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Book Review: Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller

Oil 101 by Morgan Downey

Jeff Rubin – the former chief economist at CIBC World Markets – has always struck me as someone who “gets it.” I have seen him do a number of interviews, both on television and in print – and he consistently sounds the alarm on peak oil. He understands very well that cheap oil is the lifeblood of the global economy, yet this is an era that will soon come to an end. His new book – Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization – goes through the peak oil story in a way that I initially thought of as “Kunstleresque“, but I changed my mind as I got deeper into the book.

Some will certainly describe Rubin as a ‘doomer.’ However, by the end of the book I had concluded that there are some significant distinctions between the overall message that Rubin is trying to convey and the message Jim Kunstler conveys in The Long Emergency. Maybe it’s because The Long Emergency really slapped me out of complacency, but I recall being mildly shocked after reading Kunstler. I did not experience that same sense of shock while reading Rubin – but those who are only mildly familiar with peak oil may be.

Rubin covers many familiar themes, such as the domestic cannibalization of exports by energy producers, the need to produce and consume more goods locally, corn ethanol (which he describes as a ‘head fake’), and the overall impact of high oil prices on the global economy. For regular readers, you will find that much of the book is familiar territory, and for a while I was thinking “There is nothing here that I haven’t seen before.” But the book ultimately grew on me, partly because there are two themes that distinguish it from other books I have read about peak oil.

The first involves a discussion of carbon dioxide emissions. In a chapter called “The Other Problem with Fossil Fuels”, Rubin started to make a argument that I have often made: Ultimately it is futile to attempt to regulate carbon emissions, because China is literally bringing several coal-fired power plants online every week. Rubin wrote that between now and 2012, over 500 new coal-fired plants are scheduled to come online – just in China. This was the theme of my essay Why We Will Never Address Global Warming. My belief has been that there really isn’t much that will convince China and other developing countries to cut back on their emissions. While I still think carbon dioxide emissions will continue to rise until we simply run out of fossil fuels, Rubin provided an interesting argument that caused me to think that a different approach might work.

Rubin argues that if we put a price on carbon emissions in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and other developed countries – we can apply a carbon tariff on imports to level the playing field. Rubin states that energy usage per GDP in China is four times that of the U.S. economy. By putting a carbon tariff on Chinese steel, for instance, two things are accomplished. First, the Chinese then have a much greater incentive to become more efficient. Second, domestic energy intensive industries (like steel production) suddenly become much more competitive. The flip-side of course is that it makes energy-intensive products more expensive.

The second theme that distinguishes Rubin’s book is that it is ultimately a hopeful book. About half way through the book, you won’t have that impression. Sometimes when I read books on peak oil, the message is essentially “Abandon all hope; all exits are closed.” I was 116 pages into the book and still thinking that this was standard peak oil fare. But then it started to become apparent that although Rubin sees and understands that this is a very serious and unprecedented challenge, he sees a world emerging with some distinct advantages. He also expects that there will be some technical breakthroughs that we simply can’t anticipate that will likely make our landing into this unfamiliar territory bumpy, but survivable.

Make no mistake, Rubin’s overall message will be sobering to the uninformed. The world Rubin foresees will contain less convenience than today’s world. Gone are fresh fruits and vegetables out of season, cheap Brazilian coffee, and New Zealand mutton. Replacing them will be more expensive, but more locally produced goods. There will be new opportunities and benefits in this changing world. Because of that, I think this book will be important for scaring people into action without causing them to simply abandon hope.

Conclusion

A couple of years ago, I took a road trip from Montana to Texas (described in My Last Long-Distance Car Trip). In that essay – described by some readers as gloomy – I mused about a world in transition. In the concluding chapter of his book, Rubin does the same. He is on a fishing trip in Canada, and he discusses what higher oil prices will mean for 1). The ability of people to fly to remote locations for holidays; 2). The impact on those who depend on those tourist dollars; 3). The future of entire populations in remote areas (much like I did when I drove through Wyoming). While fishing trips to Canada aren’t something most of us can relate to, we can certainly all relate to the idea that expensive energy is going to fundamentally change our lives – and that is the message he conveys.

The last chapter is a melancholy chapter in which Rubin sees an era coming to an end – with huge global implications. He admits that he doesn’t know how this is going to play out, but he thinks that our world is once again going to become a whole lot smaller. And that’s not all bad.

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May 24, 2009 - Posted by | book review, carbon tax, global warming, Jeff Rubin

46 Comments

  1. I just can’t see it. Once the new flexfuel Ecoboosts, and HCCIs get here ethanol will eat #3.00 gasoline’s lunch. We can produce prodigious amounts of ethanol, and at a price that will keep us “rolling.”And, then, there’s always HEVs.I think the only thing that’s “going away” is Oil.

    Comment by rufus | May 24, 2009

  2. if we are able to exit the new paradigm[excessive national and personal debt; the demise of our currency; our economic uncompetitve status–in net, we are bankrupt]life is likely to be far different than any have envisioned. the simpler, more localised living may be driven by things beyond energy and unfamiliar with/to us today.fran

    Comment by Anonymous | May 25, 2009

  3. Electricity consumption in China is down (The Economist). Partly the world economy and partly heavy industry is on its way out there too.I don’t think the Chinese want to breathe brown air any more than we do.

    Comment by robert | May 25, 2009

  4. Well, they certainly don’t have to. They’ve got the money to fix it.

    Comment by rufus | May 25, 2009

  5. Again, much of the doomer argument was fabricated pre-Haynesville and pre-PHEV. But people stitched their doomster arguments onto their escutcheons, and now can’t say, “Well, the natural gas picture has changed, and batteries are really getting much better. I guess I was wrong.” Haynesville is the largest gas field ever discovered in the USA, google it. We have shale gas for 120 years, and we are just starting our exploitation of this resource. Shale gas is available globally.Rapid advances have and are being made in batteries. I mention Hitachi (one of many) as they are a serious manufacturer actually testing (with auto makers) their latest version of a battery that is 1.7 times as powerful as existing lithium batteries.For cars, trucks and busses, we can go to NG or batteries. So wher is the doom? Are you doomed as you drive a NG car? Or a PHEV that gets 80 miles to a charge, and than 60 mpg after that? Some airfreighting may be too expensive in the future. On the other hand, in California there is increasing use of greenhouses. You may get your out-of-season fruits and veggies form the Central ValleyFrankly, a USA with fewer imports, oil or otherwise, would probably be a boom economy. Okay, that leaves airplanes. But how much of our fuel is used by planes? Must be a small fraction. It is worth noting that since RR’s gloomy missive about his last cross-country car trip, we now have a world glutted in oil, with literally not enough place to store excess production. The more I look at it, the more I wonder if oil is a sunset industry. Once it goes above $80 a barrel and stay there, many many alternatives will come out of the woodwork commercially speaking.If the oil thug states cannot deliver oil for less than $80 a barrel, they will see continuously shrinking markets.

    Comment by Benjamin | May 25, 2009

  6. We may see a return of sailing ships. New Zealand, for example, shipped frozen meat to Europe as early as 1888 using early refrigeration technology retro-fitted on sailing ships. We could do much better today. On the subject of climate change, I think the problem human society will face is the speed at which it will occur (as compared to natural processes) and the fixed nature of our property / national arrangements. Nomads can move. Nation states…..not so much. People being people, we will rather fight than think and adapt. We aren’t very bright. The track record of humanity is fairly clear on that point. On the bright side, by digging all this carbon up and releasing it, we are effectively returning the Earth to an era before plant life had sequestered carbon for hundreds of millions of years. It will be warmer. Ok, it may also be relatively toxic, but we may be able to compensate for that in our immediate localities. Having a much smaller human population will probably be a good thing. What a shame we will have killed our children and their children to make that possible. It could have been done consciously, by choice over time without any pain or suffering. But that would require intelligence and there is precious little of that to be found.

    Comment by Truth Seeker | May 25, 2009

  7. I agree that this is a very balanced book that isn’t alarmist, even more so than Heinberg’s work, and would be suitable to recommend to people who would be easily frightened by the prospect of having to grow their own food – or would dismiss such a suggestion out of hand as totally implausible. Rubin’s focus on the economic costs of peak oil is laudable too, IMO – those of a conservative political bent well might reject Heinberg as some kind of tree hugging hippy in short order. I’m by no means a proselytizer but I always had a gut feeling that the way to successfully convey the necessity of addressing peak oil was to focus on its economic impact, since no one likes to lose money, regardless of their background. Convince people to insulate their house and ride a bike – they’ll save money and get some exercise, win-win. Repeat that nation-wide and you’d conserve an awful lot of energy. Still not on board with Rubin’s pet theory that energy shortfall is the cause of all our sorrows, for obvious reasons others will likely elaborate on. I was also somewhat put off by how he covered the details of the Export Land Model sans reference to the work done by Brown+Foucher (which was published at least a year in advance of Rubin making his proclamation, and, more egregiously, describing energy return situations with neither the use of the term EROEI or any reference to Hall, Cleveland, et al; instead throwing in a quote from M King Hubbert.

    Comment by The Dude | May 25, 2009

  8. Benjamin,Thanks for info on nuclear. I checked it out,Thermo-nuclear power plants make electricity by producing heat that is used to vaporize water into steam that drives steam turbines that drive electrical generating equipment.A similar thing is true in our nuclear submarines. Heat energy from the Thermo-nuclear fission reaction is used to vaporize distilled seawater which is turned into steam which drives steam turbines which power the submarine.Wow !!Just a bunch of heat energy driving the old steam cycle. Amazing……John

    Comment by Anonymous | May 25, 2009

  9. Just a bunch of heat energy driving the old steam cycle.And that’s also true for other forms of electricity generation… oil, natural gas, coal, biomass, geothermal, solar thermal.

    Comment by Clee | May 25, 2009

  10. “It is worth noting that since RR’s gloomy missive about his last cross-country car trip, we now have a world glutted in oil, with literally not enough place to store excess production.”But why? Why do we have a glut? We have a glut because a recession destroyed demand. That is quite a bit different than if alternatives had simply sprung up and people had switched over. Besides natural gas – and we do have a lot of natural gas and we need to have a coherent national strategy there – there still aren’t a lot of alternatives that can compete at $80 oil. I always remind people of Europe, where oil essentially trades for 3 to 4 times what it does in the U.S. because of government taxes. People certainly use less and public transport is a lot more popular, but there are still gasoline-powered cars all over the roads.Demand in the U.S. will recover, and I am betting in the long run that oil at or above current prices will be the norm. RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | May 25, 2009

  11. “I was also somewhat put off by how he covered the details of the Export Land Model sans reference to the work done by Brown+Foucher”I have this review in the queue at TOD, and I noted this. Someone told me that Rubin has been talking about ELM for about 5 years. I don’t know. When I first heard him speak, I thought “He has been reading TOD.”I have had similar things happen to me. You read your own words coming from someone else, and wonder whether they independently came to the same conclusion, or they are just ripping you off.Cheers, RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | May 25, 2009

  12. If we assume that there actually is an objective truth, i.e. a truth that can be arrived at by logical deduction and not subjective experience, and we also assume that out of 6 billion people there are many at least as smart as I am, then it is highly likely that one or more other people will arrive at the same conclusions as me.I also conclude some people are pretty paranoid – not an original conclusion either 😉

    Comment by bc | May 25, 2009

  13. The world is a complicated place. If you happened to have a tanker full of oil, you would find that you could sell the oil today for a certain price — or sell it for future delivery at a higher price. If the cost of parking the tanker for a month or two or three is less than the higher future price (which can be tied in today), what would you do? Short version of above — don't attach too much weight to all those tankers on demurrage.There is quite a lot to be said for re-industrializing the US. Jobs, for one. Why depend on flat panel displays made in China and automobiles made in Germany? But re-industrializing the US would have some serious negative consequences e.g. for the Chinese & Germans. And it would require a willingness once more to build factories in the US, i.e. a roll-back in excessive intrusive regulation.Maybe the underlying message of this book is that the "free ride" that the Political Class, their bureaucratic enablers, and the anti-human pseudo-environmentalists have enjoyed since the 1960s is going to have to come to an end.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | May 25, 2009

  14. ‘road trip’ part 1“I don’t think the Chinese want to breathe brown air any more than we do.”What brown cloud is Robert talking about that he is breathing? They do not exist in the US unless you are talking bowing dust. The thing is Robert does not know what the Chinese think. People are always commenting on what they can not know and not bothering to check out if it is even close to reality.I am old enough to remember when pollution was a serious problem in the US. What we have demonstrated that a reliable energy supply from coal does not result in pollution. This is based on personal observation and can be checked at the ERA AIRNOW website. Doomers are wrong.

    Comment by Kit P | May 25, 2009

  15. ‘road trip’ part 2We are about to set off on my 100+ trek across the US. I know there must have been some boredom on pat trips, but what adventures we had. It never ceases to amaze me how some can focus on the negative. Even when there is none these folks invent it. After 9 years I made my first extended deployment in the navy. Get me out of the shipyards, I am begging you. I arrived in Sigonella, Sicily via COD sitting in cargo nets. Our first try resulted in an emergence landing on Palma when one of the engines failed. I had to wait for my ship to arrive in port, so I spent my first Sunday away from the kid in a small town. I observed that these people has an abundance of pride, family, and a zest for living. The next weekend, I went back to the same town with an officer of the same rank and experience. His observation was that these people would not be so poor if they were not so lazy. I did not see any poor people, or children begging for money. Sure their lifestyle was different but I seen many with big houses and cars that I thought were poor.

    Comment by Kit P | May 25, 2009

  16. 'road trip' part 3A defining part of my youth was traveling and living in different parts of the US. As children, we got to see the the Corn Place, Wall Drugs, the Badlands, Yellowstone. There was no AC in my Grandmother's '57 Ford and there were no interstates across South Dakota. My children have seen all these places too. America from the interstate is a dreadfully boring place unless the sound of semi trunks is what you like. America is a mobile economy with many moving to where the current economic opportunity exists. This is made possible by oil and the ICE. America or the world does not resemble the ramblings of economist out of touch with the world not filtered by the New York Times. OMG, we have become our grandparents. Traveling across country to visit the kids enjoying the freedom of the POV. Kit P's trek planning consists of checking the weather and avoiding Chicago and Texas. I do not know what two lane road we will take to enjoy the mountains. So may choices, left or right on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Only county roads so far. After leaving Blue Ridge Parkway, pass under the interstate but not to worry there will be another. America is a big place. Last year, we hit the interstate in West Virgina. Charleston was the first big city. Lots of PU with 'we love coal' bumper stickers. No brown clouds Robert. If fact no brown clouds anyplace. The biggest mistake was picking up I-25 at Denver to go through Rockey Mountain NP. The front range has turned into the new California. What a mess! So we got off the interstate and enjoyed the drive. While I did a good job of avoiding big city rush hour traffic, Rockey Mountain NP was something else. If gasoline was expensive there was no evidence of it. And these folks must not have ever seen a deer. Cross the Continental Divide and it is like a Stephen King book where all the people die off. I will stand on that one. For anyone worried about urbanization, take US 40 west in Colorado and Utah. You can also observe some mine to mouth coal fired power plants but alas no brown cloud. There was a traffic jam at Dinosaur NM. We waved to the people in other car. The National Park Service employees were very friendly. It was like they had not talked to anyone in days.Popped back on the interstate at I-80. Lots of traffic again. Windmills too. I have found memories of of the grade out of Salt Lake City. I was at the age where a father has to explain the facts of life to his son. Yes son, the Studebaker Hawk is prone to vapor lock. Going down hill with all the trucks is interesting too. One of those places where the interstate is nice I-84 in Idaho and Oregon. The other choices are simple, I-90 and US 12 which is a transmission eater. Poor Lewis & Clark has no idea how rugged this area is. Also at this point I hear the call of the Valkyrie. So anyone who thinks the days of yelling 'road trip' are over in the US better seek professional help and get away from that Eurotrash. Time to rent Kevin Costner's western classic. No, not the pathetically boring but PC correct Dances with Wolves but Fandango.

    Comment by Kit P | May 25, 2009

  17. “I don’t think the Chinese want to breathe brown air any more than we do.” “The thing is Robert does not know what the Chinese think. People are always commenting on what they can not know and not bothering to check out if it is even close to reality.”Let’s check to see what we can know. China’s State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) had a survey conducted asking chinese citizens about the environment. “Four in ten Chinese have experienced air pollution problems, and 70 percent are not satisfied with the current air quality. Respondents report suffering daily from the increased health burden caused by “dirty” air and noise pollution.” http://china-environmental-news.blogspot.com/2007_01_01_archive.html

    Comment by Clee | May 25, 2009

  18. On the bright side. It will be impossible to fight world wars with solar powered M1 Abrams tanks and fighter jets. I just finished reading a book about a downed tail gunner in WWII. As a species, we are monsters.Biodiversivist

    Comment by Russ Finley | May 25, 2009

  19. Clee is clearly an exception to generality of clueless in California. So Clee if you were to make such a statement, I would consider the sources as credible. If fact, Clee even know that his air pollution is not caused by the local production of electricity. Tell me why I care about what they think in China about air quality in China.

    Comment by Kit P | May 25, 2009

  20. I figure you don’t care about what they think in China about air quality in China. It seems just an excuse for you to mock Robert. It’s also been found that most of the asian brown cloud is not from electricity plants, but from burning forests and other biomass. I think I also read some article interviewing some Chinese person who while he didn’t like the dirty air from the local coal plants (which are not as clean and efficient as the US coal plants), he’d rather put up with the pollution from the coal plant than not have the electricity, or the better paying job he could have there than where the air was cleaner. I think the article didn’t say if he’d be willing to pay more for the electricity if they put in more expensive, more efficient, cleaner coal plants (like we have in the US because of our EPA). I couldn’t find where I read that article though.

    Comment by Clee | May 25, 2009

  21. Beijing to ban all non-green vehicles from city centerby Jeremy Korzeniewski on May 23rd, 2009 at 1:46PMAs part of Beijing’s ongoing efforts to improve its air quality and reduce congestion, the capital of the People’s Republic of China will begin placing either green or yellow labels on all vehicles. These labels will correspond with specific areas that vehicles are allowed to enter, and all non-green vehicles will be banned from driving through the city center.Beginning in June, yellow-labeled cars and trucks won’t be allowed to enter areas inside the 5th Ring Road, and in October, that boundary will extend to the 6th Ring Road. The city’s environmental and traffic authorities will reportedly monitor these areas to ensure compliance.There are apparently still issues to be sorted out, though. It seems that there are a number of vehicles that enter the city center to deliver farm goods from outside the city, and authorities are currently figuring out how to deal with these vehicles.

    Comment by Anonymous | May 26, 2009

  22. “On the bright side. It will be impossible to fight world wars with solar powered M1 Abrams tanks and fighter jets.”Unless the history books have it far wrong, the Romans managed to fight across & conquer pretty much all their known world without fossil fuels. They even managed to eliminate a city (Cathage) more completely than the fossil fuel age did with Dresden or Nagasaki.Of course, Alexander the Great had done it before the Romans, and the Mongols came pretty close to beating their efforts later. All without fossil fuels.If history is any guide, the Political Class's desired reversion to pre-fossil technology will be accompanied by a return to pre-fossil barbarism — some new Napoleon laying waste to everything from Spain to Moscow, without using any significant amount of fossil fuels.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | May 26, 2009

  23. Clee said :”I couldn’t find where I read that article though.”AutoBlog Green has the article I think you are referring to, You might have to check the archives, I think the article is a couple days old.John

    Comment by Anonymous | May 26, 2009

  24. Automobiles weren't the only thing that China banned to reduce air pollution for the Beijing Olympics. China spent years on reducing coal use in the area. http://en.beijing2008.cn/66/92/article211929266.shtmlAnd that still wasn't enough. They had to do more in the last few months before and during the olympics.http://www.asianews.it/index.php?l=en&art=12830"Bans have also come into effect on companies that are located far from the capital like hundreds of coal-burning plants in Shanxi, Shandong and Inner Mongolia, already closed or threatened with closure because of excessive pollution."

    Comment by Clee | May 26, 2009

  25. Robert Rapier-Oil stocks may or may not be a good investment, especially if you know when to exit. That is not my point. My point is that the Oil Era is ending, and with a whimper, unless oil thug states determine to keep oil cheap and reliable. And I think oil thugs cannot determine to do that (due to their own massive corruption, inhumanity and incompetence), so the world will pass them by.Until 2-3 years ago, I was sometimes worried about this, although I thought the price mechanism would save us, with just a few lucky breaks from this thug state or that. For example Libya seems to have settled down, and now production is rising. Maybe Iraq can rejoin the civilized world (I sure hope so). Iran wants to up production but is prevented from doing so by extremely shortsighted US policies (I detest the anti-Semitism fomented in Iran ((or any hatred fomented anywhere)) but a few more mbd on the market would sink oil prices for even longer).But recent advances in shale natural gas and batteries make the “who cares about oil” case obvious now. Unless oil is cheap and reliable, oil becomes a sunset industry. It is not difficult to convert autos to run on NG. It is easy for fleet vehicles to do so. And the new batteries in the offing are a tribute to man’s creative genius. The recession no doubt helped the glut. But oil demand was waning even before the recession. We hit Peak Demand in 2007, before the recession, or nearly so. Without a recession but $100 oil, I suspect we would have seen continual declines in global demand, eventually leading to a glut anyway. There is the vexing rub—oil ever seems to collapse, thus spurring demand again.

    Comment by Benjamin | May 26, 2009

  26. Blogger Clee said… Automobiles weren’t the only thing that China banned to reduce air pollution for the Beijing Olympics.———————————Even before the Olympics…… “Many Chinese cities, including Shanghai, with its population of 20 million, have banned motorcycles and motor scooters as dangerous and polluting, giving a huge sales boost to what the bike trade has dubbed e-bikes.They spend less than 2,000 yuan (about $260) to buy an electric bike, and they don’t have to pay for public transportation,” Ma said. “Some people pay 10 yuan (about $1.30) a day in public transportation. An e-bike costs just a few cents a day.”Experts say e-bikes can run 30 miles on 5 cents’ worth of electricity, a rate of energy consumption that makes them even more efficient than fully occupied buses.”http://nextbigfuture.com/2007/08/electric-bicycles-and-scooters.htmlJohn

    Comment by Anonymous | May 26, 2009

  27. HalfEmpty has decided to try the third person and groove on it.HalfEmpty likes!

    Comment by Anonymous | May 26, 2009

  28. Batteries: from what I’ve read about the new Hitachi battery technology, it increases the rate at which power can be withdrawn (watts or horsepower), NOT the total energy storage capacity of the battery (watt-hours). It is the latter measurement that is the primary constraint on batteries compared with gasoline or diesel fuel.

    Comment by David | May 26, 2009

  29. One More Comment on Oil Companies:It may well be that oil companies can remain very profitable, even as oil becomes a sunset industry. Oil may become a pricier commodity, used relatively sparingly. It is easy to imagine diesel-PHEVs using a gallon a week, and air travelers need fuel as well. One can imagine profitable decades for oil companies as middlemen for an increasingly pricey commodity, even as markets contract by several percent a year, in volume terms. My main point is that the doom scenario has been completyly undermined by advances in natural gas extraction and batteries. What doom? Cleaner air and lower transit bills? Give unto me such doom every day of the year.

    Comment by benny "reargas" cole | May 26, 2009

  30. Thanks for your insightful comments Clee. There is a good reason to mock Robert. Both Clee and Robert live in a state where there elected leaders are now dictating to the rest of the country that we should not use coal as a fossil fuel. Of course California has failed to clean up its air, make its own electricity, or reduce fossil fuel use. The people of the great state of California should get their act together before, dictating to the rest of the county.Studying failure and repeating it is one course of action. California and China could learn a lot from West Virginia. Study places that have cleaned up their air is a better course of action. Clee wrote, “(like we have in the US because of our EPA)”So Clee, does the CHP drive you to work? Do you wear a seat belt because it is a good idea or because of a legal mandate?My point here is that the EPA neither protects the environment nor makes electricity. That job falls to people like me to make electricity and protect the environment. Regulators dish out fines if you break the rules.The reason are air quality is better is technology. Our house growing in Indiana has a coal furnace that was converted to oil. The new owners converted to NG. Our house near Seattle was all electric. Back then there were no coal plants in the PNW. Our house in California was heated with NG.Common sense was the basis for improvements not regulation. Converting fossil fuels efficiently is just good business. If you have a coal plant you buy coal and sell electricity. Soot is lost revenue. A poorly tuned car that does not burn all the gas is very polluting but it was hard to keep car tuned with points and plugs that do not last very long. I do not now how much the added cost of electronic ignitions systems is because I have never had to fix one. Best available technology (BAT) is expensive in the short term but pays for itself in the long term.The problem in China is that BAT has not been applied to coal power plants. The problem in California is that even with BAT, there are too many miles being driven. The solutions are known. Closing down efficient US coal plants while China is not closing down very inefficient coal plants, is not a solution.

    Comment by Kit P | May 26, 2009

  31. Kinu-I can’t resist noting that the ancient Greeks (perhaps in myth only) successfully defended a port by burning invading ships. The chosen method was to focus reflected sunlight from solier’s shields onto enemy ships in the harbor.Solar Power!

    Comment by benny "reargas" cole | May 26, 2009

  32. Gone are fresh fruits and vegetables out of season, cheap Brazilian coffee, and New Zealand mutton. Replacing them will be more expensive, but more locally produced goods.Not necessarily. The New Zealanders claim NZ mutton consumed in England has a smaller carbon footprint than English mutton raised locally on imported feed. They may be right. If true, higher fuel prices may be good for NZ mutton. We’ll see.All power to those inclined to grow what food they can in their backyards. I’ll even go as far as reverse my previous opposition to your teaching the kids how to grow their own food. But once you start preaching the gospel of the locovore, I have to respectfully disagree.What are those guys in Wyoming, that you mention, going to do for coffee? Grow their own? How much energy will that take? They’ll save money (and energy, CO2, etc.)by importing Brazilian coffee. High energy prices might make Brazilian coffee more expensive. But for the most of us, it will still be the cheapest.Besides, consistently high fuel prices would create an incentive for an entrepreneur to find a more energy efficient way to get us our coffee. Who knows? We might even get cheaper coffee in future.

    Comment by Optimist | May 26, 2009

  33. Having a much smaller human population will probably be a good thing.There is no data to verify this claim. In the absense of such, please refrain from suggesting genocide as a solution…There is quite a lot to be said for re-industrializing the US. Jobs, for one.BULL! Going back to manufacturing jobs is NOT the way forward.In the long run, letting the markets force the workforce to get better educated is a good thing. In spite of the short term pain.As a species, we are monsters.BULL! If we were, why did we stop WWII? Hint: Perhaps some got INTO WWII to stop the monsters. Just a possibility.Unless the history books have it far wrong, the Romans managed to fight across & conquer pretty much all their known world without fossil fuels.I’m affraid Kinu is spot-on here. The end of fossil fuels by no means is going to lead to peace on earth. Neither will any other scenario. We’re out of luck till the Second Coming.

    Comment by Optimist | May 26, 2009

  34. David-You are right about the Hitachi batteries. Still, lots of promising progress is being made on all fronts.

    Comment by benny "reargas" cole | May 26, 2009

  35. “BULL! Going back to manufacturing jobs is NOT the way forward. In the long run, letting the markets force the workforce to get better educated is a good thing.”Manufacturing has been the basis of every civilization worth noting. And some might take exception to the implication that manufacturing workers are uneducated dummies. Have you any idea of the skill & knowledge necessary to make precision products?But what is the alternative to manufacturing? Behold — California! The steel mills have gone, the shipyards have shut down, the airplane factories are shuttered, a single automobile manufacturing plant hangs on courtesy of the Japanese, computers are now made elsewhere.Instead, the once vibrant State of California depends on sub-minimum wage illegal immigrant workers in agriculture to support a "knowledge economy" where the realtors sell houses to the attornies who are suing the doctors treating the realtors for anxiety.And, not surprisingly, this unsustainable State is essentially bankrupt — unable to pay its way in the world without a manufacturing base.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | May 26, 2009

  36. Ben Cole,David pretty much said it all.If you make a battery here’s how much energy it can store”A battery weighing 10 pounds can store:Lead-Acid 40 units of energyNi-Cad 60 units Nimh 80 unitsLi-ion 160 unitsThe Hitachi battery chemistry has compromised the AMOUNT of electricity it can store for the amount of power “electricity” that it can deliver quickly.The actual storage capacity of the Hitachi battery is about the same as that of Nimh batteries.In other words, the Hitachi battery can deliver large amounts of power quickly, but has a relatively small “gas tank” or ability to store large volumes of electricity.Good for consumer electronics such as “flash photography”, electric bicycles, and perhaps mild hybrids where the battery is called upon to deliver volumes of energy quickly to assist the internal combustion engine.Apparently the internal resistance of the battery is low which suggests the battery might be quickly re-charged.John

    Comment by Anonymous | May 26, 2009

  37. Manufacturing has been the basis of every civilization worth noting.Obviously, somebody has to do the manufacturing. But if you can outsource it, good for you.Manufacturing is ONE way to create wealth, I’ll give you that. Agriculture is another. Actually, Adam Smith saw wealth creation as the combination of materials, labour, land, and technology in such a way as to capture a profit (excess above the cost of production). Notice the last element…The future, IMHO, belongs to those who can master the high tech, as opposed to those who can provide the low tech (the bulk of manufacturing). In other words, watch India, worry less about China.America’s problem is that the best and brightest here seems to believe that bankers create wealth, when bankers really provide a pretty simple (boring) service and is hence entitled to a marginal profit. The idea that Wall Street is key to America’s future is unfortunately still widely held, and will continue to damage America…And, not surprisingly, this unsustainable State is essentially bankrupt — unable to pay its way in the world without a manufacturing base.It’s the manufacturing base that did California in?If only California was as successful in holding on to its manufacturing base as Michigan, eh?

    Comment by Optimist | May 26, 2009

  38. Kit P asks,”Do you wear a seat belt because it is a good idea or because of a legal mandate?” I wear a seat belt in the front seat out of force of habit, though I would in general too because it’s a good idea. My car might not have had a shoulder harness seat belt for me to wear if it weren’t for the legal mandate decades ago. I do not wear a seatbelt in the backseat, usually out of force of habit. In NY I might wear a seat belt in the backseat if someone reminds me out of peer pressure, as it is not a legal mandate. If the seat belt has slid into the crack in the seat and it’s a pain to reach, I just skip it unless additional peer pressure is applied. In California, in the backseat I wear a seatbelt because it is a legal mandate and so usually someone reminds me. If I’m driving someone in California and a they say they don’t want to wear a seatbelt, I don’t bug them about it because they are the ones who would be fined, not me. In conclusion, sometimes I do things because it’s good for me. Sometimes I do something that is good for me only because of legal mandate. I figure the same thing happens with car companies and power companies. Short term consequences can have a stronger pull on behavior than long term consequences and common sense. That can be exacerbated by the drive for quarterly profits.

    Comment by Clee | May 27, 2009

  39. “I figure the same thing happens with car companies and power companies.”I do not know about car companies but if somebody suggested violating safety rules or environmental regulations for quarterly profits at a power plant I would get them fired or help them find a position in the prison laundry.Over the years I have been at the good, the bad, and the ugly. At the good, when you ask if something is a problem heads snap around. The problem gets fixed. At the ugly, it is necessary to play hard ball. I have gone as far as listing the regulation and criminal penalty, then the problem gets fixed.Quarterly profits are improved by dumb things like not changing the oil on equipment or maintaining right of ways. The long term consequences are massive blackout or power plants being off line for a year for unplanned repairs. Power companies that keep rates low and maintain strong profits do so by good management. This includes dedication to safety and the environment along with efficient operation.

    Comment by Kit P | May 27, 2009

  40. Exactly. If something is a safety rule or environmental regulation, and you don’t do it, you can get fired or fined or imprisoned. If something like increasing the efficiency of a plant and reducing pollution/soot is merely good long-term business sense and the industry succeeds in lobbying to prevent it from formally becoming a safety rule or environmental regulation, then the companies can forgo these long-term profitable plant efficiencies for quarterly profits with impunity. So I continue to thank the EPA for making environmental regulations that make our coal plants cleaner than they were before the EPA. They don’t have to be the one’s personally pouring the coal into the furnaces.

    Comment by Clee | May 27, 2009

  41. Clee your theory is based on how you think power plants are operated assuming your poor decision making based on your personal behavior. You are thanking the wrong people. The EPA id collection of under paid and inexperienced college graduates who do not demonstrate the ability to keep their own kitchen clean. So Clee tell me about the coal plant that you have lived near. For what are are you thanking the EPA. Clee is only repeating what he has read in the paper. I have lived close to several very large coal power plants built in the 70s. My air was clean. The only place I have lived with poor air quality is San Jose and the central valley of California. No coal plants there. Check AIRNOW. My air qulaity is good. Clee is getting warnings for ozone. Clee does not understand how our government works. Our elected officials passes laws. As part of the public process, these laws become regulations based on public input. I am not in the coal industry but I am lobbying against regulations that promote burning NG (a fossil fuel) where coal is abundant. Since my air is already clean, making my electricity more expensive will not make Clee’s air cleaner.So you have someone who can not apply high school physics principles for wearing seat belts in the back seat wanting more science in the White House.

    Comment by Kit P | May 27, 2009

  42. Hi,We have just added your latest post “Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller” to our Directory of Environment . You can check the inclusion of the post here . We are delighted to invite you to submit all your future posts to the directory for getting a huge base of visitors to your website and gaining a valuable backlink to your site.Warm Regardsgreenatmos.com Teamhttp://www.greenatmos.com

    Comment by green | May 28, 2009

  43. “So Clee tell me about the coal plant that you have lived near.Check AIRNOW." Obviously I don't currently live near a coal plant, but I have spent most of my life living in places other than California, and even now I continue venture out of the state. I lived some years in Indianapolis, in a state where about 94% of the electricity comes from coal, The plant I lived near is Indianapolis Power and Light Co's Harding Street Station. Its 698 MW coal power plant emits 84% of all SO2 emissions and 14% of all NOx emissions in Indianapolis, Checking AIRNOW, I find that Indianapolis has an order of magnitude more Unhealthy Days for Active Outdoors than the county I currently live in. (This URL doesn't seem to work at night.)http://www.epa.gov/cgi-bin/broker?_service=aircomp&_debug=0&_program=dataprog.wcj_byyearhealth.sas&geocode=06081%2018097&condition=active&citycounty=countyI suppose that's because it's a metropolis and has all those cars.But take Jefferson County, Ohio in the middle of nowhere. In 1999 the EPA sued AEP and First Energy over the violations of the Clean Air Act at their coal plants. In 1999 the AEP's Cardinal and First Energy's Sammis power plants accounted for 95% of the ozone-forming NOx emissions in Jefferson County.Looking deeper, it's not the efficiency increases in coal plants that the EPA caused by regulation, it's the emissions scrubbing which don't help efficiency or bottom line. In 2003 Cardinal installed scrubbers at the 3 coal plants. The PR from the owners specifically said it was to comply with EPA regulations on NOx emissions. Common sense without regulation was not enough to motivate them to put in the scrubbers. Between 1999 and 2006 NOx emissions dropped from 33,000 tons to 17,000 tons at Cardinal. In 2003 Jefferson county, OH had 56 percentage of days with good air quality, as compared with 96% in the county I live in and 75% in the worst county in the San Francisco Bay Area.In 2005 First Energy agreed to add SCRs to their Sammis plant and reduce their NOx emissions by 28,567 tons per year. With the new scrubbers at the Sammis and Cardinal plants, cutting in half the NOx emissions in Jefferson Co., OH, they should have fewer bad ozone days there. Maybe they'll get down to as few bad ozone days as my county.At least 14 other companies have settled with the EPA over Clean Air Act violations at their dozens of coal plants and agreed to put in better emissions controls. So I continue to thank the EPA for making environmental regulations that make US coal plants cleaner than they were before the EPA.

    Comment by Clee | May 30, 2009

  44. Kinauchdrach wrote: Unless the history books have it far wrong, the Romans managed to fight across & conquer pretty much all their known world without fossil fuels. They even managed to eliminate a city (Cathage) more completely than the fossil fuel age did with Dresden or Nagasaki.And Corinth as well I believe. The Romans were said to be growing corn or wheat where Carthage used to be, just a few years after its destruction.Cheap oil has been our magic bullet. The Romans had a magic bullet as well, and it was slave labor.Roberthttp://www.industrializedcyclist.com

    Comment by 57 | June 4, 2009

  45. Hi,We have just added your latest post "Save the Panet———-NOW!!!! by agnitra" to our Directory of Environment . You can check the inclusion of the post here . We are delighted to invite you to submit all your future posts to the directory for getting a huge base of visitors to your website and gaining a valuable backlink to your site.Warm Regardsgreenatmos.com Teamhttp://www.greenatmos.com

    Comment by green | June 4, 2009

  46. Robert,EVs and PHEVs trade a higher purchase price for lower fuel consumption.In Europe, fuel prices are 2-3 times as high as in the US, but due to historical factors (shorter distances, higher fuel taxes due to the high % of imports), the average car in Europe uses about 1/3 as much fuel as one in the US. Further, European taxes on new cars are generally much higher in the US, which penalizes the additional upfront cost of EV/PHEVs.Thus, the economic case for EVs and PHEVs is actually worse in Europe, and the lack of EVs and PHEVs in Europe really doesn't add any useful information to the question of how competitive electric powertrains really are with oil.

    Comment by Nick G | June 5, 2009


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