America’s Energy Sacrifices

America's energy habit is getting people killed! What should we do about it?

David Axe passes along this rather chilling cartoon from Matt Bors titled “AMERICA’S ENERGY SACRIFICES.”

Josh Foust pronounces it “Heavy,” which it doubtless is.  But is its implied message correct?

It’s true that we have an outsized interest in the greater Middle East because of its oil resources — the reason for the Carter Doctrine — but it’s not clear how many American soldiers have died in the name of oil.  Was Desert Storm about oil?  Very indirectly, at best.  Operation Iraqi Freedom?   Even less directly.

And, yes, people regularly die extracting oil and coal.

But all these people risk their lives knowingly and most are paid pretty well.   And, even within the effected industries, the number whose lives are improved by virtue of their occupation certainly dwarfs those killed, injured, or sickened.

Beyond that, the upside of energy consumption is incalculably huge.  We’d quite literally be a pre-industrial society without the vast benefits of oil, coal, natural gas, and other energy resources.  Not only do we live much, much better than we would without these boons to our existence but we live much longer, too.

Of course, the cartoon is only suggesting that we “reduce” our consumption, not eliminate it.  But how much would we have to reduce it to make a significant dent in the tragic losses caused by extraction, delivery, and protection?    More than, say, telecommuting every now and again or putting on a sweater.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    Let’s have another round of pretend … that no one can really drive a Prius, let alone ride a bike.

    (I was telling someone I know in Irvine that a guy I know there doesn’t believe that people bike-commute. He just started laughing. It is pretty funny. They are on most corners at 8am.)

  2. JKB says:

    Well, first stop eating fish and other sea food. Not only is commercial fisherman the most dangerous job, those boats burn a lot of fuel, hundreds to thousands of gallons per day. Not to mention the processors and all those freezers needed to keep it frozen till it hits the pan.

    Then stop using wood and paper products. Not only is that logger the second most dangerous occupation, those trucks, skidders, saws, loader, etc., burn a lot of fuel.

    Then stop eating. Not only is farmer/rancher the 5th most dangerous job, but fertilizer, tractors, trucks, etc., use a lot of petroleum products.

    Then stop producing waste. Not only is waste collector the 6th most dangerous job, those truck use a lot fuel.

    Not until #7 do you get to coal miner.

    but then we could add to stop ordering from Amazon to save delivery drivers (#9) and stop taking taxi drivers (#10) Look at how much fuel you save by saving the drivers as well.

    source

    See in this way you can save lives not only in the energy industry, possibly in the military but also where the death rates are higher. And you save energy.

  3. john personna says:

    JKB goes one better than my suggested game of pretend. He goes for the extreme game that any improvement in energy intensity(*) equals death! Kudos.

    * – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_intensity

  4. Herb says:

    Ha! That’s pretty funny…and it corresponds something I saw two weeks ago at Denver’s Pride parade. They had a “free speech zone” set up for protesters and some dim bulbs were out there holding a sign decrying the profit-motivated resource-extracting economy. They had a big sign and everything.

    But then one of them got a call on her cell phone……

    I’m not one of those profit-uber-alles types, but nonetheless, I recognize the merits of making a buck. I’m also concerned about how we’re using our resources, but nevertheless I support using them.

    But what I don’t support is standing in a “free speech zone” complaining about profit motive and resource-extraction while I’m talking on my damn cell phone…. Idiots.

  5. What he couldn’t find a way to have someone die in the fetal position in a nuclear accident?

  6. James Joyner says:

    Let’s have another round of pretend … that no one can really drive a Prius, let alone ride a bike.

    Even if a Prius were practical for everyone, there aren’t enough to go around. I think more energy efficiency would be great, of course, and support technological development in that direction. But we’re talking a tiny drop in the bucket.

  7. Drew says:

    Has Mr. Bors finished high school yet?

  8. Steve Plunk says:

    Political cartoonists (like political comedians) oversimplify and dumb down discourse. In a complex world they leave out important details while trying to get a laugh and do more damage than good. Why we pay attention to either is beyond me.

  9. john personna says:

    Come on James, the hybrid production infrastructure is sized to meet current demand.

    What, 10 years ago when there were no hybrids on the market would you have said “there are no hybrids on the market, therefore a million per year is impossible?”

    It’s really sad that you stoop to that kind of instinctive (and illogical) apology for consumers. Many millions of cars sold are smaller than the Midsize prius. Many millions of those already cost more than the prius.

    Why aren’t more sold? Social values.

    Worse than that, “social values” reinforce the “factiness” that prius are smaller than they are, cost more than they do, and get worse mileage than the do.

    Steve, the government has Energy Star programs, and etc., but there is no doubt that they are at odds (a counterpoint) to the broader social trends.

  10. john personna says:

    Basically, this is another round of intense irony, that conservatives are for personal responsibility, except when it comes to trimming their luxuries.

  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    John P:

    I’m pretty sure I never said no one in Irvine commutes by bike. I’m usually up driving a kid to school or camp during commuting hours. I see very few adults on bikes. I would notice if they were there because I’d be dodging their sudden wobbles into traffic trying not to kill them as they ignore Stop signs and decide randomly to behave as either pedestrians or vehicles.

    But, in the interests of an honest dialog, I’m in the Woodbridge area, not in the campus-adjacent, or World of Warcraft adjacent areas of Irvine. Here it’s pretty much 99% car, with a scattering of pedestrians, a dusting of kids on bikes, and the occasional grown-up wearing spandex and a look of insufferable smugness.

  12. Drew says:

    “Basically, this is another round of intense irony, that conservatives are for personal responsibility, except when it comes to trimming their luxuries.”

    LOL

    non sequitur alert!! non sequitur alert!!

    Anyone surprised?

  13. john personna says:

    Here’s an impressive statistic: More than 28.6 million vehicle trips
    have been eliminated in Irvine since an innovative ridesharing
    program called Spectrumotion was founded in 1986. The nationally
    recognized non-profit program, which was created to reduce traffic
    to and from Irvine Spectrum®, has clearly made a difference.

    From vanpools to bicycles, Spectrumotion officials work with employers and employees to develop successful programs to reduce solo commuting to and from
    jobs at Irvine Spectrum.

    http://marketing.irvinecompany.com/entitlement/pa-april-transportation-2008/pa-april-transportation-2008.pdf

    Contrast with the screaming insecurity in this:

    Here it’s pretty much 99% car, with a scattering of pedestrians, a dusting of kids on bikes, and the occasional grown-up wearing spandex and a look of insufferable smugness.

  14. john personna says:

    Is it really that hard for you Drew?

    Are there any negative externalites with respect to oil consumption? Are there any negative externalities with respect to gulf oil dependence?

    I guess the first irrational bulwark would be to deny those.

    But after that, if you accept that there are some negatives, how do you deny responsibility?

  15. JKB says:

    “…except when it comes to trimming their luxuries.”

    While people are injured and killed working in the energy industry so are people injured and killed delivering newspapers filled with stupid editorial comics everyday. Which has more value to society? The guys who bring forth energy to make life better for everyone or the guys who get all whiney when their isn’t a Starbucks on the same side of the street as their offices?

    BTW, I don’t have a Prius because while many who drive them are full of it, you still can’t haul a load of manure in one. Or lumber, fence posts, or a good load of mulch.

  16. john personna says:

    If you need a truck, JKB, then you need a truck.

    On the other hand, if you need to sit in your truck and hate Priuses, you are probably an imbecile.

  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    On the larger issue, we can increase mileage massively and pretty quickly by a shift to diesel. Europe travels on diesel engines and motorcycles. I’ve owned a hybrid, liked it just fine, but it’s not the only solution — especially since the batteries are an environmental problem all their own.

    The disel VW Jetta gets 30/41 mpg and the BMW 3 series diesel gets 23/36. Not as good as the the newest Prius which gets gets 51/48. But there are any number of European disels that get the rough equivalent of the Prius numbers, and almost all diesels outperform gas engines in terms of mileage.

    Unfortunately bicycles and motorcycles, in addition to being almost useless for people with a family, are dangerous as hell. There’s a reason EMT’s refer to motorcyclists as “organ donors.”

    There are other fairly simple things to do beyond transportation. We could hang clothing on a line rather than use a dryer. We could use Skype and other conferencing tech rather than take long, pointless business trips. We could make lakes motor-free zones and encourage sailing or rowing. We could use less air conditioning and more insulation.

    Something people don’t consider often: we could have smaller homes. We’re actually looking for such a creature because while living in Italy we realized we don’t need more than 3 bedrooms, and separate living and family rooms. But smaller homes are actually harder to find.

  18. Ultimately, the problem is people being free to do what they want. But don’t worry, we won’t have that problem for much longer.

  19. john personna says:

    I have nothing against diesels. I do think that some very bad statistics and claims about diesel mileage are floating about though. You should always go here, to get the real US mileage for a make or model:

    http://www.fueleconomy.gov/mpg/MPG.do?action=browseList

    The 2010 Volkswagen Jetta, 4cyl, manual, diesel, gets 44.7 mpg.
    The 2010 Volkswagen Jetta, 4cyl, manual, gasoline, gets 31.3 mpg

    That’s a fair improvement, for a car that is smaller than a prius, gets worse mileage than a prius, and costs more (base MSRP $22,830) than a prius (base MSRP $21,400), of course.

  20. grampagravy says:

    Let’s don’t ignore how far we’ve come. In another hundred years we may be able to achieve responsible energy production in which the only fatalities are the result of real accidents and not corporate cost-cutting and recklessness.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludlow_Massacre

  21. Michael Reynolds says:

    John:

    I’d be more impressed with the Spectrum’s effort if their parking lot wasn’t continuously jammed with cars. And of course the vanpool transports workers who don’t have cars, in large part because their employers pay them sub-survival wages. I’m glad they help those people out, but they are no more environmentalists than the buses that haul day labor out to the fields.

    Setting that aside.

    I don’t have a problem with people riding bikes. I would like them to stop forcing me to save their lives. That would be nice. I’m hoping to live my entire life without ever killing anyone, and between motorcycles on the freeway zooming up the non-existent lane between HOV and fast lane, and bike riders suddenly veering off the sidewalk to crank a hard turn into a pedestrian crossing (during which maneuver they are almost invisible) I’m finding it a challenge.

    You would think, since bikers love the benefits of exercise, they wouldn’t have a problem stopping at Stop signs and then powering forward when it’s their turn. Unfortunately, that’s not what happens. We have four-way stops, all the cars are eyeballing, trying to see who has the right of way, and along comes some bike no one sees and zooms straight through the intersection.

  22. john personna says:

    Michael, I know people who have kids and bike commute.

    You aren’t getting that this is about trip replacement. It does not require a lifetime commitment. It just says save a trip (however you do it) whenever you can.

    Really you are falling into a common trap, this idea that once you do a thing, you become a thing, and can’t go back. Once you ride a bike to work, you become a bicyclist, and can’t choose your car again?

    That’s really dumb. I’ll probably walk to the dry cleaners tonight, saving a trip. That doesn’t mean I always have to walk.

    (I am ignoring your safety bullshit, lumping bicyclists at 10 mph with motorcycles at 60)

  23. john personna says:

    I’d be more impressed with the Spectrum’s effort if their parking lot wasn’t continuously jammed with cars. And of course the vanpool transports workers who don’t have cars, in large part because their employers pay them sub-survival wages. I’m glad they help those people out, but they are no more environmentalists than the buses that haul day labor out to the fields.

    So as you were typing, I was typing, saying that you just didn’t get trip replacement.

    I guess that’s true. You think the only improvement is a car-free America? What are you, an eco-fascist?

  24. Michael Reynolds says:

    VW Jetta diesel 0-60: 8.4 seconds
    BMW 3 diesel 0-60: 6.0
    Prius 0-60: 9.8 seconds.

    Plus Prius is fugly.

    I’m sorry, John, but not everything is miles per gallon.

  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    I do see the distinction of trip replacement, and I was being lazy about that. I apologize.

    By the way, in terms of commuting I commute to my back yard. It’s just one cup of coffee, zero gas.
    So that in itself should justify my 4.2 liter Audi.

  26. john personna says:

    BTW, my experience, on a bike, at 4-ways, is that many drivers want me to go first and will doggedly sit there, even if they were there first, until I do. I guess that’s not you.

    Generally I approach 4-ways as a friendly negation, with eye contact and nods. That’s one reason I despise illegal, over-tinted, front windows. I hope that’s not you.

    If you are sitting motionless at a stop, with eye contact on a rider, most having been through many many previous encounters, will take that as a “go.”

    (This is assuming adult, responsible, riders of course. Most wild riders are unconcerned kids and teens, wrapped in their own immortality.)

  27. john personna says:

    By the way, in terms of commuting I commute to my back yard. It’s just one cup of coffee, zero gas. So that in itself should justify my 4.2 liter Audi.

    It is only drip replacement if you’ve been driving the Audiaround back, until now.

  28. john personna says:

    Plus Prius is fugly.

    I’m sorry, John, but not everything is miles per gallon.

    So do you deny the externalities then?

    Or do you simply punt on the responsibility?

  29. Drew says:

    You just can’t make a logical argument, can you odo?

    Stop being silly and juvenile, of course there are externalities. But please stop telling me conservatives can’t reconcile your view of appropriate personal responsibility and your view of appropriate luxuries. Last time I looked the country had liberties. You died and made you King, asshole?

  30. Drew says:

    Michael –

    I hope your Audi is treating you better than mine. Basically, it was a lemon. I just got rid of it.

  31. john personna says:

    I’m sure you are lashing out Drew because you know I’m on firm ground.

    If we understand that there are negative externalties, and if we are rational and moral people, then we should do what we can, in our circumstance, to reduce oil consumption.

    Maybe I frightened you too much with prius and bicycles, but did _anyone_ up above step up to personal reduction? Or did essentially everyone cast around for reasons not to reduce?

    That’s not moral or rational.

    BTW, to say it’s all me, big mean “odo” … that might qualify as one of those “ad hominems”, right? It sure isn’t engagement with the idea.

  32. john personna says:

    BTW, prius driving isn’t exactly wearing a hair shirt. I put 150 miles on it last weekend, just for the pointless pursuit of catch-and-release fly fishing. A hair shirt would be sitting in a dark room, eating cold food, instead. Doing it with a Prius was just better than doing it with the V8 I parked next to.

  33. john personna says:

    BTW, I should note that Drew and Michael are showing exactly why the comic is spot on.

  34. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I wish people would quit trying to tell me what I should do with my money. It is not the job of government nor is it anyone elses. There is a trillion barrels of oil in oil shale in Colorado and 500 billion barrels in North Dakota. That is enough oil to last us for 300 years. FOAD. There is no global warming and there is no connection between carbon dioxide and climate change. It was warmer 1000 years ago than it is today. Don’t thiink so? Go farm in Greenland like the Vikings did.

  35. Steve Plunk says:

    No one has even bothered to mention natural gas as a motor fuel. Less emissions, plentiful domestic supply, and it’s easy to convert vehicles to burn it. Pickens really is facing an uphill battle if nobody sees this as a partial solution. ZRIII is making valid points as well. We have ways to make things better but not the courage to let it happen. Get it? We don’t need the government to make it happen just let it happen.

  36. Michael Reynolds says:

    Drew:

    Aside from the fact that the check engine light is more or less continuously on? And Audi says if I buy cheap Costco gas I’m murdering their car?

    It has great crash numbers, it’s fairly quick in sport mode, big trunk and back seat for the kids, and I can drop it with a valet in Hollywood without feeling either too far above or too far below my station.

    It’s not the deep, enduring love affair I had with my dear departed Benz S 500. Nor is it as much fun to drive as our RAV4 (6). I have my eye on the new Benz E-class convertible, depending on how my book sales go. (To compensate environmentally I’ll dry my t-shirts on the line, moderate the AC, and occasionally walk to the store. Plus I’ll turn the engine off while eating my KFC Double-Down.)

  37. Michael Reynolds says:

    I miss you Benz! I’ll always love you!

  38. tom p says:

    So how many of you have watched a man die while just trying to earn a living? I’ll make it easy for you: ZERO.

    I have. And no, I didn’t make any jokes as he breathed his last. I had a buddy get killed on a job site I was not working on as well. This past year I have seen 2 guys almost get killed (1 rolled a snorkel, the other shot himself in the chest with a nail gun) (missed his heart, got his liver)(don’t ask me how) (REALLY stupid). And I work in construction, not mining, not fishing.

    ****I wish people would quit trying to tell me what I should do with my money. ****

    Yeah, ZR, it’s all about you and your money. Tell me something: What if it is about you and other peoples lives?

    I am one who realizes that we can not just stop drilling for oil, and NG and mining coal…. But I am amazed at how quickly this thread went from “people die giving me the energy I need” to

    ***It’s not the deep, enduring love affair I had with my dear departed Benz S 500. Nor is it as much fun to drive as our RAV4 (6). I have my eye on the new Benz E-class convertible, depending on how my book sales go. (To compensate environmentally I’ll dry my t-shirts on the line, moderate the AC, and occasionally walk to the store. Plus I’ll turn the engine off while eating my KFC Double-Down.)***

    PS: ****But all these people risk their lives knowingly and most are paid pretty well. And, even within the effected industries, the number whose lives are improved by virtue of their occupation certainly dwarfs those killed, injured, or sickened.****

    No James, you don’t get off any easier. Nobody ever thinks it will happen to them and saying “They knew the risks.” ignores human nature… You are also saying, “It’s OK… Your life makes other’s better, ergo, your dying is OK.”

    And if that is too “touchy feely” for all you hardened, realistic, “conservatives” to deal with…
    Just watch a man die… for the sin of trying to feed his family. It will make you hard, and realistic, … but you wouldn’t know what that means…

  39. anjin-san says:

    Even if a Prius were practical for everyone, there aren’t enough to go around

    Lame. Toyota can make more, and they will if the demand is there. If everyone was driving a car as efficient as the Prius in 10 years, I suspect the difference in overall oil consumption would be quite a bit more than a drop in the bucket.

    Funny how conservatives ALWAYS have reasons at hand for staying reliant on 19th century technology.

    Most of the Audi drivers I know like them but give them up as mainteniance headache. My 350z gets crappy mileage, but I only put about 5000k a year on it (and it is never in the shop). Hope to be exchanging it for a Porsche Cayman in a few years.

  40. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’d like a Porsche too. If only my kids were smaller. Like doll size.

    Eight years until my daughter is in college. I’ll be 63.

    Sigh.

  41. john personna says:

    Lame. Toyota can make more, and they will if the demand is there. If everyone was driving a car as efficient as the Prius in 10 years, I suspect the difference in overall oil consumption would be quite a bit more than a drop in the bucket.

    People who look at energy problems tend to go through a search for the “silver bullet” before coming around and accepting that there is none, there are only “silver BBs”. I think you’d hear that James, from your Oil Drum friend.

    It is always sad to do as James has done above, and make the perfect the enemy of the good, but it is especially so when the perfect is fiction. There is no silver bullet. If you want to reduce dependence on foreign oil, there are only silver BBs.

    I accept that wider natural gas use, including native drilling, is part of that. I doubt shale and fractionation both because they have lower yield than many understand, and because they are making more people sick than is broadly understood:

    http://www.examiner.com/x-54166-Scranton-Wellness-Examiner~y2010m7d1-Use-of-harmful-chemicals-in-Harrisburg-PA-drilling-has-people-concerned

    Too often “drill, baby, drill” just means “bring me my oil, damn the consequences”