the energy it takes to keep them frozen.

    Work and life will return with great vigor as it is freed from the grip of winter and as it tries to catch up before the onslaught of summer.

    The first heat of summer feels good to those who survive the winter. Soon, this welcome heat turns from friend to enemy as buildings heat up and no amount of ventilation will cool them down at any time of the day or night. Indoor spaces sit at roughly 5 to 10° above ambient and city ambient is 5° above country ambient. Families spend time with her elders because they do not know if this is the summer when the elders will die. The ones who are afraid or alone are the first to go. Fear instilled by those who prey on the weak keeps doors and windows shut. Social workers, Meals on Wheels and others try to reach self barricaded people. Sometimes they reach them in time, for others, all they can do is call the cleaning crew and take care of the cat by calling animal welfare.

    Eventually, the latent heat of the city become so overwhelming that businesses shut down for most of July August and part of September. At the end of transit lines, tent city set up as a significant portion of the population migrate out to summer slums into her surroundings. Farmers take advantage of this situation by offering to pay people in food in exchange for farm labor. People are relocated to migrant labor camps at different farms as the labor needs change. Those staying the summer slums attempt to grow their own gardens limited success because of losses due to four-legged and two legged varmints.

    Summertime is the time of food abundance. First crops of fast-growing vegetables show up in June to early July. Unfortunately, only rich people can afford fresh fruits and vegetables at this time and the middle class to poor must continue to eat canned/preserve foods. By July and August, food costs have dropped dramatically and there is abundant of fresh fruit and vegetables available to those living in the summer slums. Those left in urban environments, can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables if they can make it to the produce depot at the rail yard or are willing to pay a premium for the heavily picked over and bruised produce at the supermarket. As the weather turns cooler, people return to the cities and their jobs. Like in the spring, life takes on a frenzy as people try to make for lost time from the summer’s heat and the upcoming winter’s cold. Dietary restrictions increase as the end of growing season passes for different types of fruits and vegetables. The fall diet mostly consists of fresh apples, new harvest tubers, and squash. Cannery and frozen food producers are running full tilt. Near the end of autumn, the first cases of scurvy start showing up in the desperately poor sections of the community.

    The emergence of indoor winter clothing and widespread occurrence of scurvy signifies the completion of the cycle.

    My story is what I consider a natural extension of your peak convenience story. History both current and near past tells the tale of summertime. Pioneer, slum tales from the 1900, and modern urban poverty heating stories inform the dress and thermal characteristics. My own life as a son of a rigger informs the harder aspects of life not just from the weather but from what’s available to you for food throughout the year. Pioneer tales of food in springtime, how families were running low if they had a bad crop in the previous year trying to decide if they should starve or eat the seed for spring planting. The joy with which they would eat anything green as it emerged from the frosty grip of winter. One wild crop, fiddlehead ferns, and one cultivated crop, radishes were the mainstay of many pioneers.

    You have a pretty disengaged life, living only on the Internet and DVDs to not be aware of these implications of a lower energy life.

    Comment by Anonymous | July 13, 2008

  2. I lived in Kenya for a while in an area with no electricity or running water. I was always impressed with the way the people there got up, got dressed, and went to work everday the same way people do here in the U.S.. They didn’t have cars, so they either walked, rode a bike, or took some sort of public transportation. Many would walk for miles and would arrive at work presentable and on time. And they didn’t complain. For them it was just normal.

    My experience there has caused me to not have much sympathy for Americans who complain about $4 gas or the inconvenience of public transportation. We’re just spoiled.

    Comment by Brad | July 13, 2008

  3. You have a pretty disengaged life, living only on the Internet and DVDs to not be aware of these implications of a lower energy life.

    You are talking to someone who grew up with no air conditioning, with the only heat in the winter coming from a wood stove, and who ate canned vegetables and potatoes from the root cellar all winter. I am well aware of the possible implications of a lower energy life.

    RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 13, 2008

  4. I’m tired of all the conveniences of modern civilization being blamed for all the evils in the world. just because people can live in primitive environments and survive, it doesn’t mean that they have a good quality of life. I don’t care what people can survive in Africa. They can survive being hacked by machetes, raped as a weapon of war, and oppressed by dictators. But is that how you want to live? We should be striving to make civilization more efficient and more energy sources available so we can raise them up instead of pushing us down further into the realm of superstition and bad math. remember, if you don’t have a high-technology society you cannot have a green society. If you are low-tech, you are using brown solutions. Wind turbines, solar panels, high-efficiency engines, electric cars, aerodynamic cars, these are all high-technology solutions. unfortunately, from my perspective, most green efforts are Luddites and are trying to push us back into a more primitive world which means higher carbon footprint per person, shorter lifespan, harder life. And don’t forget, no Internet.

    So, let’s look at one of the green articles of faith, efficiency of public transit.

    I have no problem with public transit as long as it doesn’t force us into a civilization where we are thought of as those “happy stoic people putting up with the trials of life”.

    There are multiple dimensions to efficiency. Public transit is more efficient albeit under limited circumstances. Making about a bus,let’s assume a bus is capable of holding 60 people. Runs 12 miles an hour (average speed) gets 3.5 miles per gallon. In 12 hours, the bus travels 144 miles and consumes 41 gallons of fuel.

    Assuming a car gets 20 mpg, the bus must carry on average how many people per mile for the entire 12 hour day for energy parity.
    car: bus:
    20 mpg 5.7
    40 11.4
    60 17.1
    80 22.8
    100 28.8
    130 37.1
    160 45.7
    190 54.3

    assuming I did my sums right, this is pretty interesting. This says that for bus-based public transit to be efficient, you need to either restrict times of availability or only operate in areas of very high population density. The rest of the time, it’s more efficient if you have a single person form of transport.

    But there are other dimensions to efficiency. Economists have calculated a person’s personal time as being worth $50 an hour. So if you spend an hour or more on public transportation per day when driving would take you only 20 minutes, is that really more efficient? How do you balance work and life? For example, what if you get home well after dark and by the time you get your family fed and try to clean up a little bit, it’s too late to get the supermarket. Is it really more efficient to purchase food at a significant premium from the local market? How about when you run the risk of assault by walking alone at night to that market?

    Now in such a situation, I can see the public demanding brighter and more sidewalk streetlights but what happens to your energy efficiency when you have 150 W light bulbs every 30 feet burning from dusk to dawn? Why is that whole scenario better than having personal transit that let you be more efficient with your time and get home at a reasonable hour to take care of and be part of your family?

    another variation of this would be taking your bus to the supermarket, doing a little bit of shopping, struggling with your bags on another bus to get home and do this every single day because you can’t carry enough to do your shopping in one trip. Is that really a better way to live? By the way, guys are not the ones usually stuck with this task If we’re talking about a couple, it’s frequently the woman that will do it and it’s much harder for them than it is for us.

    I’m not saying any solution is right or wrong but it’s a lot more complicated than just banning SUVs. You need to identify the region in which a solution is appropriate because no solution is appropriate everywhere.

    Comment by Anonymous | July 13, 2008

  5. Robert,

    Back in 2006 when the Current Occupant announced during the State of the Union that, “We are addicted to oil.” I had to disagree somewhat.

    What we are really addicted to is the convenience that comes with the profligate use of energy. it just happens that oil is the cheapest way of delivering that energy right now.

    I didn’t have to live in a house w/o central heat or indoor plumbing (however my parents didn’t get A/C until after I left for college), but both my parents grew up in those kind of homes, and I can vividly recall visiting the woman who raised my Dad and helping feed the wood burning stove, pumping water by hand, and going to the privy in back of the house.

    I also had a aunt who lived in a dugout house in Iowa. Before she would let the kids go down into the basement, she would first have to check for rattlesnakes.

    The point is that the time when we lived like that wasn’t really all that far in the past, and we could do it again if we had to. (Anyway, I think most of us could do it if we had to. It would be a weed our society back to rugged pioneer stock, wouldn’t it?)

    By the way: Three months ago I increased the insulation in our attic to 18″. Since then the outdoor temperature has been as low as 32^F and as high as 95^F, and we have used neither the furnace or A/C. I’ve found if I open the windows at night and let the house cool off, and then close the windows during the day, the inside temperature stays in the 70s, no matter how hot outside. I live in Wisconsin, and fully expect going all summer without A/C and probably not using the furnace again until November.

    Best,

    Gary

    Comment by Gary Dikkers | July 13, 2008

  6. You are talking to someone who grew up with no air conditioning, with the only heat in the winter coming from a wood stove, and who ate canned vegetables and potatoes from the root cellar all winter. I am well aware of the possible implications of a lower energy life.

    my apologies. That was not aimed at you. It was more aimed at the general audience.

    If you want to “compare manhood” over rough upbringings: 🙂 I think I can match you.

    I spent most of my summers and weekends working for my father moving machinery in reasonably human hostile environments. This wasn’t just the modern plastic factories with their oil, powder, fumes etc. But also the old-school cloth and paper factories with all sorts of fine microparticles in the air. I’ve spent hot summer days carrying chains, blocking, tackle and jacks with nothing but grease and dirt soaked shirt and gloves as insulation against the summer heat soaked into wood and metal. I’ve stared drums of toxic waste straight in the face as their iridescent contents were dumped off the back of my father’s trucks into the local landfill.

    when I wasn’t working for my father, I was helping out a local dairy farmer. If I thought working in grease and oil was hard hot and unpleasant, that’s nothing until you start lifting bales of hay or offloading wagons full of cow corn.

    It wasn’t until my father started growing a garden that we started having fresh vegetables on a regular basis. Up till that point, everything was either frozen or canned.

    We only had air-conditioning in the upstairs bedrooms and that was put in shortly before I went to college in the early 70s. The only reason we had air-conditioning is that even with significant insulation, the attic rooms got unbelievably hot. Fans did little good and were as noisy as the factories I worked in.

    I think of all the energy consuming appliances, the last one I will give up will probably be my air conditioner. I just have absolutely no tolerance for heat. Last night, I was out of my wife’s garden trying barricade the lower part of the fence against the ground hogs that have devastated our garden.[1] Not very hot. 80° or so. Digging a 6 inch deep trench for the hardware cloth and putting everything in place had sweat pouring off of my face. I just can’t take heat the way I used to. maybe I’m just getting old. Don’t know, don’t really care. I run the air conditioner as lightly as I can get away with but I run it.

    So I comes to who understands a low-tech world, I think we’re an even match. We just have different values. I do have to say, I enjoy Your writings because it causes me to dig into other things to round out the perspective. Thanks, keep it up.

    [1] here’s another side effect will see if people start growing gardens. There will be an uptick in the groundhog population from the new food. As a result, people start poisoning groundhogs and any other animal that happens to be loose in the wild or, folks will start keeping or hiring someone with small arms (.177 caliber air rifles or equivalent) with which to shoot the bastards. I really hate woodchucks. And if you’re going to poison them, we recommend using rat poison pellets mixed with peanut butter. However, do not mix this up in the kitchen otherwise your partner might go “oh, crunchy peanut butter. why is it green?”

    Seriously, only do this if you have a very well fenced in garden because peanut butter is very attractive to dogs and you don’t want to poison dogs. It’s really a very unpleasant death.

    Comment by Anonymous | July 13, 2008

  7. Robert,

    In regards to your comments,

    “I think we will continue to make medical and technological advances, so it isn’t as if I think we are headed back to the Stone Age.”

    Certainly I agree that we won’t go back to the stone age, but I also don’t think that society will progress at the rate it has been since WW II. I believe that there will be a dramatic slow down in the advancement of society for a variety of reasons, all of which are tied to energy production, volume, and distribution. Furthermore I completely agree with you that people will have to wake up and smell the “not so rosy” roses and change their lifestyles.

    Personally I think that the next time we will see a great “leap” in technological and social advancements is when we discover how to harness the power of anti-matter. (Which is a really long ways off, if it is actually possible at all).

    Comment by Chris | July 13, 2008

  8. I think there is just too much doomerism, and this post is in that vein. Sheesh, back in the mid-1980s, US car makers were pumping out cars that got more than 40 mpg. I don’t think of the 1980s as the Age of Inconvenience (heaven forbid, it was pre-Internet). I expect that we can make cars that get 50 mpg, and I hope we do (and use mass transit more). Scooters are big in L.A.
    I just read that 18-wheeler makers are upping their mpg to (it is hoped) 10 from 4. In a generation, US truck fleets will use half the oil that did.
    Car fleets too, if prices stay up.
    It seems to me we can cut our oil use in half, with only the most minor inconveniences.
    If true, the US drop in demand will take 10 mbd of demand off world markets, ou of 86mbd or so. Meanwhile global production keeps going up — we have not seen the peak yet.
    Now some say Iraq and Iran could go up by 4 mbd (combined) rather easily, and Russia is making huge finds in Siberia, indicating they can continue to go up. Kuwait wants to go to 4 mbd from 2 mbd.
    The real threat is of another glut-price collapse, and that the United States will not employ gasoline taxes to keep demand suppressed.
    The economic news now in the US is terrible, but that is due to feckless, decadent political leadership, meaning our industrial base is eviscerated, our financial institutions weak, and our treasure wasted in an overseas folly. Energy is just the feather in the cap of this current administration.
    But, you can’t foll all of the people all of the time…things are going to get better. Markets sill work, and people are incredibly resourceful.

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | July 13, 2008

  9. Well put Rob, I have trouble with my temper(annoyed by ignoramous) while writing on this topic. I’m sending this to my baby boomin-in denial dad. Also, I’m considering going into the mitten making business, gloves suck!…heat, and take too long to dry.

    Comment by evan | July 13, 2008

  10. INCONVENIENCES YEARS BACK–

    lotsa us, parents, grandparents lived thru some of those “slim” scenarios.
    BIG DIFFERENCE to us all–level of freedom/liberty/perceived opportunity for things to CHANGE.

    “SLIM” was far better here than elsewhere. still is. let’s hope that does not change for the worse.

    nicely done to maintain perspective. at least for old coot like me

    fran

    Comment by Anonymous | July 13, 2008

  11. Well, as long as we are trading misery stories of years past. When I graduated college I started and ran a steam railroad in deadwood, south dakota, thereby flushing my biochem degree down the toilet, but, heck, how could I not? It was a steam engine, every kids dream! It originally ran on coal, but I converted it to run on waste oil, which was available for free in mass quantities from the homestake mine. You change the oil in a terex dump, its 55 gallons, and they ran 24/7. Running the engine during the summer was like living next to an open blast furnace. It would be 130 degrees if you hung out the window, and over 150 if you had to futz with the johnson(no pun intended). Then I lived in AZ for almost 20 years and hiked the superstitions a LOT. Heat does not particularly bother me now, but I will go to extreme lengths to not be cold.

    I think I threw out awhile ago that I thought gardening would not just be a casual hobby in the future. It scary how much faster the trends I plot(it is how I make my living) have come to the present. Sort of like AGW. I still think there is a chance that we may have enough hydrocarbons, but not enough environment left to use them all.
    Being correct here has not brought a lot of happy thinking to mind. It humbles me, as I realize how badly the US can stumble here. We are not on the ball, that much is obvious. At almost any level. How many people do I know bought gas guzzling rigs in 2005 or after, when it was obvious what the trend in energy was? How many friends of mine told me I needed to take some of that money they knew I had saved, and go buy a house that was a long drive from anything? Roughly the same number as are now asking if they can borrow money to cover either their car payment or mortgage… Oh, and the guy who said that most greens are luddites, I say may be. However, I would argue that a simpler world is not necessarily a primitive one. Chances are that is the direction that we will go anyway, as we will simply have to make do with less.

    Comment by Winelover | July 13, 2008

  12. I think there is just too much doomerism, and this post is in that vein.

    Benny, doomerism and inconvenience are about a million miles apart. It is a fact that high oil prices are imposing inconvenience. When people who have enjoyed cheap airline travel can no longer afford it, that’s inconvenience. The difference is that you think this is a temporary thing, and that prices will come back down and things will get back to normal.

    RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 13, 2008

  13. RR-Perhaps I was too strong in my language. You have not been a doomster, and you are a rare beacon of light in a field where people seem to believe what they want to believe, facts be damned. I may have been lumping you in with some of the more-doomy posters.
    Still, is driving a 50 mpg car really an inconvenience? 70 percent of oil use in the USA is in transportation. Obviously, we can cut oil use in half through higher mpg cars, more scooters, mass transit and more-efficient 18-wheelers (and some switching to railroads).
    There is even the possibility (and I think probability, in the longer-run) that a Volt-type car will work. Then, your liquid fuel consumption could drop by 90 percent, w/o the slightest inconvenience worth talking about.
    Note to anon. on the value of personal time and busses; I will be happy to have someone value my time at $50 an hour. Where do I sign up?
    I liked your graf on bus gasoline use. Bring on the scooters!
    In Thailand, a “baht bus” is common, It is diesel pick-up truck, with slats running longitudinally (the long way) over the wheel wells. Can hold 10, usually grinds along with 6-7 people on board. The Thai people are so honest, they hand money through back window to driver, never a problem. I am assuming such a service delivers about 15 mpg times six people, or 90 mpg. Scooters can do that with more freedom. A Volt-car can do that, and better, if an urban car.
    You have raised some interesting issues about mass transit.

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | July 13, 2008

  14. The posts here are somewhat overly dramatic considering the huge efficiency gains readily available to Americans. If someone turns a 30 mile commute in a 10 mpg car to a 10 mile commute in a 30 mpg car, that’s a 9 times greater efficiency. Many homes currently have old, inefficient A/Cs and furnaces keeping a house 72 degrees regardless of occupancy. While some things such as air travel have very sticky efficiency, America will be able to react forcefully in the next few years with much less oil usage for minimally less convenience. It will be more like a Prius instead of an Expedition as opposed to having to grow your own food.

    Comment by Matthew | July 13, 2008

  15. Oh come on Robert,

    Just because we aren’t going to have as much liquid fuels doesn’t mean we’re going to have a shortage of electricity.
    greyfalcon.net/energy2.png

    Also just because the sun doesn’t shine at night, doesn’t mean you can’t use solar power at night.
    greyfalcon.net/solarthermal
    gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/6/20/143633/019#comment7

    Comment by GreyFalcon | July 14, 2008

  16. Just because we aren’t going to have as much liquid fuels doesn’t mean we’re going to have a shortage of electricity.

    Not necessarily a shortage, but I think it will become more expensive. That’s what I mean by inconvenience. We will have to make more discriminating choices regarding our profligate energy usage.

    Also just because the sun doesn’t shine at night, doesn’t mean you can’t use solar power at night.

    From your link “so-called concentrated solar-power stations will likely represent only a small part of the world’s power-generation needs.” Again, it’s back to cost and convenience. I don’t think we are going to run out of gas any time soon. I just think it’s going to keep getting more expensive, which means we won’t move around as freely as we once did.

    I almost covered molten solar in the article, as well as the recent investments in the electrical grid. But I decided that those topics would be better off in a stand alone essay later on.

    RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 14, 2008

  17. RR, you really should look at nuclear. I don’t think there’s any reason for people to power down after the sun goes down. I don’t think we’re at peak convenience. Peak travel, perhaps. I’ve cut my personal energy consumption considerably, and I don’t miss it at all.

    Comment by Anonymous | July 14, 2008

  18. I favor nuclear power. In fact, I have written positively on that option in the past.

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 14, 2008

  19. RR,
    I know it’s not your fault or intent, but there is a lot of doomer postings in this thread. Just read the first comment.

    I do think Benny is overly optimistic, but I expect the high energy prices to cause much innovation in the next few years. Put it this way: Most Americans can save a significant amount of energy (20 – 30%) without suffering much inconvenience.

    For example, where I live in SoCal, you don’t need A/C at night, you need a window fan ($20 @ Home Depot; the bathroom fan works great for extracting warm air). For your typical commute, you don’t need to run your car’s A/C more than a few days a year (amazingly many people seem to prefer to run the car’s A/C with the windows up, even when it is cool outside). Heck, I still see people sitting in parking lots at night, engine running to keep the A/C going, when an open window would do the trick (gotta love low humidity).

    I guess $4.50/gal still is not enough. In which case we’ll see $5/gal soon enough. And then? Who knows. Until we start adapting…

    Comment by Optimist | July 15, 2008

  20. At least you had canned vegetables and potatoes, all we had was dirt bread and bark samiches, and we were damned happy with that by gawd.

    Comment by HalfEmpty | July 15, 2008

  21. Gloom, and boom!

    It may sound esoteric, but one of the things that just astounds me is the lack-of-implementation of simple technologies that are readily available to mitigate the hot-cold cycle of most HVAC issues. This was alluded to by [GARY DIKKERS] post: [most of the year I’ve found that opening the windows at night…]

    From a thermal management basis, this is key: insulating the house well above minimum code standards and installation of energy efficient systems that utilize the diurnal heating/cooling of the environment stand to save substantial money and energy – well beyond what ‘high technology’ systems promise to deliver. Remembering that hot air rises, and cool air displaces it … it is easy to see how a simple large-area weather louvered attic (or roof) vent and small low-velocity fan (100 watt or less) can easily vent all the accumulated warmer air of a house and admit cool air to replace it. It only needs to be controlled by a dual-temperature thermostat: when the air outside is cooler than the inside air …AND… the inside air is warmer than the desired lower limit, THEN “turn it on”. When either half of that 2-part condition reverses, seal it down and go into HOLD mode.

    It likewise can have a spring-and-fall mode that does the opposite: when the outside air is warmer than the inside AND the inside is cooler than the upper limit, THEN “turn it on in reverse”.

    Why reverse? Because when the house needs to be warmed, it is far more efficient to force hot air from above, pushing out cold air below. It never is efficient to ‘mix’ the hot-and-the-cold.

    Without actually being very complicated, the same system can also engage both an A/C unit for excessive over-temperature conditions and a reverse-A/C heat pump for excessive below-temperature cool periods. In essence, the controller’s algorithm would utilize ambient diurnal heating-and-cooling management as much as possible, and only utilize artificial energy-driven heat pumping far outside the comfort/safety zone.

    Above 90 – A/C
    Below 50 – A/C heat pumping
    Above 65/Below 75 ‘optimim range’

    There is also no reason not to make the controller humidity sensitive as well as absolute-barimetric adaptive. (Little known fact: higher elevations have a signficantly different physiological heat value than sea level, under identical thermal/water vapor loads). Technology for such controllers, ultra-reliable ‘low-tech’ louvered vent ports, low velocity/high volume fans, triple-thick insulation and associated conduits are all pretty ‘low tech’. We need to remember that there are billions of CPUs replete with built-in analog sensors, large on-board memories, full power-fail recovery modes, and trivial interfacing methods available for less than $1.00 (not a typo) in quantity. There is absolutely no ‘technology barrier’ for taking remarkably simple devices controlled by small, simple, yet sophisticated programs to effect fully automatic systems to keep within fully programmable ‘environmental norms’ and still have the consumer interface no more complicated than any one of today’s double-temperature-setting thermostats. Sure, more in it – but the billions of transistors and hundreds of interlocking communications devices of the AVERAGE computer are so well abstracted as a mouse, a keyboard and a screen that the complexities just don’t need to be remotely revealed to the consumer. “Just set the knobs, buddy”. The EPA could further mandate that the hot-hot and cold-cold temps be specifically “90” and “50” respectively, and that the ‘middle’ be settable in the range of ’65-75′. That kind of thing would, while abrading the Average Citizens’ feeling of ‘rights’, contribute greatly to nationally working toward significantly changing our energy budget.

    AS TO CARS, public transportation, bicycles, walking? Like it or not, the 70+ year honeymoon with self-owned transportation transformed many communal-shared systems into obsolescence. Our town used to have ‘street cars’ running the length of it, on EACH major street. There were 4 of them, separated by about 5 blocks apiece. It was considered quite reasonable to walk from home to streetcar stop, up to about 4 or 5 blocks away. Back and forth these electric wonders ran, coalescing at the end of the run in loops that took people to larger regional transport hubs, to ferry docks, to the market places and civic buildings. There were few paved roads, but plenty of paved bicycle tracks and walkways.

    We really aren’t likely to go back to that (now that busses work so well on the now-standard tarmac), but it is instructive: whole cities full of people commuted to and from office-work, market, library, jobsite and even recreation on ubiquitous and damned-convenient public transportation – BECAUSE it was an era before pervasive self-owned cheap-to-operate personal transportation. To a similar end, today China remains the #1 maker and user of bicycles. They’re fantastically efficient, cheaper’n’dirt, and on good pavement, a pleasure to operate.

    Well, unless you are 350 lbs and need a pneumatic bed-tilt assist to rise in the morning.

    NOTE THOUGH: the 70 year codependence of cars and people has also leveraged the meaning of ‘living close enough to work’ into an obscene caracture of itself. At the extreme, in the Los Angeles basin, people live so far removed from everything that there realistically isn’t a WAY to “walk” to work or to a grocery store, or to a library. Things are so stretched out that even the concept of ‘bicycling’ is pretty laughable. The civic incompetence of government has a jerrymandered public transport system that requires so many hops, skips and transfers that it is all but useless for people to depend upon for practical daily transport.

    These are the issues we face, which Europe has long faced (remember, they’re paying $10.00 a gallon for petrol in Britain, France, Germany and virtually everywhere else.) PUBLIC DEMAND for civic efficient systems has resulted in those systems being implemented, and widely used. I’m confident that it takes the expedient of absurdly high-priced fuel to get Americans, Chinese, Indians, Europeans, and everyone else ‘off the ball’ and onto demanding more from their governments.

    So, “sick” though it may sound, I’m entirely in favor of $10/gal gasoline, gradually rising from where it is today to that lofty price, and beyond. I also hope that electrically delivered energy goes up in price substantially, so that photovotaic, wind, geothermal and tidal energy schemes will become entrepreneurally attractive, and developed.

    However one thing is also clear: moving the heart of my country’s citizens to embrace “the new way” is also our future’s litmus test on the meaning of Leadership. It took the spirited, idealistic, somewhat radical, ‘go-to’ leadership of JFK to focus the public on attaining the Moon. It will take the spirited, idealistic, somewhat radical and ‘go-to’ leadership of the next and next-next president, congress and civic leadership to LEAD the common man to embrace the opportunity afforded by radically changing the basis upon which we use energy, create it (or capture it), renew it, store it, transport it, and waste it.

    It may well be the biggest “growth industry” that will exist in our children’s generation and their children’s. I’m not invoking the specter of ‘Peak Oil’, or ‘Global Change’ or ‘Big Oil Interests’ or ‘Transnational Dominance’ or ‘Freedom by Energy Independence’. I’m just saying: with NONE of those bogey-men the public still can be enthused to embrace what needs to be done, guided by time-honored and well-proven socioeconomic incentives: generous technology deployment tax credits, easily securable government backed ‘energy loans’, issuance of ‘energy bonds’ that Mom’n’Pop America can buy to help fund the effort. Congress holds the power to mandate energy efficiency as readily as it mandated seat-belts, air-bags, commercial space fire sprinklers and 65 MPH speed limits. It has the power, but it fears not being re-elected. LEADERSHIP and marketing of the somewhat bitter pill will keep the electorate at their jobs, so long as good results are copiously cited.

    Nuff said.

    GoatGuy

    Comment by GoatGuy | July 15, 2008


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