More on Oil
There’s an article from the August issue of Forbes which paraphrases some comments from energy consultant Vinod Dar that had a quote that caught my eye:
To judge by actions, not words, the carbon-warming view hasn’t come close to persuading a political majority even in nations considered far more environmentally enlightened than China and India. Europe’s coal consumption is rising, not falling, and the Continent won’t come close to meeting the Kyoto targets for carbon reduction. Australia is selling coal to all comers.
That’s the dirty little secret that undercuts the advocates of cap and trade in their attempts to reduce the carbon emissions of (mostly) the developed world. The system hasn’t been effective where it’s been tried most enthusiastically. When you disaggregate the effects of exporting European heavy industry to China, cap and trade hasn’t done much at all.
Here’s another little snippet I found interesting:
No serious student of global politics can accept the notion that the world will soon join ranks behind Brussels, Washington and the gloomy computer and its minders. Dar is surely right when he says, “The U.S. and Japan will not tell Asia and Africa to choose poverty, disease, hunger and illiteracy over electricity.” Europe might, but nobody will listen. It won’t have moral authority until its own citizens are emitting less carbon than Bangladeshis. That won’t happen soon.
In the comments of my post yesterday on the price of oil and China’s role in pushing it up regular commenter Triumph quipped:
Dude, fossil fuels are not renewable. They will eventually run out.
The main thing we should be doing is shifting to a post-carbon economy.
Since Triumph freely intermingles satire with serious and occasionally thoughtful observations I wasn’t sure in which category this particular comment belonged. I’ll assume serious.
One of the things that bugs me about the inevitable ideological battles that develop on this subject is that, in their haste to swing brickbats at each other, both sides are missing critical points. Those who are eager for us to shift to a post-carbon economy are missing the sad fact that that won’t be possible for the foreseeable future.
The alternatives we have at hand for vehicle fuels are gasoline, biofuels made from food crops, and biodiesel made from waste. There just isn’t enough waste useable for producing biodiesel to made a big difference. Those who’ve gone in that direction have noted that prices are rising fast. Biofuels made from food crops wouldn’t be economically viable without the subsidies they’re receiving and the present generation of biofuels produce very little more fuel than they use in their production and, in some cases, they actually use more fuel to produce than they produce themselves. While biodiesel made from algae, cellulosic ethanol produced from switchgrass and other crops that grow on land too poor for use in growing food crops may be a solution for the future they aren’t here now and, unfortunately, may never be here. We just don’t know and subsidizing these second-generation biofuels for whatever reason just props up bad solutions, it doesn’t ensure good ones.
The problem is actually somewhat worse. We must power the current U. S. vehicle fleet and the current fleet requires gasoline. I’ve read ambitious plans to replace the existing fleet with electric vehicles (largely at federal government expense). The estimated cost of doing this is about $2 trillion. Unfortunately, even with the political will these plans won’t work.
In order to replace the total fleet over a period of ten years we’d need to produce completely electrical vehicles and their sales would need to be roughly double the current sales of hybrid vehicles every year over the period of the next ten years. We have no reason whatever to believe that production of electrical vehicles can be ramped up that fast and lots of reasons, namely the problems that all manufacturers have had producing batteries, to believe that it can’t. We’d also need to produce the additional electricity required and have a power distribution system capable of handling the additional capacity. Our current system won’t cut it.
The other side of this argument, the side that believes that all of our problems would be solved by drilling in ANWR or drilling off-shore, has a problem, too. From James Hamilton’s post to which I linked yesterday and, apparently, none of the commenters read:
But don’t forget, while you’re doing these calculations, you’ll need to meet Chinese demand for 2009, and 2010, and 2011…. Which, if you project the current trend and tried to satisfy entirely by cuts in U.S. consumption, would have us down to consuming zero barrels of oil in the United States in about 17 years.
Emphasis mine. There’s no way we’re going to escape the effects of the world price of oil and China’s influence on that price at that rate cf. my observations about the vehicle fleet above. Note, too, that China has us by the short and curlies simply by regulating the level at which they subsidize oil consumption. Their leadership, unlike ours, has the will and ability to do just that.
Just for the record my preferences are to increase domestic production, stop subsidizing ethanol production, and stop subsidizing gasoline consumption. I’m not opposed to a carbon tax. I think cap and trade is a lousy idea. The only way we should ameliorate the effects of rising fuel costs on the poor is by putting more money into public transportation (otherwise we’ll undo the effects of other policies we might put into place). I have no hopes that my preferences will prevail.
Meanwhile, I think we may be in for some very interesting times.