Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 22, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

TALKIN' ABOUT ENERGY....Over at Grist, Charles Komanoff takes issue with the proposition that gasoline prices don't have much impact on gasoline consumption. He points to this study by Ken Small and Kurt Van Dender which suggests that although the short-run impact of higher prices is small, the long-run impact may be as high as 43%. Thus, a 10% increase in gasoline prices would produce a 4.3% decrease in gasoline consumption (partly due to purchase of more fuel efficient cars and partly due to a reduction in miles traveled). If this is right, it means that a sizeable gasoline tax increase (say, 50 cents a gallon) might eventually reduce fuel consumption by as much as 7%.

Which is great, and it's one reason why I'm in favor of carbon taxes. But this is also a good chance to argue in favor of something else: when it comes to energy policy, we should adopt a broad range of smallish measures instead of focusing on one big one. The problem is that every policy instrument does some things well and some things badly, and there's also a risk that some of them just won't work at all for some reason or another. Better to have your eggs in several baskets, which makes it easier to fine tune the effect you want and also makes it easier to discard policies that don't pan out.

A carbon tax, for example, has some good points. It's efficient, it raises money that can be used for other purposes, and it reduces gasoline consumption. On the other hand, it's brutally regressive, hurting the poor far more than any other group, and even under rosy long-term assumptions it reduces gasoline use only modestly.

CAFE standards, conversely, raise gas mileage very quickly and very efficiently, and don't have a disproportionate impact on the poor. On the other hand, they're a blunt instrument, and if anything, they motivate people to drive more, not less. (It's called the "rebound effect": if your car gets better mileage, it's cheaper to drive. That prompts people to drive more.)

A refundable gas guzzler tax has different pluses and minuses. Like a carbon tax, it can raise money that can be channeled into green research, and unlike a gasoline tax, it's progressive. On the downside, once you've paid the tax, there's no further incentive to actually reduce your driving.

Other proposals, like the low-carbon fuel standard touted by Daniel Sperling in the op-ed I linked to yesterday, have yet other tradeoffs. Ethanol research, nuclear power, and subsidies for renewal electricity generation have others. I say: the more the merrier. All of them have good points and bad, and the more we experiment the more we can find out which ones produce the biggest bang for the buck. Let the games begin.

Kevin Drum 6:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (94)

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Other proposals, like the low-carbon fuel standard touted by Daniel Sperling in the op-ed I linked to yesterday, have yet other tradeoffs. Ethanol research, nuclear power, and subsidies for renewal electricity generation have others. I say: the more the merrier. All of them have good points and bad, and the more we experiment the more we can find out which ones produce the biggest bang for the buck. Let the games begin.

that's what I have been advocating.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 22, 2007 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

meanwhile, Caltrans is going solar:

http://www.solardaily.com/reports/Caltrans_Unveils_Solar_Photovoltaic_Power_Plant_999.html

The more the merrier.

I can't afford solar because my electricity bill is only $26/month. Even when the outdoor air is 90+ degrees, as it is now, my wife and I avoid using our A/C.

Does anybody know if you can buy window-mounted solar-powered airconditioners? We'd kind of like to cool one of our rooms.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 22, 2007 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

"CAFE standards, conversely, raise gas mileage very quickly and very efficiently, and don't have a disproportionate impact on the poor."

Except for killing more people.

And how is a rise in CAFE standards "very quick"? The Senate Democrats bill raises them in 2020.

Posted by: Al on June 22, 2007 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

I maintain we should consider abolishing the payroll tax and replacing its lost revenue with an energy consumption tax on petroleum fuels, natural gas and electrical power service.

So far, the most compelling argument I've yet to hear against this proposal is that it's patently silly on its face. The arguments don't get much more substantive than that...

Posted by: s9 on June 22, 2007 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

"A carbon tax, for example, has some good points. It's efficient..."

Whoa! No you did not just say that! Since when is a TAX EFFICIENT? What a whopper.

Your weigh out of your leage here, Drum.

Posted by: egbert on June 22, 2007 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

what are the stats on who pays the most for gasoline? would a carbon tax dedicated to earned income tax credits (or s9's idea) really be that absurd?)

Posted by: jhm on June 22, 2007 at 6:41 PM | PERMALINK

And how is a rise in CAFE standards "very quick"? The Senate Democrats bill raises them in 2020.
Posted by: Al on June 22, 2007 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

Excellent point, Al.

effing spineless Dems.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on June 22, 2007 at 6:43 PM | PERMALINK

egbert, you fell off a wall and broke something. weigh, dude.

It's called the "rebound effect": if your car gets better mileage, it's cheaper to drive. That prompts people to drive more.

actually, it's called "Jevon's Paradox", but never mind.

Posted by: shams on June 22, 2007 at 6:43 PM | PERMALINK

Since when is a TAX EFFICIENT?

"Efficient" here is a technical term referring to economic efficiency -- the most bang for the buck. Economists on all sides of the political spectrum generally agree that a carbon tax is the most efficient way to reduce carbon emissions, although cap-and-trade systems also have their merits.

Egbert, you're so far out of your league, you're not even in the park.

Posted by: Garth on June 22, 2007 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK
A carbon tax, for example, has some good points. It's efficient, it raises money that can be used for other purposes, and it reduces gasoline consumption. On the other hand, it's brutally regressive, hurting the poor far more than any other group, and even under rosy long-term assumptions it reduces gasoline use only modestly.

No reason a carbon tax can't be rebated, in whole or in part, by reductions in other taxes, which can, structured properly, deal with the regressivity.

FE standards, conversely, raise gas mileage very quickly and very efficiently, and don't have a disproportionate impact on the poor. On the other hand, they're a blunt instrument, and if anything, they motivate people to drive more, not less. (It's called the "rebound effect": if your car gets better mileage, it's cheaper to drive. That prompts people to drive more.)

Improving gas mileage is not important as an ends, only as a means to reducing emissions.

A refundable gas guzzler tax has different pluses and minuses. Like a carbon tax, it can raise money that can be channeled into green research, and unlike a gasoline tax, it's progressive.

What exactly do you mean by a "refundable gas guzzler tax" and how is it "progressive"? If its a flat percentage of the purchase cost of new "gas guzzling" vehicles, and it is "refunded" by across-the-board reduction of other taxes (usually, this is referred to as a "rebated" tax, but its the only interpretation of "refundable" that seems to make sense), it might be somewhat progressive, I suppose, since it would only affect new car purchasers, which would exclude the truly poor, generally. But, if it was restricted to new cars, it would drive up the cost of new cars on average—including more fuel-efficient ones, by reducing affordable alternatives—and discourage retirement and replacement of existing gas guzzlers. If it applied to resale, it would be less progressive.

On the downside, once you've paid the tax, there's no further incentive to actually reduce your driving.

Yes, that's another problem with it.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 22, 2007 at 6:48 PM | PERMALINK
Since when is a TAX EFFICIENT?

Whenever it effectively internalizes an existing externality. Carbon taxes are the most straightforward method of internalizing the externalities associated with carbon emitting activities.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 22, 2007 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK

since we have an energy thread, I'll put this here:

renewable sources generated 9.5% of America's electricity in 2006.

http://www.energy-daily.com/reports/Renewable_Sources_Contributed_Nearly_10_Percent_To_US_Electric_Generation_In_2006_999.html

It's a start.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 22, 2007 at 6:54 PM | PERMALINK

"(It's called the "rebound effect": if your car gets better mileage, it's cheaper to drive. That prompts people to drive more.)"

That's not the rebound effect, is it? If I get a Prius, I'm not likely to also have more places to drive to. My driving habits aren't likely to change much. I will, however, will be helping to keep gas prices lower for everyone, thereby disincentivizing other drivers to make the switch to hybrids. That's the rebound, isn't it?

Posted by: Model 62 on June 22, 2007 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK

The problem is that every policy instrument does some things well and some things badly, and there's also a risk that some of them just won't work at all for some reason or another.

Not only that, every technology where there is investment in the upcoming 20 years will be substantially improved, and we do not now know which ones will have the best cost-performance characteristics then.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 22, 2007 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK

Several eons ago there was a thread where I mentioned that this car powered by compressed air was a great idea and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named crapped all over me for about a day for suggesting it.

Well.


Now they're going into production.


The real beauty of this idea is not just that it eliminates gasoline, it filters the air before it goes in and it expels cold air. It cleans and cools the atmosphere as it operates.

If this thing works even close to as advertised, I think it should be illegal to operate any other kind of car.

Posted by: cld on June 22, 2007 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

I'm glad so many people on here understand economic efficiency wrt externalities.

Posted by: Disputo on June 22, 2007 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

great, sounds like higher gas prices, whih I think are here to stay, might actually reduce fuel consupmtion in the long run.

Personally, I am thinking about something more efficient then my 2000 4 cyl. accord which gets 22 city, and 27 or so highway.

I was thinking of a toyota corolla which gets high 30's city (automatic)..
Unfortunately even a loaded corolla is around 17-18k$. going to a hybrid immediatly brings it to 22-23k$ for the prius minimum... which is higher then I wanted to go....

Posted by: Aaron on June 22, 2007 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK

Since when is a TAX EFFICIENT?

Taxes are efficient in the same sense that markets are "efficient". There is, in economics, no operational definition of efficient, unlike the famous case of "efficiency" in thermodynamics. The word "efficient" is almost always used as a comparison to some implicit alternative. The carbon tax is "efficient" compared to other alternatives because it is easy to compute and simple to collect, and neutral with respect to everything else except carbon.

Scientists and engineers can measure work output and energy input, and compute efficiency as their ratio (there is even a well-defined ideal efficiency, and you compute a relative efficiency as real efficiency divided by ideal efficiency.) In consequence of the independent operational definitions, you can have engines that have a range of efficiencies, from 16% to 96%, for example. No such thing exists in economics. In 1987 the stock market fell 25% over a weekend, then gradually rose over the next six months to what it was just prior to the crash. Extreme defenders of market "efficiency" maintain that the market was efficient just before the crash, during the crash, and during the rebound. It's absurd.

However, it's only absurd when used as more precise than it really is. Markets are "efficient" in the sense that government interventions sometimes (but not always) make things worse.

Replacing a petroleum subsidy with a carbon tax might very well result in more thermodynamically efficient use of the remaining U.S. stock of carbon-based fuel. It might not, but it is certainly worthy of consideration.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 22, 2007 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: Whenever it effectively internalizes an existing externality. Carbon taxes are the most straightforward method of internalizing the externalities associated with carbon emitting activities.

That's a good thing to do, I support it, and it may be what Kevin meant. But I have a question: is it a defintion of "efficient" when you internalize the external costs?

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 22, 2007 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

If I could get a bill passed, it would be to have a revenue neutral tax/rebate assigned to every new car purchased. Let's say that the 'ideal' is 30 miles per gallon. For every MPG a car gets better than 30 mpg, a rebate of, say, $100 is given to the buyer. For every MPG below that, a $100 tax is added. Thus, a 40 MPG car buyer would get back $1000, and a Hummer buyer... well a Hummer buyer wouldn't care anyway, since those suckers are already overpriced. Every year, the amounts of the rebates/taxes could be tweaked a bit to encourage higher MPG's. You wouldn't even have to have CAFE standards... people will *demand* higher MPG cars to get the higher rebates.

Posted by: estamm on June 22, 2007 at 7:17 PM | PERMALINK

cld: It cleans and cools the atmosphere as it operates.

Cleans, maybe. cools, no; the cooling effect of expansion is more than offset (follow the discussion of thermodynamics) by the heating effect of pressurizing it in the first place, and the heating caused by generating the power to pressurize the air.

Like plug-in hybrids, the compressed-air cars do not reduce pollution, they move the pollution out of city centers. That's a good thing. I expect that those cars will be successful in some market niches.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 22, 2007 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK
That's a good thing to do, I support it, and it may be what Kevin meant. But I have a question: is it a defintion of "efficient" when you internalize the external costs?

A voluntary exchange economy is efficient where the actors are rational and there are no externalities (this isn't a definition of efficiency, but it is a logical consequence of the usual economic definitions of efficiency and rationality); externalities create inefficiencies in a voluntary exchange economy with rational actors. Internalizing existing externalities consequently produces efficiency. So, no, its not the definition, per se, but a logical consequence of the definition. Why?

Posted by: cmdicely on June 22, 2007 at 7:21 PM | PERMALINK

I'm glad so many people on here understand economic efficiency wrt externalities.

Yeah, scrambled egbert is the one out of his "leage" - yet he keeps coming back for more.

He is truly a man ahead of his time - about 500 years ahead of his time.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on June 22, 2007 at 7:22 PM | PERMALINK

> The problem is that every policy instrument
> does some things well and some things badly, and
> there's also a risk that some of them just won't
> work at all for some reason or another. Better to
> have your eggs in several baskets, which makes it
> easier to fine tune the effect you want and also
> makes it easier to discard policies that don't pan out.

Which bring up the question, two years after you wrote about it extensively, and shortly after the GAO picked up, where are you on the peaking of oil production?

I love how in the GAO graph of the various predictions you can clearly see the correlation between the estimated peak "day", and the closeness of the authors of the study to the oil industry or "free market will provide...period" ideology. For easy BS detection the list of studies is even ordered by the predicted date. The geology types are neatly in between the more official doomsday types and the BP corporate responsibility rapport... which apparently for some reason includes an oil production outlook. Somehow I suspect that stuff comes from marketing instead of exploration people.

Bio fuels (food, burning forest to make room) and CTL are showing their first teething problems. People are talking about the water needed to turn tar sands into something useful. Will these be overcome quickly enough?

Assuming the next president gets a full 8 years, that would put the lucky bastard right on top of your 2015 peak prediction. Sounds like an election issue.

And that before you include the fresh new post `05 instability making the middle east even hotter (Iran & Hormuz strait, Saudi refinery bombing), and Russia being, lets say, less than flexible in its oil sales. Georgia accuses Russia of being behind those blown up pipelines, and the whole US sponsored democracy thing around the stans hasn`t gotten the new pipelines out of Russian hands. If I were Cheney this is when I would get my energy task force back together again, maybe bring the old shotgun to drive home the point that this advice has consequences ;-)

Posted by: asdf on June 22, 2007 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK
Like plug-in hybrids, the compressed-air cars do not reduce pollution, they move the pollution out of city centers.

Plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles, and other stored-energy vehicles do reduce pollution and GHG emissions, as well as moving it out of densely populated areas; large scale industrial production of electricity, even when it is completely based on fossil fuel, is more efficient than burning fossil fuels in auto engines to generate energy, plus large scale energy production isn't entirely fossil fuel based, and additional production added to meet new demands is tends to include green sources.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 22, 2007 at 7:31 PM | PERMALINK

Not to get too econogeeky, but I wanted to add that externalities are just one of several market failures that lead to an inefficient allocation of resources.

Posted by: Disputo on June 22, 2007 at 7:31 PM | PERMALINK

To the carbon tax figure out a way to add a weight/murder tax.

Which is to say: Stupid Urban Vehicles get socked much more than small passenger cars and cycles.

This is justified from two perspectives:

1) Stupid Urban Vehicles degrade roads more than smaller vehicles. They aren't carrying their weight in road maintenance, so to speak...

2) Stupid Urban Vehicles are built so that there engine/grill is head high to a passenger car. In other words: Stupid Urban Vehicles are designed to MURDER people in smaller weight vehicles.

True: it is a dumb fucking world that allows Stupid Urban Vehicles at all...

But since the market place rules, we need to take a tax-club to the heads of all SUV owners.

And swing it to kill...

Posted by: ROTFLMLiberalAO on June 22, 2007 at 7:33 PM | PERMALINK

Let's have a gas tax: it will reduce usage modestly. Modestly is good. It can be used to do other good things: for example, an increase in research into more efficient engines, or into developing mass transit. Let's tie the gas tax to better use of resources, not more use of resources.
Let's give a tax credit to the poor to compensate: not to make the tax completely neutral, but to eliminate the effect on the poor. This gives the poor an incentive to use, for example, mass transit where available, which we will be developing with the revenue from the gas tax.

Let's also have vehicle taxes that reflect the damage done on the environment, on the roads, on people, by vehicles. And lets encourage the use of more efficient modes of transportation of goods than trucking across the country, by making those who use the roads pay the cost of upkeep. If we put as much federal funds into, say, rail, as we put into roads, the country would be much better off. And we'd have a great railway system.

On the issue of production of electricity, there are methods which are environmentally more friendly: for example, converting wind or solar power into electricity is much more friendly than coal, oil or nuclear energy.

And lastly, on the environment, let's get better crops grown to produce the appropriate goods: hemp, for example is outlawed even in its tlc-free form: yet it makes great paper and fabrics, and is less corrosive to the landscape than cotton, and faster growing than timber (and hence we can stop logging for paper, which would save hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon release).

N.

Posted by: breadbox on June 22, 2007 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

You know there's a way to make a carbon tax that is not regressive. Just modify it into a Direct Transfer Carbon Tax.

Instead of putting carbon tax revenue into government coffers you give it back to the people.

Say you collect $150 billion in carbon taxes per year which about what you would get at $25 a ton.

You divide that $150 billion by the total US population of 300 million which breaks it into $500 per person. Mail a cheque for $500 to every person in the country. Call it a Carbon Check.

The money goes around in a circle, but overall heavy carbon users are a bit worse off and the low carbon users are better off.

In practice a poor family of 5 will get Carbon Checks for $2500 that they can spend on home insulation or a more efficient car.

Should be very easy politically as no-one except carbon producers is much worse off and many people are better off. And if $25 a ton turns out to be too low, or we need to reduce carbon emissions faster it would be politically easy to increase it.

Posted by: swio on June 22, 2007 at 8:07 PM | PERMALINK

MatthewRM, the cooling effect of expansion is more than offset (follow the discussion of thermodynamics) by the heating effect of pressurizing it in the first place, and the heating caused by generating the power to pressurize the air.

Nonetheless, it's putting cooler air into the city streets where it can mitigate the local temperature. I think if every car did that it would have a serious impact.

(Though, now that I think of it, it may not be such an improvement in winter, especially during rain-turning-to-ice conditions. Gizmag says, "The temperature of the clean air expelled by the exhaust pipe is between 0 - 15 degrees below zero. . . ")

And they reduce air pollution by filtering the air. You have to replace and clean the filter.

Posted by: cld on June 22, 2007 at 8:07 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: So, no, its not the definition, per se, but a logical consequence of the definition. Why?

I didn't think that economic efficiency was actually defined, or measured. It is asserted, but not subjected to "stringent testing". I was wondering whether there was indeed an independent definition that I was not aware of.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 22, 2007 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

We live is SEWisconsin. We drive a Ford Focus which is reasonably efficient. We are retired. With fuel falling again to the $3 level we can again afford to do some driving - but we cannot afford to take any trips. We need inexpensive fuel, period!! Oh yes, there is no public trans in Muskego - we must drive everywhere.

Posted by: Robert R Clough on June 22, 2007 at 8:14 PM | PERMALINK

Nonetheless, it's putting cooler air into the city streets where it can mitigate the local temperature. I think if every car did that it would have a serious impact.

Unlikely to counter the urban heat effect (even subtracting out automotive contributions), and anyway it will be (more than) offset by the heat pollution produced wherever the air is compressed.

Which reminds me, once we get the green house effect under control, we'll still have to deal with heat pollution in order to prevent the globe from continuing to heat up.

Posted by: Disputo on June 22, 2007 at 8:15 PM | PERMALINK

It would help to counter the urban heat effect of me sweating to death crossing the street.

Posted by: cld on June 22, 2007 at 8:20 PM | PERMALINK

And lastly, on the environment, let's get better crops grown to produce the appropriate goods: hemp, for example is outlawed even in its tlc-free form: yet it makes great paper and fabrics, and is less corrosive to the landscape than cotton, and faster growing than timber (and hence we can stop logging for paper, which would save hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon release).

N.

Posted by: breadbox

Trees and hemp and most other living things are carbon neutral. Their cultivation and use doesn't add or subtract from the global carbon dioxide load. The excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes from burning fossil fuels. Burn hemp at no risk to the environment. Stop burning fossil fuels.

Posted by: slanted tom on June 22, 2007 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: Plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles, and other stored-energy vehicles do reduce pollution and GHG emissions, as well as moving it out of densely populated areas; large scale industrial production of electricity, even when it is completely based on fossil fuel, is more efficient than burning fossil fuels in auto engines to generate energy, plus large scale energy production isn't entirely fossil fuel based, and additional production added to meet new demands is tends to include green sources.

I hope so. I am optimistic for the case when large amounts of electricity come from wind and sun. But the compressed-air vehicles depend on pumps to fill the tanks, and those are not that efficient. On the other hand, there is a substantial savings in the energy necessary to manufacture the power train. The more I think about that idea, the more I think it will spread.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 22, 2007 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

(It's called the "rebound effect": if your car gets better mileage, it's cheaper to drive. That prompts people to drive more.)—Kevin Drum

This is nonsense. You make is sound as if people will go out of their way to drive or they will opt to drive rather than taking the non-existent mass-transit in most American cities.

The point of CAFE standards is to reduce consumption, which reduces pollution, which helps (if only at the margins) reduce our felt need to be fucking around in the ME. All pluses, no downside.

Posted by: JeffII on June 22, 2007 at 8:22 PM | PERMALINK

Tax, Tax, Tax, is that all the democrats can think of. At least it seems to be their first thought. I don't know if global warming is real or not or if it is real whether it is man made or not, but if current theories are correct we will someday run out of petroleum. No matter how you conserve it, We need to get serious with the production of renewable fuels. That is the only answer.

Posted by: TruthPolitik on June 22, 2007 at 8:23 PM | PERMALINK

Here's a better idea. Perhaps the best of all.

Let's keep electing rightwing fascist oil executives.

They'll keep us at war, in the middle east (and, inevitably, the North Sea, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Coast, etc). Oil production will come to a screeching halt. Prices will go up. The only people who will be afford to drive, will be the guys flying combat jets over the oil fields to bomb insurgents who are trying to sabotage pipelines.

George W Bush: World's Greatest Environmentalist!

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on June 22, 2007 at 8:29 PM | PERMALINK

cld: Nonetheless, it's putting cooler air into the city streets where it can mitigate the local temperature.

I hope that you read the exchange between cmdicely and me. Once the power for compressing the air comes from surplus night-time wind-generated electricity, then you are absolutely correct. Technically, adding a compressed-air car still has a net warming effect; substituting a compressed-air car for any fuel-burning car has a net cooling effect. I can envision them easily replacing golf carts, delivery trucks, mail trucks, school buses.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 22, 2007 at 8:31 PM | PERMALINK

No matter how you conserve it, We need to get serious with the production of renewable fuels. That is the only answer. Posted by: TruthPolitik

True. We need petroleum for lots of useful things other than fuel - plastics, medicine, (not) fertilizer. So, if taxing the shit out of oil consumption, particularly as auto and truck fuel, helps preserve what little we have left, I'm all for it.

It will take a combination of stick (carrots just don't exist for this) - increased CAFE standards, taxing, and plowing billions of dollars into mass transit and alternative energy research and use to just give us a chance to avoid the one-two punch of drastic and rapid global climate change and depleting oil before we find substitutes for its non-fuel uses.

Posted by: JeffII on June 22, 2007 at 8:32 PM | PERMALINK

Anything that lessens our exposure to the Middle East is a cooling effect in my book.

Posted by: cld on June 22, 2007 at 8:34 PM | PERMALINK

Charles Komanoff takes issue with the proposition that gasoline prices don't have much impact on gasoline consumption.

I believe it. The thing about thinking about a lot of policy thinks like this is many people don't evaluate the effect well, because they only think about their own and their friends' usage, and how the condition confronted or the recommended policy change would affect their life, but they don't realize that there are a lot of people in the US leading very different lives.

This is particularly true when it comes to the automobile. While many users basically ration their car for a 10 times a week, regular and necessary commute, with maybe once-in-a-while trips on the weekend to a store or to bring the kids to a museum thrown in, it is really wrong to think that is anything like a "typical" American user of the automobile. For example, there are hordes of people who use cars who are teenagers who like to go out cruising a lot every week as something to do with their friends; for them and for people who don't make a lot of money, may have a regular routine, but still drive around a lot outside of their routine, cutting down on trips or cutting out unnecessary trips when the gas prices go up really makes a lot of sense.

Better to have your eggs in several baskets, which makes it easier to fine tune the effect you want and also makes it easier to discard policies that don't pan out.

Wow, I never thought of this with policy before. Interest bit of wonkish insight. Thanks.

Posted by: Swan on June 22, 2007 at 8:35 PM | PERMALINK

I believe it. The thing about thinking about a lot of policy thinks like this is many people don't evaluate the effect well,

Oops, that should have been 'things like this,' of course.

Posted by: Swan on June 22, 2007 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

I think egbert is a parody, and a very funny one, and that- there used to be tons of people who would comment on here with 'Ah, Kevin'-style comments and egbert is a good send-up. If I've been missing anything from not readin this blog a lot, excuse me.

Anyway, it's all psy-war, all that 'Ah Kevin, you're such an idiot' stuff. You just make it sound like it's somehow obvious to you Kevin is dumb when it's really not so obvious that he's wrong, and people will assume you're right just because of your 'tone.' Kevin is nothing like a lightweight or a chump; those people are being punks because their own people are mostly a bunch of reasonless types, and we don't really have anyone like that-- they have to come over here and pretend.

Posted by: Swan on June 22, 2007 at 8:44 PM | PERMALINK

My impression would be that the cold these cars give off is in motion and so will spread the cold around, while the heat generated by the compressor is stationary and localized.

If there were a lot of them in circulation it would de-concentrate the urban heat influence, because much of that heat is stored in the pavement and radiates all through the night.

(I think I've read that it's the night radiation that is more significant than the daytime radiation, though I may have mis-remembered that.)


Blasting that with 0 to -15 degree air all day would put a cramp in that radiation. And it isn't not just the city streets, but also the highways between them.

Posted by: cld on June 22, 2007 at 8:49 PM | PERMALINK

I didn't think that economic efficiency was actually defined, or measured. It is asserted, but not subjected to "stringent testing". I was wondering whether there was indeed an independent definition that I was not aware of.

There are various types of efficiencies. I don't know what Kevin is referring to, but I was speaking of the efficient allocation of resources, which is reasonably defined here.

Posted by: Disputo on June 22, 2007 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin Drum >"...the more we experiment the more we can find out which ones produce the biggest bang for the buck..."

Of course the biggest bang would be to cease trying to use pixie dust monetary systems and to get rid of all significant externalities thereby

Of course that isn`t going to happen as long as the willingly ignorant march to the tune of the wolves of greed

Look out for that cliff ahead !

"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use." - Galileo Galilei

Posted by: daCascadian on June 22, 2007 at 8:58 PM | PERMALINK

engineering better cellulosic digesters:

http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/18958/

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 22, 2007 at 9:12 PM | PERMALINK

disputo, that's a perfect example of a non-defining definition: it's worded with respect to other undefined terms or things that clearly never exist. you can never tell whether anything is efficient by that definition, nor whether a change in policy improves efficiency from 37% to 43%.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 22, 2007 at 9:21 PM | PERMALINK

MatthewRmarler: But the compressed-air vehicles depend on pumps to fill the tanks, and those are not that efficient.

Good white paper on the efficiency of air cars here:

http://www.efcf.com/e/reports/E14.pdf

My thermodynamics sucks (only physics subject I ever hated), so I'll talk their word that 40% efficiency (ratio of work out of engine to energy into compressor) is about right. To get anything like that your compression has to be nearly isothermal, requiring something like a four stage compressor with heat exchangers between stages. I'd love to know how much something like that would cost.

IIRC battery cars get about 80% - about 10% loss in battery charging and 10% in the electric motors (multiphase induction motors are amazingly efficient).

Of course batteries may be more expensive and/or less environmentally friendly to manufacture and dispose of (all highly dependent on the specific battery technology of course), and are subject to degradation over time and number of charge/discharge cycles.

I'm skeptical of the fast fill at the station though. Handling 3000 psi air is not like inflating your tires to 30 psi - you gotta be careful with that stuff.

Posted by: alex on June 22, 2007 at 9:25 PM | PERMALINK

MatthewRMarler: Like plug-in hybrids, the compressed-air cars do not reduce pollution

Plug-in hybrids do reduce pollution-- they increase their efficiency by recapturing energy through regenerative braking. A (non plug-in) Prius wouldn't get any better mileage than a well designed, comparable weight car if it weren't for regenerative breaking. This is also why Prii (? Priuses?) get better mileage in town where speeds are lower, and thus there is less air resistance, than over the road where there is less stop and go, but more air resistance.

Plug-ins additionally capitalize on the fact that the electric utilities producing the power that they plug into generally operate at a better second law efficiency than the ICE in a conventional car.

Posted by: Dave Howard on June 22, 2007 at 9:40 PM | PERMALINK

We should quit encouraging population growth with those fertility subsidies like the $1,000 child tax credit, and subsidize birth control and sterilization instead. The fewer consumers, the less it matter just what we use anyway (although better fuels is still better too.)

Posted by: Neil B. on June 22, 2007 at 9:41 PM | PERMALINK

disputo, that's a perfect example of a non-defining definition: it's worded with respect to other undefined terms or things that clearly never exist. you can never tell whether anything is efficient by that definition, nor whether a change in policy improves efficiency from 37% to 43%.

Marler, if you want the equations, you're going to have to crack open a book.

Posted by: Disputo on June 22, 2007 at 10:04 PM | PERMALINK

Just what the poor and middle class need: a big tax increase.

Just remember: Mexican-American nannies who live in east LA need to drive to work. Families - with a husband who's a teacher and a wife who's a secretary - trying to afford a house in San Diego County (where the average cost is over 400k) have to drive to work.

I don't support flat taxes; the gas tax is a flat tax.

Posted by: Linus on June 22, 2007 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

Love the "compressed air car."

Posted by: loveit on June 22, 2007 at 11:01 PM | PERMALINK

What happens when we run out of carbon to tax?

Why do you assume there is another 20 or 30 years of oil in the ground?

What makes you think there is enough arable land in the world to grow the amount of fuel we use now (let alone still feed people)?

What make anyone think there is more than 75 years of Uranium to fuel reactors?

Why do you think we went to Iraq? To give "habeas corpus" to the People of the Middle East or to secure their oil? Iraq is estimated to have 20% of the world's reserves. Maybe the CIA can sweat the truth out of Cheney down in Gitmo and find out what he promised his oil buddies in those secret meetings.

The sun will shine and the wind will blow almost forever.

Quit fooling around with marginal distractions and get to work building a sustainable solar to electric economy. Forget about carbon. It's just a passing fancy. There is just enough left to build the solar economy.

Posted by: deejaayss on June 22, 2007 at 11:07 PM | PERMALINK

As far as fuel for auto the most promising thing I've seen is bio-butanol. It can be used in present non e85 cars, has almost the same energy as gasoline and can be carried through pipelines.
BP and Dupont are working on making it from sugar beets in Britain. Could also be made from cellulose same as ethanol.

Posted by: TruthPolitik on June 22, 2007 at 11:12 PM | PERMALINK

the more we experiment the more we can find out which ones produce the biggest bang for the buck. Let the games begin.

Sure, let the government throw another load of monkey wrenches into a major industry. The congress and others, economically and technologically ignorant, screw up almost everything they try to "fix." Why should the energy industry be an exception?

How about just passing a law that says that no appliance should use more than five watts of electricity? Or that cars should run on water? After all the only reason we don't have big cars that get 100 mpg is corporate greed, right?

Posted by: rnc on June 22, 2007 at 11:30 PM | PERMALINK

The Wikipedia article on Uranium-238 says that it has a half-life of about 4.46 billion years.

Since that's just about the age of the Earth, isn't Uranium-238 about done for?

Posted by: cld on June 23, 2007 at 12:48 AM | PERMALINK

cld:

Half done for.

Posted by: deejaayss on June 23, 2007 at 12:52 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, half. Of course. That's what they'd say, isn't it?

Posted by: cld on June 23, 2007 at 1:45 AM | PERMALINK

How about just passing a law that says that no appliance should use more than five watts of electricity? Or that cars should run on water? After all the only reason we don't have big cars that get 100 mpg is corporate greed, right?

Or a law requiring all U.S. forces be pulled out of the Persian Gulf? Or a law prohibiting the use of tax money for roads? Or simply repealing the subsidies for petroleum?

disputo: Marler, if you want the equations, you're going to have to crack open a book.

The equations are fine: what's lacking are the measurements that provide operational definitions of the things asserted to exist. I have lots of books with equations in them -- some describe the world and some describe the contemporary equivalents of angels that dance on the pinheads. My assertion is that "economic efficiency" is in the latter category, not that there are no equations.

alex, thank you for the source.
I'm skeptical of the fast fill at the station though.

same here.

Dave Howard: Plug-ins additionally capitalize on the fact that the electric utilities producing the power that they plug into generally operate at a better second law efficiency than the ICE in a conventional car.

Especially as more and more electricity is generated by renewables, such as night-time wind. The source that I posted earlier says that already 9.5% of electricity comes from renewables. The rest depends on transmission losses, and the losses from the two more conversions: grid electricity to battery, and from battery to motion.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 23, 2007 at 2:34 AM | PERMALINK

Don't tax you,
Don't tax me.
Tax that guy behind the tree.

As long as this continues to be the theme song of the Republican Party, we will not have a sane energy policy in the United States. Or a sane policy for anything. Conservatives chirp about how much they love their country, but aren't willing to pay a dime to live here or to make it a better place.

For my money, the Apollo Alliance offers the best strategies for a clean energy future.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on June 23, 2007 at 5:58 AM | PERMALINK

I'm afraid we're not thinking at the right scale here. Nickle-and-dime reductions just aren't going to do anything to reduce Global Warming.

CO2 in the atmosphere is a unique kind of problem. Our individual contributions are so tiny and the horizon for witnessing their effects is so distant that the impetus to actually do something effective seems abstract and any emotional concern seems histrionic. Add in the fact that very powerful interests don't want anything at all done and we're in a Rapa Nui situation. We ARE going to cut down all the trees, so to speak.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on June 23, 2007 at 6:53 AM | PERMALINK

Additional gas taxes? Screw that! Any Dem suggests that and I vote Repub.

Posted by: Mooser on June 23, 2007 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

Since that's just about the age of the Earth, isn't Uranium-238 about done for?
Every Bible scholar knows the Earth and everything else is only about 6000 years old.

Posted by: Gomer on June 23, 2007 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night, fearful for the future of my country. I thought of how the liberals and their secularist allies have been so successful at hoodwinking the populace on this global warming hooey, and I wept. We were so close to the Conservative ideal of individualism and self-reliance and freedom. Now the socialists, under the guise of extremist environmentalism, are rolling back our hard fought gains. I wept.

Posted by: egbert on June 23, 2007 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

After all the only reason we don't have big cars that get 100 mpg is corporate greed, right?

Exactly.

Posted by: cld on June 23, 2007 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

I was trying to indirectly ask the question,

how much uranium is available and how long will it be before we run up against peak-uranium if we focus on nuclear energy?

Posted by: cld on June 23, 2007 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin Phillips in "American Theocracy: The Perils and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil
and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century,"
New York Times Review, on sojo.net

By 2004, Phillips writes, "an oil, automobile, and national-security coalition had taken the driver's seat." Of all the major oil- and gas-producing states, only California voted for John Kerry. According to one survey cited by Phillips, Americans who drove the most, especially those who drove large SUVs and full-sized pickup trucks, supported Bush by a wide margin.

Phillips also argues that oil dependency had an important part in the American decision to go to war. Access to Iraqi oil, he believes, has long been on the minds of the Bushes, father and son. Both made personal fortunes thanks to the family's oil interests, and Vice President Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton, also got rich on oil. Before the first Gulf War, George H.W. Bush said, we "would all suffer if control of the world's oil reserves fell into the hands of Saddam Hussein." According to one source cited by Phillips, Cheney closely studied maps of Iraqi oil reserves before the 2003 Iraq invasion to determine how much could be sold on the market to depress prices.

No doubt, the Iraqi oil fields were a tempting target of the US. Iraqi oil is plentiful and under Saddam Hussein was cheap to produce. Falling prices would have been a help to the US economy, while a friendly source of oil reserves would have made the US less beholden to Saudi Arabia, from which, as many in the government observed, most of the September 11 terrorists originally came. The oil companies who stood to benefit were strong political supporters of both the President and Vice President. David Frum, Bush's former speechwriter, wrote in his book The Right Man that the war was designed to bring new stability "to the most vicious and violent quadrant of the Earth—and new prosperity to us all, by securing the world's largest pool of oil."

Frum was referring here particularly to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations that seemed in danger of revolution. But Phillips does not make a convincing case that the central purpose of the war was to gain access to Iraqi oil. It seems more likely that the control of Iraqi wells was seen as an added benefit of the war. But the reader does not have to accept all of Phillips's claims to be disturbed by the obvious threats to national security posed by dependency on oil. Fear of Soviet influence in the Mideast oil region has long encouraged the US to cultivate dictatorial regimes there. If the Bush administration was counting on cheap oil from Iraq to reduce prices and American energy dependency, this was yet another example of its gross incompetence. Iraqi oil production is still well below pre-war levels.

But Phillips sees no way out. America's aging system for supplying energy, he writes, which is "guarded by a globally aggressive, entrenched-interest political coalition, is a harbinger of costly confrontations and military embroilment likely to lead to national decline." Yet according to recent public opinion surveys, a large majority of Americans are now demanding new energy policies as prices rise and the damage from carbon emissions is more widely acknowledged. The Apollo Alliance, a Washington-based group involving many businesses, labor unions, and environmentalists, for example, is proposing a series of investments in alternative energy sources, more efficiently heated buildings, better transportation planning in cities and suburbs, and new regulations on energy use.[3] If these measures could be carried out, the nation would be far less dependent on energy, and the economy would produce more domestic jobs as well. Such a strategy would require large-scale funding and national planning, and a willingness by politicians to take on the powerful interests. But it is not inconceivable that a new Congress could take steps in this direction and even ask Americans to accept new taxes to pay for it. Phillips does not discuss such a possibility.

Posted by: consider wisely always on June 23, 2007 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

cld:

Like any mineral, Uranium is economically concentrated in certain locations only. Some estimates on these easily extracted resources place the world supply running out in 75 years.

The sun will shine and the wind will blow much longer.

Posted by: deejaayss on June 23, 2007 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

With policy recommendations like these, you are sure to accomplish nothing.

And, if you insist on using the revenue from carbon taxes for "other purposes" rather than returning them to the citizenry, then you won't even get that.

The goal is to make the price of fossil fuels high enough to make the alternatives competitive. This is easy to accomplish. All the rest of these recommendations are either unnecessary, or so full of micromanagement from government as to be destructive in nature.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on June 23, 2007 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

Now the socialists, under the guise of extremist environmentalism, are rolling back our hard fought gains. I wept.

Boo hoo hoo.

Yancey Ward: The goal is to make the price of fossil fuels high enough to make the alternatives competitive.

There are multiple goals, including speeding the development of alternatives, and securing a plentiful fuel supply (in part, to speed up the process of getting out of the Middle East).

Jeffrey Davis: Nickle-and-dime reductions just aren't going to do anything to reduce Global Warming.

Last year the U.S. reduced its CO2 emissions 1.4%. Continued for decades, the time span of global warming, reductions on that scale will make substantial differences. Already 9.5% of US electricity is generated from renewable (on earth) sources; with projects and plans already underway, that will increase to 20%, then 30%.

Everybody should check out The Apollo Alliance regularly. Other sources of information as well, but The Apollo Alliance is very good.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 23, 2007 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Matthew,

I don't trust government to "speed alternatives". The alternatives will either be economically viable or they will not, and government can do nothing to change this for the better, and can do much to obstruct them.

Just look at the ethanol boondoggle- it is a perfect example of how government actually operates. If you insist on getting government involved in subsidizing various alternatives using the revenue from carbon taxes and managing energy efficiency, you will be creating a gigantic trough for every special interest in the country to eat from. And when this happens, most of the commenters on this blog will bitch and complain about how it would all be different if only the right people were making the decisions. This is a naivete we can no longer afford as a country. If this is what we are going to do, then I think it far better to do nothing and use up all the fossil fuels over the next two centuries.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on June 23, 2007 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

I say: the more the merrier. All of them have good points and bad, and the more we experiment the more we can find out which ones produce the biggest bang for the buck. Let the games begin.

I agree.

But I need help. It’s too hard to figure out how to be a good energy citizen.

I want to buy a solar powered attic fan. But can I get a tax credit or other financial incentive? Don’t know.

I recently test drove hybrid cars. Sales people not even sure if, or how much, tax credit I can get. This source tells me that I can no longer get a tax credit for a Camry due to a limit of 60,000 vehicles per manufacturer. That sucks. What’s the logic of that?

There should be straightforward financial incentives for improved energy use. Maybe I just have looked hard enough yet.

Posted by: little ole jim from red country on June 23, 2007 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

The goal is to make the price of fossil fuels high enough to make the alternatives competitive. This is easy to accomplish.


But that can't work.

If it's easy to force the prices up, it's just as easy to force them down, and that's easier than bringing alternatives online and developing them to the point where they're affordable and competitive.

The only way that can work is the hard way, massive investment in alternative methods and infrastructure.

And I think it would be great if that included massive deployment of nuclear power facilities.

Because, if there are only 75 years of uranium left, isn't it safer to burn it all before the terrorists get it?

Posted by: cld on June 23, 2007 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

alex, I read that paper, and I must say it doesn't sound that encouraging (http://www.efcf.com/e/reports/E14.pdf).

I can envision a facility capable of slow, isothermal compression -- it has to be slow in order to convey the heat almost as rapidly as it is produced. But I have trouble envisioning a motor in a car that is capable of isothermal expansion -- with ordinary heat exchangers like radiators and fans, heat exchange is so slow that the car could just creep along. With four expansions, four heat exchangers, and a tank that is almost 80 gallons, a small car would have little carrying capacity.

Assuming that we continue to converse here for several more years, I guess that we'll have to see how they actually work out.

That was a very interesting site: the European Sustainable Energy forum, to be held in a couple weeks. I bookmarked it and I intend to read some of the other reports. How did you learn of it?

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 23, 2007 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Yancey Ward: The alternatives will either be economically viable or they will not, and government can do nothing to change this for the better, and can do much to obstruct them.

Do you feel the same way ab out government-funded biomedical research? How about government-funded roads? How about the federally funded and operated air traffic control system?

"Either they will be economically viable or they will not" depends in large measure on the technological progress that is made in the upcoming 20 years of continuous development, as it was with turbojet engines and turbojet-powered aircraft. The commercial sector did not develop turbojet engines and large wings on their own, those were done under government contract. I don't know how you feel about hydroelectricity, but almost all the hydroelectricity generated in the U.S. was government subsidized.

Everybody likes to pick on their favorite government failure, but most federally funded work actually achieves good societal aims. right now there is federally funded work on new micro-organisms to digest lignin and cellulose. Within a few years, all those economically marginal corn ethanol plants will be converted to cellulosic ethanol plants. For now, the corn ethanol program is promoting experience in the handling and engineering of ethanol and ethanol-powered technology.


And as one more example of government success, the development of cane ethanol in Brazil was government-funded and directed.

Lastly, I would like to repeat my frequent reminder that petroleum-based fuels now enjoy an enormous subsidy in the form of continuous military deployments to the Middle East. There is no practical way to pay for them through an excise tax on oil imported from there, so the next best thing is to continually subsidize as many alternative energy/fuel sources as we can until they are naturally abundant and cost-competitive. With the steady enhancement of processes already underway, that won't take long.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 23, 2007 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

little ole Jim: I want to buy a solar powered attic fan. But can I get a tax credit or other financial incentive? Don’t know.

go here and follow the hot links to the advertisers.

http://www.energy-daily.com/

then phone or email one of the vendors near you.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 23, 2007 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Our current CAFE requirement basically acts as a $55 a gallon tax on any car sold that gets less than 27.5 mpg.

If I want to buy a car that gets 17.5 mpg then the car company would have to sell a higher mileage car or just pay a $550 tax. So they would price the 17.5 mpg car $550 higher than a car at 27.5 mpg. If the buyer wants the car badly enough he pays the extra $550.

So there is a disincentive for me to buy the car.

BUT

If I bought the car then there is no incentive for me not to drive it.

(This part excludes present value because I don't want to complicate things)
If the car will be driven 100,000 before it is trashed then you could increase the gas tax by about 26.5 cents a gallon and raise the same $550 on the extra 2,078 gallons of gas that the owners would buy. (The gas tax would be 32.2 cents a gallon if you drive 12,500 a year for 8 years discounted at 6%. I hope you see why I didn't want to include PV in the calculations.)

If the car got 26.5 mpg then the CAFE 'tax' per gallon would be significantly higher. It would be 40.1 cents per gallon before PV and 48.7 cents per gallon including the PV.

We would be far better off raising the gas tax than the CAFE standard. It would encourage people to USE, rather than BUY, fuel efficient cars.

Posted by: neil wilson on June 23, 2007 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK
This is nonsense. You make is sound as if people will go out of their way to drive or they will opt to drive rather than taking the non-existent mass-transit in most American cities.

Or, more relevantly, as if they consider the difference in costs (including, but not limited to, gasoline costs) as a factor when considering driving vs. other alternatives (trains, airplanes, etc.) for trips other than regular local-area commuting, and indeed in considering whether to take such trips at all.

Once you've sunk the cost of buying a more fuel efficient car, driving becomes a more attractive option in those cases. Kevin is exactly right here.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 23, 2007 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK
I didn't think that economic efficiency was actually defined, or measured.

It is defined (simply as pareto optimality with respect, usually, to experienced utility), but its not generally directly measurable (since experienced utility is not measurable), but since the statement at issue was about logical consequences of the definition rather than empirical results, direct measurability is somewhat tangential.

It is asserted, but not subjected to "stringent testing".

Again, its not an empirical claim (the claim that humans are rational actors would be an empirical claim, and even without a direct measure of experienced utility that's testable and rather well known not to be completely true. That, and how, humans differ from ideal rational actors in one source—along with externalities, failures of competititon caused by barriers to entry, and other things—of market failure.)

But insofar as people are rational—mostly, that is, that they make decisions that will produce the best experienced utility—taxes that internalize externalities promote economic efficiency.


I was wondering whether there was indeed an independent definition that I was not aware of.

Independent of what?

Posted by: cmdicely on June 23, 2007 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: Again, its not an empirical claim

Good to hear that.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 23, 2007 at 8:06 PM | PERMALINK

Matthew,

Yes, I think all of those things would be much more efficiently performed if they served actual market interests instead of government interests. The free market free rides on government spending in these areas where it makes sense to do so and supplements where it has to.

What will happen is that you will have every Tom, Dick and Harry lining up for his/her portion of the research pie in this area, and the money will be distributed not based on what makes economic sense, but on what what political winds are blowing at the time.

As for the sugar cane ethanol being developed by government research, that is nonsense. It has long been known how to make ethanol from sugar; what the government of Brazil did is to subsidize its production, and no one has demonstrated to my satisfaction that this was actually a beneficial thing to Brazilian society as a whole.

cld,

I could not decipher what you meant when you wrote that prices could be pushed back down. By who? And if the cost cannot be raised, then you are fighting a losing battle, and we are debating for no reason at all. Fossil fuels will be used until depletion.

A tax will raise the cost of fossil fuel use. It is the correct method for doing so if you are concerned about carbon emissions, and nothing else will work to do so other than natural contraints on supply itself.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on June 24, 2007 at 12:44 AM | PERMALINK

cld,

Also, I do think nuclear is the future for pretty much all baseline power production on the planet, and I would point out that the 75 year supply you mentioned is a canard. There is enough uranium accessible at a range of affordable prices to power the world for several thousand years, or more. There has been no exploration for sources for over 30 years. That is already changing and exploration will expand greatly in the coming decades. Supply is not an issue. The issue with nuclear lie elsewhere, and I don't dismiss them, but they will not deter its growth.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on June 24, 2007 at 12:52 AM | PERMALINK

Read this at tomdispatch.com:

The Pentagon v. Peak Oil
How Wars of the Future May Be Fought Just to Run the Machines That Fight Them
By Michael T. Klare

"Sixteen gallons of oil. That's how much the average American soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan consumes on a daily basis -- either directly, through the use of Humvees, tanks, trucks, and helicopters, or indirectly, by calling in air strikes. Multiply this figure by 162,000 soldiers in Iraq, 24,000 in Afghanistan, and 30,000 in the surrounding region (including sailors aboard U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf) and you arrive at approximately 3.5 million gallons of oil: the daily petroleum tab for U.S. combat operations in the Middle East war zone.

Multiply that daily tab by 365 and you get 1.3 billion gallons: the estimated annual oil expenditure for U.S. combat operations in Southwest Asia. That's greater than the total annual oil usage of Bangladesh, population 150 million -- and yet it's a gross underestimate of the Pentagon's wartime consumption.

Such numbers cannot do full justice to the extraordinary gas-guzzling expense of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After all, for every soldier stationed "in theater," there are two more in transit, in training, or otherwise in line for eventual deployment to the war zone -- soldiers who also consume enormous amounts of oil, even if less than their compatriots overseas. Moreover, to sustain an "expeditionary" army located halfway around the world, the Department of Defense must move millions of tons of arms, ammunition, food, fuel, and equipment every year by plane or ship, consuming additional tanker-loads of petroleum. Add this to the tally and the Pentagon's war-related oil budget jumps appreciably, though exactly how much we have no real way of knowing.

And foreign wars, sad to say, account for but a small fraction of the Pentagon's total petroleum consumption. Possessing the world's largest fleet of modern aircraft, helicopters, ships, tanks, armored vehicles, and support systems -- virtually all powered by oil -- the Department of Defense (DoD) is, in fact, the world's leading consumer of petroleum. It can be difficult to obtain precise details on the DoD's daily oil hit, but an April 2007 report by a defense contractor, LMI Government Consulting, suggests that the Pentagon might consume as much as 340,000 barrels (14 million gallons) every day. This is greater than the total national consumption of Sweden or Switzerland..."

Posted by: consider wisely always on June 24, 2007 at 5:13 AM | PERMALINK

Only one practical course at this time. Smaller cars. A Hummer H23 perhaps?

Posted by: Luther on June 24, 2007 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

"Because, if there are only 75 years of uranium left, isn't it safer to burn it all before the terrorists get it?"
Posted by: cld on June 23, 2007 at 1:44 PM

You are on to something there- use !Fear of Terrorists! to get us to do something sensible about GHG emissions. It seems that is the only motivator that appears to have worked over the past several years. Reason? HA

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on June 24, 2007 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Yancey Ward: It has long been known how to make ethanol from sugar; what the government of Brazil did is to subsidize its production, and no one has demonstrated to my satisfaction that this was actually a beneficial thing to Brazilian society as a whole.

What government-funded development of ethanol did in Brazil, over the course of about 20 years, was reduce the price of production to where ethanol costs less than gasoline, on an energy-equivalent basis.

By "all those things", did you mean government-funded development of jet engines and radar? You want to end government funding of roads? Do you think that the private sector should take over protection of the oil fields in the Middle East? Clearly that's a thoughtless throw-away line.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 24, 2007 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Yancey Ward: A tax will raise the cost of fossil fuel use. It is the correct method for doing so if you are concerned about carbon emissions, and nothing else will work to do so other than natural contraints on supply itself.

Sadly, the senate bill did not even reduce the tax subsidies to the oil industry. As you noted, those subsidies are only in there for political purposes, the winds of the past, so to speak.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 24, 2007 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

how much uranium is available and how long will it be before we run up against peak-uranium if we focus on nuclear energy?
Posted by: cld on June 23, 2007 at 11:53 AM

Currently we use U-235 for fission reactions. U-238 becomes usable when radiated into Plutonium 239, but that's a weapons fuel. Thorium also irradiates into a useable fuel, as I recall, so the volume of available nuclear fuel is good -- as long as we're willing to go for fuel reprocessing and fuel breeding, two very unpopular directions as the moment.

Posted by: beb on June 24, 2007 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

The compressed air powered car tha cld is talking about nears a sad resemblence of vaporware since no one has ever seen a prototype vehicle and certainly not one that has a range of 150 miles or a top speed of 135 miles per hour as has sometimes been touted. An air powered car would be great for crowded, polluted cities like Bombay or Calcutta but it's hard to imagine that compressed air contains enough energy while a common criticism of hydrogen fueld vehicles is that there's too little energy contained in a tak of compressed hydrogen. And hydrogen fueled vehicles get the bulk of their energy from the combustion of hydrogen with air. If compresse hydrogen is inadequate, how can compressed air do better?

Posted by: beb on June 24, 2007 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

Nuclear, solar, wind, geothermal, or conservation are the only ways to reduce CO2 emissions. Means more dams. It is hard to keep a carbon tax from being regressive without taking away its teeth or creating a venue for scams. More insulation traps more radon. Local ordinances or residential zone rulings keep people from erecting rooftop windmills, panels, or letting their grass grow long. Higher MPG mandates for Detroit seem to be the path of least resistence, without really offering real emissions reduction.

The choice is easy: 1) tax gasoline, encourage wind and solar, build nukes, open windows, discourage A/C, dress light in summer, wear wool in winter; or 2) wait until 2050 and let those people figure out what to do when oil is $300 / gallon. The "spot price is everything / live for the present" solution is #2.

I'd pay maybe $1,500 for a scooter or maybe $10,000 for a tiny car powered by a solar panel at home that got its juice by day and transfered to the Li-ion cell at night. The vehicle range could be extended by plugs at the destination or a portable-swappable booster cell or propane tank. However, I cannot buy one at any local dealership. And I can imagine that wealthy people who were to buy such things would get them in addition to conventional vehicles, and their teenagers would still want to get prestige or muscle autos. The "green" vehicles would end up sitting in the garage or on cinder blocks.

Vote-wise, a giant pickup or SUV in the driveway with a "support W & the troops" bumper sticker is worth 500 electric 20 mph scooters in a non-existent showroom. Can't imagine tubby Al and Tipper riding one to get groceries.

No, the best solution is to think nothing of the 'morrow, act hoggish about any fossil fuels we can use today, build a foreign policy around oil security, buy Exxon or BP shares, and let the grandkids curse us in 2050.

Posted by: JKoch on June 25, 2007 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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