Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 10, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

ENDING THE ADDICTION....Amory Lovins on reducing our oil use:

MJ: So how could Washington best cut fuel consumption?

AL: ....For cars, the most effective thing would be a "feebate": In the showroom, less-efficient models would have a corresponding fee, while the more-efficient ones would get a rebate paid for by the fees. That way when choosing what model you want you would pay attention to fuel savings over its whole life, not just the first year or two. It turns out that the automakers can actually make more money this way because they will want to get their cars from the fee zone into the rebate zone by putting in more technology. The technology has a higher profit margin than the rest of the vehicle.

This is one of my favorite ideas, but I almost never it see it get any love. It's revenue neutral, it's progressive, it's simple to implement, it incentivizes good behavior without any draconian regulation, and it's highly effective. So why the low profile? Is it considered a political nonstarter? Or what?

Here's a further suggestion: require stickers to list the estimated cost of fuel consumption over a five year period. The estimate doesn't have to be perfect, just close enough to make it clear to consumers how much more one car costs than another over its life. Upside: it's free. Downsides: none that I can think of.

Kevin Drum 1:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (91)

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Fart!

Posted by: troll on June 10, 2008 at 1:31 AM | PERMALINK

The neocons have decided it will be more economically efficient to burn bodies directly instead of sending our solders to the Middle East to exchange their blood for oil. Hence, war with Iran is an important part of our national energy policy.

The next great “breakthrough” will be a growing appreciation of the efficiencies that result from the burning of humans as fuel. This process allows the body's organic matter to directly contribute to the economic growth of society without the thousands of years that are needed to convert organic matter into oil reserves. The administration's current "blood-for-oil" policy will not sustain us.

The neocons are looking out for our well-being. The future is in burning the bodies of "undesirables" to allow the rest of us to prosper. Not only will there be benefits from harvesting the poor, infirmed, or elderly that result from the laws of thermo-science, the economic benefits and economies of scale that will result from consumption of humans for fuel add more value to the administrations policies.

Until people become useless to the ruling class, they participate in our economic system adding to the creation of wealth. When their economic usefulness no longer serves the needs of the ruling elite, we convert the surplus value of their labor into an energy commodity. The powerful interests that will benefit from this economically efficient production cannot be stopped - just consider it another example of "the-invisible hand" that guides our economy slapping you in the face.

Posted by: on June 10, 2008 at 1:36 AM | PERMALINK

I don't get the part about needing to be efficient over the life of the car. Isn't this just a showroom sticker-price enhancement? Are you actually billed/paid each year based on performance?

Posted by: Mark on June 10, 2008 at 1:57 AM | PERMALINK

"to make it clear to consumers how much more one car costs than another over its life. Upside: it's free. Downsides: none that I can think of."

How would dodge and honda stack up side by side? If it wasn't for the V-8, where would American car companies be? And once V-8 expenses are exposed as cost-prohibitive, what would happen? American auto makers all of a sudden realize the err of their ways and shape up to the competition?

Posted by: A Different Matt on June 10, 2008 at 2:10 AM | PERMALINK

A feebate is less efficient than a carbon tax, so we should just institute a carbon tax. You don't want to impose a feebate on top of a carbon tax, because that would be double taxation. You would get less than the efficient level of emissions.

Requiring automakers to put the cost of fuel consumption isn't a bad idea. Should improve consumer decision-making.

Posted by: mk on June 10, 2008 at 2:21 AM | PERMALINK

"Here's a further suggestion: require stickers to list the estimated cost of fuel consumption over a five year period. The estimate doesn't have to be perfect, just close enough to make it clear to consumers how much more one car costs than another over its life."

It's been a while since I've looked at car price tags, but I think that the current labels provide estimates of annual fuel costs. Lots of on-line tools, like Fueleconomy.gov provides ways to compare the fuel efficiency of different vehicles, including the annual cost of fuel (e.g., Dodge Viper, $3900; Toyota Prius, $1282).

Feebates come up in the California legislature almost annually. Almost immediately after the introduction of a feebate bill, the auto dealers association lobbies like crazy and so far has squashed every attempt. During the bills' brief life, environmentalists and energy hawks show a lot of love for the feebate idea, but they aren't strong enough to counter the auto dealers. Perhaps $4.50/gallon gas will change that...

Another thing: over the medium term, we need to start thinking about dollars per mile, not dollars per gallon. I don't buy gasoline because it's a pleasant liquid, I buy it to get from point A to B. If my car got 90 mpg, $6 per gallon gas wouldn't be any more financially painful than $2 per gallon with a 30 mpg car.

Posted by: meander on June 10, 2008 at 2:27 AM | PERMALINK

I'd throw in making instantaneous gas mileage displays mandatory on all cars. It would only cost a few bucks per vehicle, but it would give people immediate feedback on how to maximize their mileage. It's fairly addictive, actually.

All the data is already being collected by the onboard computer. All that's required is a display.

Posted by: Tentakles on June 10, 2008 at 3:06 AM | PERMALINK

All these policies are great ideas that might have been important before peak oil, when we needed non-market forces to push us into acting with a bit more foresight. Had we adopted them around the end of the Carter administration, and had we listened to Carter and kept in place his alternative energy programs, the oil shock we're experiencing might have been delayed, lessened, mostly prevented.

Instead we went into prodigal mode, and hit peak oil hard and early. Gasoline will hit $5 and keep right on climbing, and the invisible hand will do its stuff the way it always does : by hurting those on the margin. $10 gas will produce such a clamor for fuel efficiency as we've never experienced.

So at this point, extra non-market incentives are a bit superfluous; a day late and a dollar short.

Posted by: joel hanes on June 10, 2008 at 3:08 AM | PERMALINK

The question isn't good ideas; there are plenty of good ideas. The question is, how do you make it stick? We responded pretty well to the last oil crisis in the 70s - we all bought fuel efficient cars, CAFE standards worked, and we broke the back of the oil cartel, which sent oil prices plummeting. And then we proceeded to forget all the lessons, and started buying SUVs, and now we're back to square one. With the feebate, eventually everyone will buy the more efficient cars until there is no money in the feebate jar. Then they'll have to lower the feebate threshhold, and then everyone will again buy the more efficient cars. Gas will then become cheap again, and then people will complain about the feebate being a tax on the poor, and the rich won't care because they can pay it, so it gets repelled. Rinse and repeat.

Posted by: Andy on June 10, 2008 at 3:16 AM | PERMALINK

"So how could Washington best cut fuel consumption?"

This is nuts. Washington can cut green house gases by paying a hefty fee to energy conservers everytime Washington engages in energy inefficient activities.

Washington could, quit giving cars to congressmen unless they pay the full cost.

Washington could quit giving local government the wink and nod that they will be saved from excess energy conservation.

Washington could make the defense appropriations board independent enough to reduce defense earmarks.

Washington could reduce junket flights for congressmen.

Washington could reduce subsidies for local industry.

I could go on with what Washington could do with their 38% share of the economy, but do you think Washington would listen?

Why is Washington worrying about the 62% of the economy they do not control when Washington is likely far more inefficient.

Posted by: Matt on June 10, 2008 at 3:18 AM | PERMALINK

You're not listening.

Gas will never again be cheap.
There's no need to make plans for the contingency that gas dips below $3 / gal -- nah gonna happen.
The Saudis cannot increase production even when W grovels. Humanity will never pump petroleum out of the ground any faster than we did in 2007.

Energy prices have just taken an irreversible step function, and the world has changed qualitatively; we just haven't completely realized it yet. We're like Wile E. Coyote, suspended over the canyon.

Life as you knew it is over.
Hold on; it gets bumpy from here on in.

Posted by: joel hanes on June 10, 2008 at 3:37 AM | PERMALINK

Neither of these ideas is "simple to implement" and it'd be fairly easy for the car-lobby to squabble long enough over the definition of "typical usage" until they have to restart the process due to changes in circumstances (i.e. technical advances, shifts in usage).
Even if you could task a neutral agency with developing e.g. three typical usage patterns and determining the fuel consumption on these for every car and make displaying the results mandatory, there'd be enough ways to game the system. Everything that weights anything would become an additional extra not considered in the mandatory estimates. Perhaps the engines would even be tweaked to provide maximum savings under the marketed usage, ignoring massive inefficiencies elsewhere (i.e. small cars would be tweaked to city-use only, ignoring the fact that lots of poor, single and or young people use them as all-purpose vehicles. Another worry is overall ecological impact: you don't want to get to the point where using lots of oil in production is beneficial from a sales perspective.)
In the end you have another bureaucracy, lots of haggling and bitterness, incentive for corruption and the overall additional effect is tiny. Gas prices and car magazines are doing a good enough job making fuel efficiency visible and important.

Posted by: markus on June 10, 2008 at 3:56 AM | PERMALINK

The UK has just introduced the "fee" half of the feebate (so it is not tax neutral), whacking up to 950 pounds on the cost of "gas-guzzling" cars. It will presumably have some effect but the question is why people insist on introducing taxes which have low correlation with the actual pollution caused.

Some people drive 4000 miles per year, some drive 40000. The thing that should be taxed is gas itself, which (surprise) has high correlation with the pollution caused.

If Lovins succeeds with his aim of forcing people to drive more efficient cars then the so-called feebate will end up not being tax neutral unless more and more cars are sucked into the fee category and more and more taken out of the rebate category. Perhaps he considers this to be a good thing.

Posted by: wab on June 10, 2008 at 4:03 AM | PERMALINK

High gas prices are nothing compared to the gas rationing that's just around the corner.
People who have kidded themselves into thinking high oil prices are just a temporary blip due solely to greedy Arabs or market manipulation are in for a rude awakening.

You can't squeeze oil out of a depleted field any more than you can squeeze blood out of a turnip.

There isn't time to diddle around with wishful consumer approaches ... people who truly can't afford high gas prices are driving used cars anyway. Many middle class people who spend half their lives in their SUVs driving Amber and Joshua to their various after school activities are bemoaning the price of gas but aren't abandoning their wasteful vehicles or rethinking their driving habits in the numbers required to truly conserve.

What we need is a government that is more concerned with the nation's long-term well being instead of short-term profits to make the hard choices and motivate the population to get off its collective ass and make some sacrifices instead of striving for self gratification while hoping that everything will turn out okay if we pray hard enough. Maybe angels can rub their wings real hard and make oil.

We need to divert our ridiculous "defense" spending budget into R&D for alternative fuels, mass transit, and we need legislation to drastically increase mileage quotas.

Sure, we can spend billions of dollars by stealing oil from the Middle East. And we can drill in nature areas. But ... hello ... that's only going to extend the supply until, what? The last Hummer comes off the line? And invading countries to steal their oil certainly is not endearing us to the global community. A community we're going to be more and more required to negotiate with once the tanks are dry on our tanks.

Russia is the second largest oil producing country. What an interesting future lies in store. About time we started facing it realistically.

Posted by: Cassandra on June 10, 2008 at 4:42 AM | PERMALINK

The US DOD touts something called Performance Based Logistics (PBL). You don't buy a vehicle but a vehicle that performs according to a specified set of criteria for a given number of years.

This could easily be translated to buying cars. You buy a car and pay for it every year based upon the fuel efficiency that it achieved during the previous year.

Posted by: gregor on June 10, 2008 at 4:53 AM | PERMALINK

Here's another idea to reduce our oil consumption - Become a vegetarian!

The production of meat eats up 15-30% of our fuel consumption in the U.S., depending on the season and how you measure it...

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on June 10, 2008 at 5:46 AM | PERMALINK

I don't see how this is "free" if it works, there will not be any folks buying the "less efficient" vehicles, so where is the revenue for the "more efficient" buyer's to get paid out of?

If you are not going to pay the rebate, the is it a rebate? Or is it a marketing gimmick to get people to purchase a particular new car? In truth there are already many incentives to purchase more fuel efficient autos, they just aren't very great. On a fuel cost basis, you only save ~$400 by averaging 30 mpg vs. 24 mpg. So unless you are in the market for a new car, for other reasons, it makes no sense to spend 15-20K to "save" $400 per year.

Posted by: c. on June 10, 2008 at 6:02 AM | PERMALINK

here's why it will never happen: "are YEW telling ME what kind of car i can buy, and if i don't do what YEW tell me, i gotta pay YEW?"

Posted by: hee haw mcjesus on June 10, 2008 at 6:13 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe THIS would have a chance of passing:
free gun to each person who car pools or uses mass transit

Population control and gas conservation in one handy piece of legislation.

Posted by: Channeling Heston on June 10, 2008 at 7:27 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe you all haven't noticed but GM is closing 5 plants devoted to giant SUVs and even bigger pimped up pick up trucks. It is talking about closing Hummer down. Consumers are actually insisting on more fuel efficient vehicles.

Joel is right. We are beyond peak oil, but peak oil is not a cliff. It is a long downward slope. The economy will change over the next decades as we move from oil to something else. Change is opportunity.

The one thing we can't do is overreact. The current bubble will pass. Gas prices will drop to the $3.00 - $3.25 level. When that happens we can't breath a sigh of relief. Over the long term gasoline prices will rise as the ever more expensive and rare commodity runs out. Feebates and carbon taxes make sense during that coming time of false reprieve.

Posted by: Ron Byers on June 10, 2008 at 7:48 AM | PERMALINK

"Gas will never again be cheap." Aha, another T. Boone Pickens type. That white-haired gent says the world will never produce over 85 mbd while it already is at about 87. The MSM just swallow his erroneous production figues without any challenge.

There is so much business propaganda out there. On Friday an Israeli minister threatened Iran to help his hedge fund buddies in New York who were long oil. I mean, that manipulation really stunk up the news! Yet the MSM didn't go near it.

The fog of war isn't the only fog, folks.

Posted by: Bob M on June 10, 2008 at 7:54 AM | PERMALINK

No mention of the tax rebate/writeoff available to folks who buy a Hummer?
Remove a perverse incentive, and increase revenues if one swell foop?(sic)

Just sayin', that seems like the best place to start, putting all vehicles on a level playing field in that respect ...

Posted by: kenga on June 10, 2008 at 7:56 AM | PERMALINK

The best thing the government could do is reduce safety requirements for cars that are super-efficient. At 50mpg, let the airbag requirement fall. At 70, no more need for crash tests. This would spur innovation and allow companies to experiment, while allowing cars to compete with motorcycles (which, simply because they have two or three wheels, don't have as many safety requirements as cars.)

People say: but I don't want to drive anything unsafe! I respond: motorcycles and scooters have riders.

And raising the fuel economy of most vehicles from an average of 16 to 19 would save millions of gallons of fuel. Is this technologically impossible? Only because we buy dumb vehicles.

Posted by: jon on June 10, 2008 at 8:06 AM | PERMALINK

MK at 2:21 AM,

Two questions. Why is a carbon tax more efficient than the feebate? And why not apply both if they are both effective? What's the conflict?

Posted by: Rick B on June 10, 2008 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

How about a programmable trip odometer where you punch in the price of a gallon of gas, and it displays the cost of a trip as you drive --- with annoying audio reminders at significant intervals (click at $5, bell tone at $10, synthesized voice of Osama BL insulting America in Arabic at $100)?

Posted by: JeremiadJones on June 10, 2008 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK
Aha, another T. Boone Pickens type.
Interesting you should mention that - the WSJ had a front page blurb a few weeks back that mentioned Pickens. More specifically, it mentioned that he and his company were contracting for 2 BILLION dollars in wind-powered electric generation equipment over the next 5 years or so. Interesting choice for someone who is lying about future trends in petroleum costs. Posted by: kenga on June 10, 2008 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

As long as workers make a net contribution to the general economic good, then market forces of supply and demand will gravitate towards equilibrium where those workers will live because price the free market places on economically productive workers will be higher than the demand for their death. These humans will be “harvested” and converted into energy to run our cars, heat the rest of our homes, and provide for an expanding, hi-tech lifestyle.

When that same worker no longer is making a net contribution to the general economic good, then market forces will move the price towards equilibrium where that worker will die because the price of that worker’s body will be less than the free market price for that worker’s economic usefulness as a living human.

They key, and you will love this Rex, is that we eliminate all government interference with these natural, God-given market forces. This is why a republican president, after considerable consultation with Jesus, will dismantle Social Security and all other “safety nets” that artificially boost the price for humans beyond their net economic contribution to the general economic good.

The “Ownership Society” will remove all of the Marxist forces that you, Rex, seem to by trying to deny. When we allow free markets to determine the relative net worth of each individual based on:

(1). Each person’s accumulation of wealth

(2). Contribution to the general economic good; then we will be allowing God’s “invisible hand” to fairly nd objectively assess each person’s right to live. In other words, we will be handing the “design” of our society back to the “intelligent designer.”

Of course, God’s will reaches globally, so we will need to create a more equitable balance between the net providers of labor and the net consumers of labor. We will need to prevent immigration and allow the demand for each individual to reflect the economies of scale within each divinely created boundary. If we immediately deport or lock up all illegal immigrants, that will correct market distortions in the supply and demand.

This, in turn, will insure that those human beings that the free market determines to be “surplus lives” to be distributed across global boundaries consistent with global plans. Not only will this restore market forces, but it will tend to accelerate the elimination of people of color, starting with the world’s poorest nations.

While increasing our supply of energy will be an important outcome of these new market policies regarding the value of life, perhaps most importantly, these forces will allow the oligopoly that God has created to control our energy needs to maintain increasing profits. This, in turn, will place downward pressures on the value of human bodies, more fully assuring that mother earth will be able to provide for the economic needs of the world’s affluent and elite.

Perhaps subsidizing the existence of the poor made sense under “compassionate conservative” principles from earlier times. Clearly, with the ability to convert human bodies to high quality energy resources, we can avoid the costly proposition of exchanging human blood for oil.

The public expenditures for the military represent a government subsidy for an inefficient energy market. Even turning those expenses over to well-connected military contractors without any fiscal accountability (i.e. Halliburton) does not change the fact that free markets are being distorted in the process.

It is time to wring the last socialist subsidies out of our economy and allow free markets to more fully determine who will inherit the earth and who will not be able to pass into the Kingdom of Heaven through the eye of a needle. Of course, eliminating the “Paris Hilton” tax will be an important means to that end as well.

Posted by: on June 10, 2008 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

For the umpteenth time: the future is electric cars. GM will unveil it's new entry, the Chevy Volt in 2010. It's a remarkable vehicle with a 3 cylinder engine to recharge the battery and to boost output. The battery is capable of driving the car 40 miles a day on its own, with a full range of 640 miles. To recharge, just plug it in to a common jack or recharge it with the small, clean engine. Pictures suggest this thing is going to be a thing of beauty, and may be the way GM pulls itself out of the hole it has dug for itself.

http://www.chevrolet.com/electriccar/

“We have devoted significant resources to this project: Over 200 engineers and 50 designers are working on the Volt alone, and another 400 are working on related subsystems and electric components. That’s how important we think this is, and that’s how much stock we place in the future of extended-range electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt.” Tony Posawatz of GM

Posted by: Dilbert on June 10, 2008 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

From the perspective of a professional in the tech industry with about 18 years of experience, this is a singularly awful idea, but not for any of the reasons you bring up. Here are a couple of simple truths for you:

- car companies are NOT technology companies. Or rather, they are, just not competent ones - domestic moreso than foreign, but still...
- more parts means more stuff which can/will break on your car
- shop labor costs North of $100/hour these days
- almost NOTHING that breaks on a modern car can be fixed by the owner
- a manufacturer has no incentive to make a high-margin part like a computer doodad last one mile beyond the end of the warranty

Hybrids aside, most of the solutions for automobiles we're looking at work because they're actually simpler than gas-powered cars, not more complex. The real solutions to a LOT of global warming issues involves going much, much lower tech.

If you're going less than 5 miles and carrying less than 20 lb. of cargo, ride a bike. Fuel is included in the price of your groceries, there's almost nothing to break, mechanics are pretty reasonable, you'll improve your health/fitness, and the vehicle itself costs between 1/20th and 1/200th as much as a car. It's really not a fair comparison.

Posted by: Blake on June 10, 2008 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

One presumes the "feebate" will go back to the government so Congresscritters can dispense more goodies to their favorite green energy companies. Another important investment in the future.

Google "alternative energy company" and you get over 3.5 million hits. Apparently, the way to reach energy salvation is to make everyone rich selling alternative energy schemes like the proverbial three Chinese on the moon who all got rich selling rocks to each other.

Posted by: trashhauler on June 10, 2008 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

"The current bubble will pass. Gas prices will drop to the $3.00 - $3.25 level."

Finite oil. More demand. Gas prices are not going to drop (unless some politicians go off their meds and decide to divvy up our reserves).

Finite. Capice?

Considering that many experts feel we peaked in 2005 and it only took until 2008 to drive the prices this high, I can't imagine how anyone would think prices are going to drop and maintain over a long period of time, all the while with demand increasing exponentially.

Gotta love that barrel-half-full mentality.

Posted by: Prepare Like An Ostrich on June 10, 2008 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

"If you're going less than 5 miles and carrying less than 20 lb. of cargo, ride a bike."

I hope Schwinn is plowing money into wider seats and better shocks for today's ample American asses. (Good luck getting Americans to ride bikes. These are the people who waste five gallons of gas circling the mall parking lot looking for the closest space.)

Posted by: Charlie Fatlas on June 10, 2008 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I think the "feebate" idea sounds like a good one, but I've got to agree with Andy about how you are going to "make it stick" over the longer haul, should oil prices drop enough for a long enough period before people are repealing it.

Of course, this assumes that oil prices *can* go lower. Also, as joel mentions, if oil *doesn't* go lower then you don't need to bother with any mechanism because people are already buying more fuel efficient cars.

I hope that the latter is the case, because it would make everything so much easier and simpler. Peak Oil is Here Now™ would be in everybody's best interest because we could start down a conservation and alternate energy path that is unambiguous and more importantly you would have consensus that there is a problem that needs to be solved.

However, I believe that the oil price can and probably will crash again. It won't be a repeat of the 80s because no new large fields will be coming online-the price drop will not be as dramatic as before. The primary reason for the crash will be demand destruction from a worldwide recession.

That might lull us back into complacency again for a few years, certainly not 15-20 years, but long enough that we might backslide again. That's why I prefer CAFE as the primary mechanism to get the gains-it can get us through a complacent period with less likelihood it will be tampered with.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on June 10, 2008 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

Feebates, fuel consumption stickers on windows are useless unless MPG is thoroughly displayed. Better yet, why not have a dashboard display on dealer models for test drives? Have customer drive 10 miles of combined hiway and city type route. Go back to dealership and record mpg. Customer "sees" 20mpg, or 40mpg depending on car.

Then calculate a 200 mile trip for both vehicles. For 20mpg, 50 bucks at San Francisco prices 6/10/08. For 40mpg, 25 bucks.

We ain't gonna wean ourselves from guzzlers unless honesty prevails!


Posted by: Tom Nicholson on June 10, 2008 at 9:11 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting choice for someone who is lying about future trends in petroleum costs.

T. Boone Pickens is not lying about the future: he is lying about the present. Check the world production figures and see if they are over 85 mbd, his "peak" figure, or not. I found 86.94 mbd as of March 2008. Sorry, but the guy is a demonstrable liar.

Posted by: Bob M on June 10, 2008 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

The "feebate" idea is always touted as being revenue neutral. But the only way that it can be revenue neutral is if it has no influence over consumption.

The idea is to put a fee on low-milage cars and then use that fee to pay a rebate on high-milage cars. This would give the incentive for people to purchase the high-milage cars. But who pays the rebate when everybody runs out and buys a Prius and nobody buys a Hummer? Somebody has to pay those rebates.

If the fees and rebates are based on any objective criteria, then somebody's going to get stuck with the bill when consumers opt for the rebate rather than the fee.

The other option is to impose a substantial fee on low-milage cars and award a piddling rebate for high-milage cars. But this all-stick/no-carrot approach is no better than a carbon tax.

Posted by: duck duck goose on June 10, 2008 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

Does anyone remember the repuke talking points on Enron? Why the silence from politicans and MSM to bring oversight, regulation, to hedge funds and day traders?

Posted by: antiquelt on June 10, 2008 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

There was also some talk, perhaps from Barack Obama, a year or so ago about giving tax credits or subsidies to help individuals with older, less fuel efficient cars trade these in so they could get newer ones with better mileage. They wouldn't be huge, perhaps just $1,000 if I remember the story correctly, but the idea is that it might spur enough people to make this decision to make a difference in pollution and gas use. I don't know if it would have the unintended consequence of making people drive more, but on the surface, it seems like a plan to consider.

Posted by: Brian on June 10, 2008 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

Prepare Like An Ostrich, the sky isn't falling. Today's steep rise in prices is a bubble driven by speculators. Already demand is dropping in the US. As demand drops, so will prices at least temporarily. On the other hand the long term prognosis is for ever rising prices.

Posted by: Ron Byers on June 10, 2008 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

Good idea, but big cars aren't really a problem. They can be banned.

The real problem is Washington's addiction to immigration and the consequent overpopulation. In a very few decades we will have a population rivaling India's or China's with their problems of resource shortages. As our borders dissolve under increasing Hispanic power, scavengers from all over the world will pour in.

Naturally this is good for a few hundred Washington politicians. If you have an addiction to spending, more taxpayers is the answer. If you're owned by big business like John McCain, then a desperate labor force like that of India or China is globally competitive on wages. If you're a Democrat, then what could be better than a nation of a billion poor people looking for government welfare programs? Then of course there are the liberals who are driven by a neurotic need to show how welcoming they are to immigrants of color.

Posted by: Luther on June 10, 2008 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

Until very recently, the SUV was the most profitable car (generally speaking), so the auto companies would've been dead set against making them harder to buy because of an extra fee.

And if this idea somehow got passed now, how quick do you think American auto manufacturers would be to offer a good range of fuel efficient cars? If they behave like the have for the past several decades, they will build the same stuff as always and try to push them on people with Big Incentives!!!

Posted by: mroberts on June 10, 2008 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

The California Assembly has had feebate legislation on the table for a couple of years now -- it very likely could be passed by simple majority vote, as the California Constitution's supermajority requirement applies only to taxes, not fees that impose regulatory charges linked to particular activities that impose costs. One would expect superhigh gas prices to do some of this work (and unlike feebates high gas prices do not create incentives to use older, high polluting cars). But obviously the feebate is a minor reform in light of what we're up against.

Posted by: sd on June 10, 2008 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

Dilbert wrote: "For the umpteenth time: the future is electric cars. GM will unveil its new entry, the Chevy Volt in 2010. It's a remarkable vehicle with a 3 cylinder engine to recharge the battery and to boost output."

It is ironic that GM is the car manufacturer that is finally getting the hybrid car right.

The complex dual-drive-train technology of current hybrid cars (e.g. the Prius), where both the internal combustion motor and the electric motor drive the wheels, makes these cars much more expensive and high-maintenance than they need to be.

The Chevy Volt does it the right way: it is an exclusively electric-drive vehicle; only the electric motor drives the wheels. The internal combustion motor is just a generator, which produces electricity to charge the battery and/or power the electric motor on long trips.

This is a much simpler, more efficient, less expensive, lower maintenance approach to making a pluggable hybrid. Essentially, the Volt is really a pure electric car with an auxiliary onboard generator. And when driven within the range of the battery -- which covers the vast majority of most Americans' day-to-day driving -- the Volt is a pure electric vehicle.

Electric cars have the potential to be a "disruptive technology" that will transform the automobile industry. If they are developed along the lines of personal computers -- modular designs using interchangeable components (motors, batteries, electronics) with industry-standard form-factors and interfaces -- the major automobile manufacturers could well lose control of the industry, just as IBM lost control of the personal computer industry after it created the open-architecture IBM PC. And the cost and maintenance requirements of automobiles could plummet, while their performance, efficiency and reliability drastically improves. And since electric cars could be easily upgradeable (e.g. swap out the motor or battery for a new improved technology and double your miles per charge), people would buy new cars less often.

I would note that while much of the discussion of electric cars addresses their benefits with regard to reducing CO2 emissions and superior fuel economy, they have another huge benefit: they emit NO local air pollution. The "Code Red" air quality alerts we are having in DC this week -- where the outdoor air is declared unhealthy and unsafe to breathe -- are a stark reminder that millions of Americans still live with seriously unhealthy levels of toxic air pollution, almost all of it from automobile emissions.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on June 10, 2008 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin quotes the great Amory Lovins: "In the showroom, less-efficient models would have a corresponding fee, while the more-efficient ones would get a rebate paid for by the fees."

Can we make the efficiency rebate retroactive? I have driven a 1991 Ford Festiva (designed by Mazda, built by Kia) for the last 15 years -- it gets 38 MPG in city driving and about 50 MPG on the highway, and at 17 years old, still runs like a champ. I think I deserve a rebate, if not a medal.

More seriously, instead of "feebate" schemes, and Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, we should just mandate a minimum fuel economy. Very simple: it shall be illegal to manufacture or sell any car that gets less than 50 miles per gallon.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on June 10, 2008 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

but big cars aren't really a problem. They can be banned.

You'll pry my Ford Extinction out from under my cold dead ass.

Posted by: thersites on June 10, 2008 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

Europe has taxed cars based on horsepower for years. That's pretty simple. Requiring trucks to get even two extra miles per gallon would have a significant effect. Doing away with "drive-through" service would have a significant effect as well, especially on pollution.

But, as mentioned above, Jimmy Carter made energy conservation and alternatives a priority. He was ridiculed out of office, and replaced with a man who cemented greed and excess as primary American values.

Posted by: alibubba on June 10, 2008 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

It is a stupid idea just like the CAFE regulations.

The goal you are attempting to reach is better served by a fuel tax. Not everyone that buys an fuel inefficient auto does so with waste on their minds, nor does everyone that buys an efficient one do so with thrift as a goal.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on June 10, 2008 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

If SUVs are truly on the way out, this may be my last chance to tell this joke:

Today, Ford Motor Company announced its new entry in the mega-SUV lineup, the Ford Theatre. The vehicle, an enlarged version of the Ford Expedition, will feature a 27-inch television screen mounted directly behind the driver's seat, and two rows of three back seats configured in arcs for the perfect viewing angle. Options will include a popcorn machine and an add-on soundtrack of an annoying couple sitting right behind you, conversing.

Ford also announced that its Lincoln division will introduce an upscale version of the Ford Theatre: The Lincoln Assassination.

Posted by: Stuart Eugene Thiel on June 10, 2008 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

"incentivizes"? no no no oh that hurts...a half assed neologism most ugly, most foul...after such abomination what forgiveness? Zee poor lecteur must find renewal and cleanliness. She, devout atheist, will read the King James today, fair dose of Whitman, extended immersion in Proust (in translation) and seek solace in his obsessions and save her life and then throw in some Chaucer in ME when our emerging tongue had pre- eschatalogical pre-lapsarian purity and redemption we now realize. In the Beginning was the Word...

Posted by: Tolstoy on June 10, 2008 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

Tolstoy, what are you conversatin' about?
(Actually heard on TV the other day, as in "I was conversatin' with my friends.") Try also a quick dose of Patrick O'Brian. Even if you hate sea stories, the prose is like music.

But Stuart Eugene Thiel at 11:05 wins the thread!

Posted by: thersites the pedantic @$$#ole on June 10, 2008 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

Uh Thersites, didn't you say that last week a gang of illegal aliens drove your Extinction into your backyard and set it on fire?

Posted by: Car Insurance Company on June 10, 2008 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

That was a mistake, Car Insurance Company.
They siphoned out all the gas first, and the fire didn't really catch. Then they threatened me if I didn't file a claim. But it's all okay, now. Really. Where's that damn shredder?

Posted by: thersites the nervous fidgeter on June 10, 2008 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

Yancey Ward wrote: "It is a stupid idea just like the CAFE regulations. The goal you are attempting to reach is better served by a fuel tax."

The CAFE regulations should be replaced by a mandatory minimum fuel economy for all cars, making it illegal to manufacture or sell any new vehicle that gets less than, say, 50 miles per gallon.

AND we should implement a carbon tax, which for gasoline, diesel and other fossil fuels used in vehicles, would be collected at the pump.

What Americans don't want to hear is that the best thing that could happen for this country and the planet is for gasoline prices to continue to increase, relatively rapidly, and steadily.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on June 10, 2008 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

Brian on June 10, 2008 at 9:51 AM

Yes, it's going to take a long time to purge the SUVs out of the system. It wasn't that long ago when they accounted for 50% of all new vehicles sold.

Meanwhile, I read an article in this past weekend's paper saying that on trade-in, dealers are commonly offering far below book value, by several thousand dollars, on SUVs. There are plenty of people who would be upside down on their car loan with that sort of deal.

The other thing people often don't realize is that SUVs are f$%^&in' expensive! Most new full-size SUVs are in the $30K-$40K and up range. I've never understood how so many people could afford the damned things.

If you paid $30K for an SUV three or four years ago, want to trade it in now, and can't get more than $12K trade-in value for it...I think you're just plain screwed. It would take many years for the fuel cost savings of a smaller car to amortize the loss on the SUV.

Posted by: Joe Bob on June 10, 2008 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

Not good enough Thersites. Your rates are now doubled.

Posted by: Car Insurance Company on June 10, 2008 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

Tolstoy: "incentivizes"? no no no oh that hurts...a half assed neologism most ugly, most foul...after such abomination what forgiveness?

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore." -- P.G. Wodehouse

Posted by: alex on June 10, 2008 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

True, Alex. But some neoligisms are uglier than others, and "incentivize" is pretty high on the ugly scale.

Posted by: thersites the pedantic @$$#ole on June 10, 2008 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

A carbon tax makes much more sense and needs to be applied based on usage, so that all inefficient vehicles can be retired to the scrapheap ASAP.

Screw this revenue neutral thing. People need to understand that even "virtuous" consumption is consumption, pronto. There are way too many people who appear to believe that buying a Prius and a pint of Whole Foods locally grown strawberries means they're actually absorbing in greenhouse gases through their pores.

Want to be really virtuous? Genetically engineer some plant genes into your body and start producing all your own food with sunlight and water. Otherwise, you're just another consuming mammal.

Posted by: anon on June 10, 2008 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

"incentivize" is pretty high on the ugly scale

Hence it's popularity.

Posted by: alex on June 10, 2008 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

Hence its popularity

Fixed it for ya.

(Couldn't resist.)

Posted by: thersites the language troll on June 10, 2008 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

T. Boone Pickens is not lying about the future: he is lying about the present. Check the world production figures and see if they are over 85 mbd, his "peak" figure, or not. I found 86.94 mbd as of March 2008. Sorry, but the guy is a demonstrable liar.

Whether he was lying, missed the mark or the production figures were overstated by the oil producing countries is the real question. The Saudis play big games with the numbers. They don’t want you to know the reality.

Peak Oil has NOTHING to do with what T. Boone Pickens has said or will say. It is a simple fact that we have discovered and extracted most of the cheap oil (based on the energy cost of extraction and production).

Brasil??? At this point, we lack the technology to extract oil from those kinds of high temperature environments. Any competent geologist can tell you this. Maybe the technology gods will favor us with a solution to push it back ten to twenty years.

It only a matter of when Peak Oil comes, not if. Unless you are one of those abiotic oil idiots. In which case I would say that's what happens when you get your geology and geochemistry at Regent's University.

From here on costs will trend upward. Not consistently, because lowering demand can help in the short term. Long term, you lost the game thirty years ago. Stupid squirrels don’t plan and put away nuts for winter…and then they die.

Posted by: MLuther on June 10, 2008 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist: Electric cars have the potential to be a "disruptive technology" that will transform the automobile industry.

Disruptive from whose POV? They'll save a lot of gas, which is a good thing. To the car manufacturers they're simply a way to sell product in an era of high gas prices, which is fine. While I don't worship at the altar of the market, there are times when it works well, and this is an example of it.

Also, the series hybrid is not a terribly new idea. The basic design (sans batteries) is used in diesel-electric locomotives, and has been used on other vehicles since the early 20th century. This is not to say that there isn't plenty of serious development work to be done - ideas are easy, it's making them practical that's hard.

As far as practical electric or series hybrid cars, there are only three things that are important: batteries, batteries and batteries. That's the technology bottleneck that GM (and everybody else) fears.

If they are developed along the lines of personal computers -- modular designs using interchangeable components (motors, batteries, electronics) with industry-standard form-factors and interfaces

They won't, largely for the reasons you mention. From IBM's POV the design of the PC was a mistake precisely because it could be cloned and anybody could make interchangeable modules.

Also, standard form factors are difficult to shoehorn into a car. That's the reason that desktops are pretty modular, but laptops aren't.

I would note that while much of the discussion of electric cars addresses their benefits with regard to reducing CO2 emissions and superior fuel economy, they have another huge benefit: they emit NO local air pollution.

If they're running pure electric.

I am curious if someone is going to produce a series hybrid with a Stirling engine though. Stirling's are very efficient and, being external combustion engines, emit much lower levels of local pollutants like CO, oxides of nitrogen and unburned hydrocarbons (steamers made in the 1920's can pass current California emission tests). They should also be easy to make multi-fuel capable.

The problem with Stirling's is that they have to warm up and they're hard to throttle (IIRC their efficiency suffers when you throttle them too). GM actually tried to develop a Stirling car but couldn't solve those problems. With a series hybrid though they shouldn't be problems.

Posted by: alex on June 10, 2008 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

thersites the language troll: Fixed it for ya.

You're quite right. Your comment is appreciated, as it incentives me to use better grammar.

Posted by: alex on June 10, 2008 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

Automakers hate this idea because they make more profit on gas-guzzlers than they do on fuel-efficient cars. The biggest issue wit this idea is the fact that car prices are so negotiable. Say you want to buy a Honda Civic, and it carries a feebate of $2,000. I guarantee you that any sort of feebat program will be run through the dealers, so the salesguy will take $2k off the sticker, and try to make it seem like he is giving you a great deal. Folks will fall for this, so the feebate will actually go to the dealer.

Posted by: Eric on June 10, 2008 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

Ron B, not only is demand dropping in the USA, but with 8% inflation rates in India, China and much of Asia you will see consumption drop there soon as well...(my prediction is September, once the Beijing Olympics is over) the speculative bubble will burst and prices will come back down, still "down" is relative, we are probably not going down below $85 per barrel unless there is a worldwide economic depression. so we are likely in a $2.00 to 4.00 per gallon price range on average into 2009. On the other hand, expect to see 4.50 to $5 per gallon this summer.
This should be good news for Obama if he can make the Bush/McSame connection stick.....

Posted by: leftymn on June 10, 2008 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Why worry? I can get a guarantee of $3/gallon gas for the next three years if I buy the right gas-guzzler.

Now there's an incentive for you.

Electric cars? Scalability? There goes our natural gas. Up goes fertilizer prices. Up goes electric rates as new generators must be built to keep up with the increased demand. Up goes pollution as more (and poorer quality) coal is burned.

LA air quality improves, someone else's degrades. More acid rain.

Here are the solutions that will happen automatically - more people move in together to save money. More people move to worse housing that is closer to work. Global starvation increases. US starvation starts to rise again, starting in the South. Worldwide economy contraction.

Oh, and I do agree that there is a certain amount of 'bubble' and 'manipulation' in the current price runup but that does not explain all of it.

Posted by: Tripp the Crazed! on June 10, 2008 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

leftymn,

but with 8% inflation rates in India, China and much of Asia you will see consumption drop there soon as well.

That's the global economic recession (maybe worse) I referred to.

People fail to see how closely energy consumption is linked to the global economy. In many ways energy use the foundation of our global economy.

Cut global energy consumption by 10% and you've just cut the economy by 10%. Global depression. Massive starvation.

People say the easy words and fail to see the ugly meanings behind them.

Posted by: Tripp on June 10, 2008 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

There's only one sure way to cut down on American consumption of the world's natural resources. Destroy our purchasing capability by trashing the dollar.

Maybe Dicke Cheney, Rummy and Co. are really eco-terrorists in deep deep cover...

Posted by: anon on June 10, 2008 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp,
Rather gloomy today aren't we?

Posted by: optical weenie on June 10, 2008 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Rather gloomy today aren't we?

Just blunt I am afraid.

You want a happy prediction? Buy up all the "Ironman" toys you can afford because in twenty-five years they will be worth a fortune.

You will still find buyers, even with the world population down to 3 billion.

My blunt advice, try not to be poor.

Posted by: Tripp on June 10, 2008 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

Another thing: over the medium term, we need to start thinking about dollars per mile, not dollars per gallon. I don't buy gasoline because it's a pleasant liquid, I buy it to get from point A to B. If my car got 90 mpg, $6 per gallon gas wouldn't be any more financially painful than $2 per gallon with a 30 mpg car.
Posted by: meander

I've been doing this for the past several years and have seen the cost per mile of my 20 year old Toyota increase from 8 cents to 12 cents. A big SUV or pickup can easily cost 50 cents, a big diesel rig $1. This paradigm puts fuel costs in proper perspective, so the true costs of short trips can be easily computed.

Wasn't it the auto industry that got us looking at mpg instead of cost per mile (back in the 70s)?

Posted by: slanted tom on June 10, 2008 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

The feebate idea is stupid. Raise the gas tax and use the revenues for public transportation, healthcare, and exempting the first n dollars of income from SS tax.

We are so fucking doomed.

Posted by: PeakVT on June 10, 2008 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

The best way would be to reduce the need of people to drive.

What is the main reason people drive? To get to and from work.

Therefore, at least part of the answer is to incentivize telecommuting.

Posted by: mfw13 on June 10, 2008 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

mfw13,
Forget telecommuting. Incentivise early retirement!

Posted by: optical weenie on June 10, 2008 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp wrote: "Cut global energy consumption by 10% and you've just cut the economy by 10%. Global depression. Massive starvation."

Please explain how reducing energy consumption through elimination of waste and increases in efficiency leads to global depression and massive starvation.

There is a US company that makes a device that captures waste heat from industrial smokestack emissions and uses it to generate electricity. This device is already in use. The manufacturer estimates that if it were fully utilized on every factory smokestack where it is feasible, the amount of electricity generated would be more than is currently generated by all the nuclear power plants in the USA. And all of that energy is now being wasted.

We could achieve the equivalent of doubling the number of nuclear power plants in the USA, just by capturing excess heat energy from industrial processes, that is now being wasted. And that is only one of the many ways in which we waste vast amounts of energy.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on June 10, 2008 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

"If you paid $30K for an SUV three or four years ago, want to trade it in now, and can't get more than $12K trade-in value for it...I think you're just plain screwed. It would take many years for the fuel cost savings of a smaller car to amortize the loss on the SUV..."

Karma, baby. Karma.

It's not as though 3 or 4 years ago people didn't know there was a problem. They just didn't think it was going to screw THEM at that point. Being shortsighted and all. Boohoowahahaha.

Fuck 'em.

I have a hard time empathizing with people who didn't give a shit about anyone else while they drove their gas-guzzling SUVs. Sorry. (Not.)

I say: raise the gas tax. Propose penalties on those who can afford gas-efficient vehicles but choose not to buy them and give rebates to poor folks at car-purchasing time, so they can afford to buy gas-friendly vehicles. It all shakes out in the end.

P.S. If you have a gas hog in your garage...what's your excuse? None? I thought so. (There's an obesity trend in today's children...ever think the kids might benefit from a bike?)

Posted by: Let Them Eat Cake on June 10, 2008 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds interesting. I'm thinking the big oil interests are beginning to fear peak oil and the end of their industry, and have raised prices in their own attempt to get us, the consumers to decrease oil use. This turns out to increase oil industry profits, with the added benefit to them that it will make their product last a little longer.

To the extent the oil industry is able to successfully lobby the auto industry, though, Kevin's idea won't happen, because cheaper-to-drive cars make the oil industry's product actually worth less. People won't need as much gas to get where they want to go.

Posted by: Swan on June 10, 2008 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist: There is a US company that makes a device that captures waste heat from industrial smokestack emissions and uses it to generate electricity. This device is already in use.

Any links or details? This sounds like an interesting use for "waste" heat.

Ok, you can't beat entropy, but you can sure give it a hard time.

Posted by: alex on June 10, 2008 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Alex,
Try googling thermoelectric power generation.

Posted by: optical weenie on June 10, 2008 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

Please explain how reducing energy consumption through elimination of waste and increases in efficiency leads to global depression and massive starvation.

Google Jevon's paradox.

The savings are put - where? If they are put into investments that means an expansion of the economy meaning an expansion of energy usage and hastens the day the energy runs out.

If the savings are simply held that means a contraction of the global economy meaning some starvation.

Look, the global economy either expands, contracts, or stays the same. Expansion is not sustainable. Neither is staying the same. The global economy must contract as we run out of usable cheap energy.

As the contraction happens the people at the 'bottom' will die. A new sustainable balance point will be reached but it will be at a lower global population than we have now.

We are in a lifeboat and the renewable rations won't keep all of us alive.

Posted by: Tripp on June 10, 2008 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Fleshing out my earlier comment -

Not all of the global economy is based on the usage of cheap energy, but a big part of it is. These days the factories and industrial parks and timber harvesting are far away and we forget about them but they are still the bedrock of the global economy.

There are sustainable sources of energy but even combining them all they will not equal the amazing results we have gotten from oil.

Without a miracle the global standard of living will fall. Because we live at the top we will be cushioned from much of the fall, but there will be a global fall.

What we have to do now is work on mitigating the fall, because the "who" and the "when" and the "how much" still have some wiggle room.

Posted by: Tripp on June 10, 2008 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp,
You could at least pass out anti-depressants along with your posts today.

Good thing I'm one of those useless old Hillary supporters who is being willed to die by the O'bots.

Posted by: optical weenie on June 10, 2008 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

There's also "how". The have-nots might get sufficiently upset that they decide to reenact Pol Pot or play nuclear Russian Roulette with the haves.

Posted by: anon on June 10, 2008 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

Aren't foreign manufacturers generally better at building small cars than domestic ones?

Posted by: Measure for Measure on June 10, 2008 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

That way when choosing what model you want you would pay attention to fuel savings over its whole life, not just the first year or two.

You can do that already.

Still, the feebate might be a good idea. It's equivalent to a tax on fuel combined with a reduction in the income tax.

Posted by: spider on June 10, 2008 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds interesting. I'm thinking the big oil interests are beginning to fear peak oil and the end of their industry, and have raised prices in their own attempt to get us, the consumers to decrease oil use. This turns out to increase oil industry profits, with the added benefit to them that it will make their product last a little longer.

They have known it was coming ever since I have been in geology (20yrs). Because the Saudis (ARAMCO), as well as other state oil companies, are holding their cards close to the vest it has been hard for non-state companies like Exxon Mobil to get a handle on when Peak Oil will (or has) hit. Downstream, there are refineries and distribution companies who are just as clueless.

Sure "Big Oil" wants to maximize their profit. But, so do they Saudis and that is why they are being so careful not to overproduce (and ruin) their fields. Of course, they are telling us they have plenty of reserve capacity. That's why they offered up an additional 600,000 barrels. We will never know how many of those actually make it to the tanker.

Posted by: MLuther on June 10, 2008 at 8:17 PM | PERMALINK

Alec

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/04/recycling-waste-steam.php

http://www.recycled-energy.com/newsroom/news-coverage.html

This is one of the oldest technologies in the power producing world. Denmark and Netherlands both get c. 60% of their electricity this way (the Dutch use it to warm their greenhouses).

The thermal efficiency gains (from 35% for an ordinary coal-fired power station, 55-60% for a gas fired one) up to thermal efficiencies of c. 80-90%, are only available *if* there is a relatively constant need for heat.

Nonetheless, this is yet another case (like the diesel car) where a combination of American cheap energy, American political gridlock (in this case, the monopoly utilities enjoy over powerline access and generation) and general American disinterest in what the rest of the world does has left the US racing to catch up.

It can catch up. It is catching up very fast in wind power, for example. The ability to turn on a dime and then do something 110% is an American genius.

But these things take a long time to plan, get permits for, and build.

Posted by: Valuethinker on June 11, 2008 at 4:47 AM | PERMALINK
The savings are put - where? If they are put into investments that means an expansion of the economy meaning an expansion of energy usage and hastens the day the energy runs out.

If the savings are simply held that means a contraction of the global economy meaning some starvation.

What if the savings are put into investments in improving energy efficiency and further developing renewable resources?

Or, alternatively, into increasing the scope of resources humans have access to by mining (or, in the longer term, colonizing) off-planet locations?

Seems to me the "paradox" is simply the result of a false dichotomy.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 11, 2008 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK


Downside is that the difference in cost for 5 years between a
Hummer and a Prius is just not all that much. I think this idea
has a high probability of backfiring.

Posted by: Joe User on June 11, 2008 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin:
The fee-bate has already been part of the 2 Democratic presidential energy plans that I worked on (Bradley and Dean) and was originally introduced by my boss the late Congressman Mike Synar(D-OK) as a title of his 1992 energy bill. We got the idea from American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. The idea was always ahead of its time but economists love it. It is the only auto efficiency scheme that encourages the purchase of the most efficient vehicles in each class. It is also less likely to be gamed than CAFE standards since auto makers would not be able to lump their less efficient and more efficient car models together to bring their fleet averages into compliance. Why shouldn't a consumer be able to buy a (relatively) more efficient station wagon, full-size car or even an SUV. In addition, it demolishes the automaker arguments that most folks don't want to buy the most efficient cars by giving consumers more ability to do so. Ironically, if it had been enacted years ago then today US car makers would have more ability to meet consumer demands for efficient vehicles. We also need a plan for getting the least efficient vehicles off the road earlier since it takes about 12 years for the entire auto fleet to turn over and this number keeps growing.

Posted by: ruth fleischer on June 12, 2008 at 1:07 AM | PERMALINK

013880.. Bully :)

Posted by: www.washingtonmonthly.com on April 5, 2011 at 11:06 PM | PERMALINK
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