Posts Tagged ‘Energy Policy’

Geography Is Destiny

January 21, 2014

Abstract: The vastly different geographies of the USA and Europe explain many things, and seem to require greater variety of behaviors than observed. Or how geographic destiny can lead both to exploitative ecstasy and conservative futility.

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Many highly educated Europeans who migrate to the USA affect contempt for the old continent. That alleviates their remorse. Indeed they earn higher incomes in the USA’s jungle, most hospitable to the most educated (as long as said education can be sold!).

This weekend the New York Times revealed that the salary of Medical Doctors in some medical specialties average above 900,000 dollars, nearly twenty times the average family income in the USA. It’s of course just the tip of the iceberg. One of the insurance executive Obama has put in charge of covering the uninsured with his “philanthropy” earned more than 100 million dollar last year. That makes him of great counsel at the White House.

This is of course inconceivable in Europe. Something also inconceivable in Europe is the richness of North America.

Oil & Gas Shales Everywhere, That’s Smart!

Oil & Gas Shales Everywhere, That’s Smart!

But then so is the fact that one citizen of the USA out of six has no health insurance. That means one out of six citizens show up to the emergency room only when the cancer has grown too big, or the heart has failed too much.

Both facts are related. Abusive exploitation brings elation to the exploiters, desperation to the exploited. If the elation can leverage more power than the desperation, the exploitation goes on.

Sometimes, it’s the land that gets exploited. Fracking is devastating giant regions of the USA, but it does not matter, because the USA is giant. The USA is nearly the same surface area as Canada, the world’s second largest country (much of Canada is hopelessly frozen wastes, though). Nobody cares about what is going on in remote places of the Dakotas, Wyoming or Texas.

Fracking Near Riffle In The Rockies, Colorado: Where Is Everybody?

Fracking Near Riffle Rockies, Colorado: Where Is Everybody?

Wyoming is actually slightly larger in area than Great Britain (253 K square kilometers versus 243 K) however its population, about 550,000 people , is less than 1% of Britain’s 64 millions. Thus fracking in Kent does not compare with making a lot of pollution roughly anywhere in Wyoming.

The European Union, with a bit more than half a billion inhabitants, is not even half of the area of the USA, with roughly 320 million. Even more strikingly, the population of the USA is actually concentrated in less than half of the country. Many states in the USA are mostly empty, although many of these have a wonderfully temperate climate.

India, with more than three times the population of the USA, is a third the area. So about ten times the density. There again the density is not even at all, and the resources vastly inferior (but for… Thorium, hence the Indian Thorium program.).

At this point the economy of the USA is lifting up, because the energy production of the USA has been skyrocketing (both the energy used inside and the one sold outside, such as coal). This is deliberate. Any American business publication worth its salt, explains that the strategy of the USA is to render energy production cheaper, and more profitable, no holds barred. Obama’s EPA cracks down on coal’s pollution to better encourage its exports, pushed by fracking.

After all, as I have long explained, it’s the exploitation of oil in the USA, starting in the mid nineteenth century Pennsylvania,  that was perhaps the major advantage of the USA.

(Without Texas oil, generously provided by his plutocratic friends, Hitler would have been incapable of invading in Spain with Franco’s army, and his fascist helpers. That used to amuse Adolf a lot. He lost his sense of humor on September 3, 1939. Then he declared he would only wear a drab grey tunic until the war was won.)

Fracking brought the cost of natural gas in the USA down to one third of the world’s price (gas is dangerous to transport by ships, so it mostly stays in the USA). Displaced USA coal production is massively  sent to gullible Germany (and soon, China).

Of course, lots of methane leaks. Measurements show that the powerful greenhouse is smothering the southern USA, and thus, the planet. But there again, and that’s left unsaid, is that a mighty greenhouse would advantage the USA… Or at least that’s what USA strategists apparently think. In their stupidity, they see that most of frozen Alaska (more than a third of the EU’s area) will become balmy, and that war has always advantaged the USA. They forget little details, such as Florida under water, and California roasting (greatest drought ever unfolding there, second year in a row).

Last year, the USA added the equivalent of four nuclear reactors, in solar photovoltaic power alone.

All of this will have an effect. Meanwhile, propelled by all this energy, the population of the USA augments by three million a year. (Never mind if the death rate related to childbirth in the USA is nearly thrice that of the EU: pediatricians are the worst paid doctors in the USA.)

To not become completely irrelevant, powers such as the EU will have to use different energy strategies. However, at this point, it has just been all about conservation, and that maybe the main trouble of Europe’s economy.

Let me repeat slowly: the rise of man has been the rise of what I call AWE, Absolute Worth Energy, the energy at disposal to effect a worthy task. A related, but grosser notion, the energy at the disposal of any single human being has constantly augmented(The easiest way to do that is simply to produce more energy, overall; that proved difficult in the Late Roman empire, or 1300 CE Europe).

To diminish the AWE is just impoverishment. To augment the AWE without augmenting energy production is difficult, yet this is what Europe has chosen to do. It becomes outright impossible without new technology. The Photo Voltaic effect discovered around 1830 by a French physicist is new. But not wind and water mills, which were already central to the European economy in the Middle Ages.

Thus it is astounding that Europe does not have active research and development in, say, Thorium reactors. Just digging giant holes in Germany while scrapping Appalachian mountains to feed German power plants with coal is assuredly not the key to a better future.

Much of the German error in behavior from 1871 to 1945 CE had to do with forgetting that Europe was not the USA, thus not realizing that behaviors that had proven profitable in the New World would not prove so in the Old Continent. In a way the same sort of error is made to this day. This time, it’s not about killing the Indians, but, rather, about living like Indians. Squeezing one’s belt can go only that far.

Patrice Aymé

Energy Question For The USA

March 23, 2012

THE AGE OF OIL PRODUCED THE AMERICAN CENTURY. NOW WHAT?

No Vision, No Mission, No Energy

***

Another editorial of Paul Krugman firing volleys at republican “paranoia” for accusing Obama of driving up oil prices. As he observes in “Paranoia Strikes Deeper“: …“the president of the United States doesn’t control gasoline prices, or even have much influence over those prices. Oil prices are set in a world market, and America, which accounts for only about a tenth of world production, can’t move those prices much. Indeed, the recent rise in gas prices has taken place despite rising U.S. oil production and falling imports.”

American households tend to borrow as much as they can. Thus, when oil prices increase markedly, Americans have to cut in crucial budgets, such as house payments. I said at the time that it would lead to a peak in housing prices, and it did.

Why such a drastic influence of oil prices on the economy of the USA? Because Americans, except in a few places such as New York, commute by private car to work. So Americans have to feed the car, if they want to feed themselves.

It was not this way a century ago, or so. At the time public transportation systems using electric tramways and trains were found all over, even in Los Angeles. Car companies put an end to that outrage in the late fifties by buying, and then destroying, all the public transportation system they could put their greedy hands on.  Fossil fuel plutocrats were delighted.

But let’s set aside Krugman’s fake indignation. He is smart enough to know that Romney will do what Romney needs to do to win the Obama, I mean, the election. Waxing lyrical about Romney doing as Obama, does not beat going lyrical about sunrise.

Gasoline prices in the USA are way down in real dollars to what they used to be, decades ago. And so is the gas tax. This means that, far from adapting to the gathering multiply pronged world ecological and energy crisis, the USA has gone the other way, denying there is any crisis. “What? Me worry?” That’s got to be anti-American indeed.

Now real blooded Americans are all into strip searches and the death panel at the White House.

In Europe, gas prices are more than twice that of the USA, thanks to heavy taxes (stations in France have sported two euros a liter, that is 8 euros per gallon, or more than $10.50).

This means that far from being down and out, Europe is efficient enough to operate at that high price level. It also means that Europe is much more motivated than the USA to get much more efficient. In other words, high gasoline prices in Europe are a safety margin. The high prices force the European free market to adapt to a situation that the free market of the USA will encounter someday. Adaptation takes decades: new energies take in the average, historically speaking 50 years to become dominant. Same, one would guess, for energy efficiencies.

Basically, if oil prices doubled from here, gasoline prices would double in the USA. Whereas, even if the Europeans decided to keep the same high taxes, gasoline prices would only augment by 50%. And, in the much more efficient European economy, with plenty of public electric transportation available, the noxious effects on the European economy would be much less than one would expect from a 50% oil price rise. 

The world gets 55 × 1018 joules of useful energy from 475 × 1018 joules of primary energy produced by fossil fuels, biomass and nuclear power plants. That tremendous inefficiency (less than 13%!)  needs to be corrected. It will be, if, and only if, prices are kept high. Thus energy taxes are necessary to adapt to the looming penury.

Why looming penury? Because the reserves of other fossil fuels may have been vastly overestimated (by a factor of 5 in the case of coal). Various fossil fuel lobbies have interest to over-estimate the reserves (because it keeps the world addicted, as they present their industry as a long range solution, which it is not).

Looking at the raw production numbers, as exhibited below in the graphs paints a completely different story: production from existing fields is going down dramatically (at 5% rate, per year).

In other words we are in the treachorous waters between the catastrophe of CO2 poisoning and the disaster of running out of energy to burn.

The unavoidable rise of fuel prices will be less grave in Europe than in the USA, because many Europeans would opt for the available electric based public transportation system (the combination of much more efficient electric motors and central generation is much more efficient than distributing oil to put in SUVs all over, as done in the USA; SUVs, because there are too many holes in the asphalt. A problem partly related to high oil prices!).

Yet, the increase of the cost of imported oil corresponds exactly to the Italian deficit ($55 billion). Although that deficit increase had many causes, oil price increase was by far the most important. And the same for other Southern European countries. So the rise of oil prices was the barrel that broke the back of European debt.

In the USA, ten out of 11 post WWII recessions followed oil price spikes. Why are American minds so closed up to the looming strangulation of their economy by oil? Because the fossil fuel plutocracy is on a rampage in the USA. It uses a red hot propaganda to persuade the vast American public of undifferentiated sheep that there is no CO2 ecological crisis, and no energy crisis. (Although the latest polls indicate that two thirds of the public, in a splendid turn-around, believe that there is indeed a man-made climate change crisis; never mind that the New York Times had the latest tornado rampage, with 40 dead, presented as discreetly as possible.)

Why are the fossil plutocrats hysterical? Well we are past Peak Cheap Oil. Moreover, the “majors“, the world’s largest oil companies, have been pushed out of more and more countries, and replaced by national oil companies. Desperate, the majors have gone for riskier and riskier drilling in the deep ocean. Now Chevron, and Transocean, after a 4 day leak off Brazil, see prosecutors asking for lengthy prison sentences and enormous fines.  

Most of these oil companies are American, so they have pushed for fracking (destroying the underground with poisons to extract fossil fuels). Superficially, it works: USA imports of fossil fuels went quickly from 60% down to 40%.

However, that did not make a dent in the world price situation, because the demand keeps rising, but the world, overall, is PAST PEAK OIL (as I have long argued and the Nature article alluded to below confirmed, using the obvious argument found in the graphs).

So, basically, American fracking finances Chinese oil consumption. Here are some graphs extracted from Nature and the USA government:

 
 
[From James Murray and David King in Nature, 26 Jan 2012, vol 481, p. 435.]
 

When the horrid sun of diminishing resources rises over the parched American oil desert, while fracking reveals itself to be an unfathomable catastrophe, the howling is going to be very great, and one more reason for a depression will blossom.

Much of the USA’s superiority, in the last 150 years, has come from abundant and cheap oil. First in the North-East, then down to Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, California. Compare with Western Europe, which had basically no oil.

Oil was not just a question of cheap, convenient energy. Oil has, short of nuclear energy, the highest energy density of any material (OK, nuclear energy is millions of time more energy dense).

Oil gave the USA enormous diplomatic and conspiratorial leverage. American oil plutocrats helped Lenin and Stalin develop their colossal fields in the Caucasus and Caspian. One of those plutocrats, Harriman, son of a railroad magnate, and brother of another Harriman, was one of the main operators of the democratic party. Let alone banker to Hitler. He was decorated both by Stalin, and by Hitler. He then went on as U.S. ambassador to major European capitals, and stayed one the main operators of the government of the USA for decades. “Democrats” have long been impure.

Interestingly, I searched the Internet for a document mentioning Harriman’s Stalino-Hitlerian decorations, but could not find it (I have seen the pictures in the past). All I could read is how much Harriman resisted Stalin each time they met, and that was all the time (a total lie that Harriman resisted Hitler, or Stalin: Harriman was an accomplice of Stalin, and helped give him half of Europe, in exchange for manganese and other stuff. But now Internet agents are obviously paid to reconstruct a truth where American plutocrats look good,  knights in shining armor, fighting Stalin or Hitler, each time they met for tea, dinner, lunch, breakfast, and interminable conferences, for years on end, decade after decade).

A famous example of the clout oil provided the USA with: Texaco fueled Hitler’s conquest of the Spanish republic (this one is hard to hide, because the U.S. Congress slapped Texaco with a symbolic fine, well after the deed was done). That used to amuse Hitler a lot (Hitler gave elaborated reasons to his worried supporters for being in bed with American plutocrats; as the Nazi Party was officially socialist, and anti-plutocratic, that awkward situation may have led him to declare war to the USA on December 11, 1941, to ward off the German generals’ argument that he was just a little corporal in above his head).

Another example: Mussolini was hanged from an American gas station in Milan. Italian communists hanged him from his sponsors’ works.

The fueling of the fascists by American fossil fuel companies helped bring the American Century to the world in general, and Europe in particular. Without Stalin and American plutocratic oil, Hitler’s Panzers could not have moved in 1939 or 1940.

The dignified Elie Wiesel, instead of crying crocodiles tears, wondering how such a thing as Auschwitz was possible, should ask how and why the Nazi extermination machine was fuelled by American plutocrats, and how come he, himself, never talks about that.

Wiesel got the Nobel Peace Prize, just as Jimmy Carter (who launched the American attack on Afghanistan). Was it for disinformation? (And how come waging war in Afghanistan is a big plus for the Peace Prize? Is it related to the same mood which made Sweden help Hitler before and during WWII, and never having a serious look at that, ever since? I know the prize is ostensibly given by Norwegians.)

Wikipedia is big on the notion of “weasel words“, and rightly so. Deeper than that is what I would call weasel logic. And ever deeper, weasel worlds. To talk about Hitler without ever wondering who his sponsors were, and what they were after, is to live in a weasel world.

I like Elie Wiesel personally. Yet, just as I like Krugman, Obama, and countless others, such as the infamous Jean-Paul Sartre, he likes power even more than truth. OK, It is unfair to put Sartre, who really espoused the most abject terrorism, with the others… As long as individuals prefer power to truth, the spontaneous generation of infamy is insured.

Total oil sales, per day are about 100 million barrels (in truth the cap is lower, see graph above), at, say $100, so ten billion dollars a day, 3.6 trillion a year. The USA uses about 25% of that. Some have incorporated the price of the part of the gigantic American war machine and (what are truly) bribes to feudal warlords insuring Western access to the oil fields, and found a much higher cost up to $11 a gallon.

Ultimately, and pretty soon, in 2016, specialists expect oil prices to explode up, from the exhaustion of the existing oil fields. Then what?

Moreover, in 2016, the dependence upon OPEC, or, more exactly Arab regimes, is going to become much greater than now. What’s the plan of the USA? Extend ever more the security state, and go occupy the Middle East with a one million men army? To occupy, or not to occupy, that is the question.

Is it time for a better plan? And yes, any better plan will require consumers to pay higher energy prices. As consumers apparently want the army to procure the oil, they ought to pay for it.

***

Patrice Ayme

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Note 1: Flying cost at least ten times more in CO2 creation than taking a train. And jet fuel is not taxed, at least until the carbon plan of the European Union starts charging next year, in 2013. In spite of the screaming from the USA and its proxies: it’s funny how attached to subsidies American society can be.

Note 2: Refusing to pay for necessary military expenses through taxation and mobilization, was a big factor in the downfall of the Roman Principate.

The Principate then tried to accomplish defense on the cheap, by using more and more mercenaries. Many of these mercenaries or their children and descendants were poorly integrated in Roman republican culture (say emperors Diocletian or Constantine, let alone Stilicho the Vandal, a century later), so they established the Dominate, itself a negation of the Roman republic. Amusingly the Western Franks, those salt water (“Salian“) Franks remembered the Roman republic better than all these imports from the savage East… who could not remember it, they, and their ancestors, having never known it.

Guess what? The USA’s army presently employs 300,000 “private contractors” (aka, mercenaries). Curiously, in that case, it’s not so much to save money, than to extract more money from the system (but that’s another story). Still, it will have the same effect.

TALK IS CHEAP, ENERGY IS EXPENSIVE.

January 21, 2009

ENERGY LURES.

 

OVERALL, THE ENERGY PLAN PROPOSED UNDER OBAMA’S GOOD NAME, IS A LURE. IT VIEWS ENERGY AS CHEAP, A SELF CONTRADICTION, AND TAKES SOME SHINY OBJECTS FOR A SERIOUS FOUNDATION. IGNORING WORLDWIDE EXPERIENCE DOES NOT HELP.

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Abstract and warning: Change of energy policy without hefty energy taxes is no change at all. Be it only because there will be no money to implement change [as was demonstrated this week, when money that should have gone to the energy infrastructure, was directed instead into the usual unrestrained tax cuts of recent years, financed by, well, future taxes, and guaranteed, this time, not to work!].

Very detailed sharp and deep technical arguments show that all too many proposals in the present “Obama” energy plan come very short, while obvious strategies one should embark on as soon as possible, are completely ignored, such as light and high speed rail, efficient short range planes, and a closed nuclear cycle [those suggestions of mine have all in common that they will allow to rebuild American heavy engineering, the indispensable core enforcing an increase of efficient energy usage; it's a deliberate push away from Silicon Valley's gimmicks].

At this point the cultural set-up of Ronald Reagan is still firmly in place: the state is bad, except for a huge military, so let’s destroy the tax base. Modern historians are now realizing that destroying the tax base is exactly how Rome went down. Roman culture was unable to see the increasing errors of its ways, and the simultaneous increasing change in the world. The way out would have been a much stronger state, and that, with Rome, should have started by making energy more expensive, and that should have meant, at the time, by outlawing slavery [as the Franks did later].  

*** 

Overview: Changing energy policy without raising the cost of energy is a lure. Trying to do so would make any change unattractive, and unbearably expensive for the government [yes, there is no contradiction: by taxing energy heavily, the government would acquire the power to change energy procurement, and only then. This tax does not have to be regressive, and would be cheaper in the long run, for all concerned; watch what Europe has done, and is doing much more of]. Change that one does not finance is change that will not happen.  The beauty, though, is that energy change can self finance.

After two days of Obama presidency it was indeed revealed that the hope for increased mass transit funding was slashed down to nearly zero, precisely because it cost money [or to leave some for the silly "recovery plan", also known as money-for-China]. Europe, instead has augmented both energy cost and transportation spending, in the last few months, to react to the crisis, and the work below shows why. This is all the more alarming since the subsidies for inefficient cars and suburbs are enormous (more than 10 times greater).

Making energy more expensive will shift the emotional paradigm regarding wasting energy, and is the best way to increase efficiency. it is not just an economic tool, but a psychological one.

Forgetting to build trains, while talking up hypothetical “hybrids”, makes for a nice couple of mistakes that show that pork is not dead, and that the concept of a correct energy policy has not been the object of tiring brain work. But there are better ways to save energy, than to rest one’s mind.

Besides, the present energy plan, in its haste, forgets to mention aerospace completely, although this is one of the last industrial sectors where the USA is still a leader, and has something to trade with, something that people in other countries want to acquire, and fight the American deficit with. In aerospace, one would not be throwing good money after bad, because it is a sector which is just at a point in time when it is absolutely certain that throwing money at existing technology would give spectacular results. In other words, the conceptual opposite of some potential car technologies the Obama plan pushes.

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At the end of our personal discourse on energy which follows, we have reproduced the Obama energy plan, with our comments added in italics.

That Obama plan, as it stands, is conspicuous by the absence of the only strategy that is known to work, according both to what common sense says, and what experience shows.

Obama says that he will end programs that do not work. Well, experience, worldwide, shows that the only energy plan that works is a strategy that was adopted long ago by France. As a result, France produces now less than a third of CO2 emission per unit of GDP, relative to the USA. Other methods have not worked [including a few that are still tried in Europe].

That strategy that has been proven to work in France, was then copied successfully by all of Western Europe. It is the policy of the 27 countries of the European Union, and even of a giant energy producer and exporter such as Norway. It is British policy. That policy is now propagating to Eastern Europe [making Ukraine anxious and furious]. So Obama’s energy plan does NOT mention the only strategy that is known to work for a wise energy policy: making ENERGY EXPENSIVE.

One makes energy expensive, first, and then one lets the free markets play in this new, expensive. arena.

TAX ENERGY, OR AT LEAST TAX CARBON, TO PROVIDE A STABLE BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT:

Energy prices are not regulated in the USA, preventing energy planning, and RUINING THE MARKET FOR CLEAN ENERGY. Robert Lutz, second of General Motors, a Swiss, said (originally in French): “Now that the price of gas has collapsed, we do not sell one hybrid anymore. Having the price of gasoline up and down every seven months, in wild oscillations, makes us stupid every six months. Franchement, j’en ai marre.” (”Frankly, I had enough”, although it’s much more robust in French). On Swiss TV, he was really angry (it’s OK to be angry in European psychology, because communicating the truth with passion is often viewed as more important than being so cool that nothing goes through). In Europe these energy price oscillations do not happen, because taxes keep energy prices always high, hence predictable (the poor get compensating subsidies).

As a result the USA is ever less efficient, relatively to the competition. This was bound to condemn US industry, in the long term, and it did [because if you stay in bed your entire life, having the easiest of times, you can’t compete].

TAX ENERGY TO PROVIDE REVENUE: That is self explanatory. The poor, and those whose jobs require a lot of energy, get compensating tax breaks in Europe [for example self employed fishermen get a subsidy when fuel gets too expensive].

TAX ENERGY TO MAKE PEOPLE VALUE ENERGY AND REALIZE IT’S PRECIOUS: That, too, is self explanatory. One can sing from the roof top of a big White House that one is going to do this, and one is going to do that, people don’t care, once they have turned off the TV. People will do it when they are forced to do it, because the alternatives are too costly.

Another strange obsession of the Obama plan, and democrats in general, is “plug-in hybrids”. OK, that is better than flying saucers, but Toyota came in with their latest version of their Prius hybrid, and it’s not plug-in. Why? Because Toyota says that battery technology is not advanced enough.

Volkswagen has studied hybrids for years (as other top European car makers). Its conclusion is that they are not the most efficient solution in the present state of technology [Fall 2008]. A problem is that hybrid technology is heavy, and the heavier the car, the less efficient. Volkswagen said that the “Stop and Start” technology introduced in 2003 by its competitor, Peugeot-Citroen, does work and allows to save 15% of energy minimum, and that Volkswagen will deploy that instead [BMW intents to do the same, so does KIA]. Peugeot has been claiming up to 30% savings in city driving with that technology. Peugeot has the highest mileage family car [the 308, with well above 65 mpg].

In any case, it seems unwise that the Obama White House would suggest it knows car technology better than the best car companies in the world [Peugeot has an advanced hybrid diesel project, but just as Renault’s electric car, it is wrapped in secrecy; French car makers have the best overall fleet mileage in the world, causing very strong headaches at gas guzzling Mercedes]. Why not to simply impose CO2 emission maxima? [currently the average per car in the USA is ~ 330 grams per kilometer, whereas the maximum law in the EU is 160 grams, soon to be 130.]

IT IS NOT BECAUSE SOME TOP DEMOCRATS HAVE INVESTED IN HYBRID START-UPS, THAT HYBRIDS ARE GOOD. Verily, it is probable that start-ups in the automotive area will stay side shows. Companies such as Peugeot have existed for nearly three centuries [making other machines], Daimler-Benz and Renault for more than century, and so on. Bid industry is big serious, doing big things. Companies such as Google and Microsoft make a lot of money, true, but it’s mainly from monopoly tricks. In truth, they are highly replaceable: Google is basically a media company, and Microsoft profited handsomely of the work of others [universities, IBM, etc...]. The business success of such ex-start-ups has made many believe that innovative hicks in a garage backed up by wealth, is all it takes to bring progress. This is not true. Sophisticated engineering know-how is acquired by very serious schooling, over many years. The opposite legend was set up by venture capitalists and Wall Street types anxious to prove that wealth thinks. It does not. Science and engineering do. 

When talking about “hybrids” one has to realize that more than half of US electricity is produced by very dirty means [coal, etc…]. That makes plug-in hybrids intrinsically dirty, because the more they will be used, the more coal will be burned. (It is hard to imagine that the presently proposed “clean coal technology” could ever work in practice, except in a few places.)

For politicians to force car makers, or any high tech companies, into the details of a particular technology is a traditional mistake. The role of government should simply be to force the context of the market. For example, as now the Obama plan suggests to do, it would be good to do what has been done in France: big incentives and subsidies to buy efficient cars. In Europe one can buy some BMWs that make 55 mpg, precisely because gas is so expensive, and the CO2 emissions law, so low.

AND WHAT ABOUT TRAINS? That is a total mystery. The Obama administration took the same train as Lincoln, but it deserves better!

All the evidence indicates that Al Gore did not find a train start-up to invest in. How could he? There are only so many companies in the world that know how to make the best trains, and they are all huge, because trains are huge; one is Canadian [Bombardier], one is French, one is German, and then there are the Japanese and now the Chinese [the later two have been known to be, let’s say, more duplicative…].

HIGH SPEED TRAINS ARE A GOOD SOLUTION FOR THE USA: most of the US population is in a few clusters that would fit inside France. Considering that present high speed trains from the French Alstom and the German Siemens can operate at 250 miles per hour, high speed trains could actually replace a lot of plane travel [Europeans already prefer to use high speed rail to planes if the flight is less than four hours, and high speed rail is far from being completely deployed in Europe]. LIGHT RAIL rail will also rejuvenate cities and make urbanization more energy and culturally efficient. The USA used to be covered with light rail: it was bought by car companies, and destroyed, part of the racist and plutocratic plan to turn city centers into lower income, colored zones [a situation that needs to be reverted, ASAP!]

Now of course French and German trains going at 250 miles per hour use technology that the USA does not have. But the USA can license it, and learn to make it [the Japanese high speed trains started long ago by buying three fast French electric engines, and deconstructing them; for the USA in the future I am talking about lawful licensing]. The big US car companies could help make these trains. Europe uses presently 1,000 high speed train sets, and will have much more in the future. That is a lot of work, for a long time to come. And a lot of increased efficiency and comfort, and… power, for the good.

Russia, not just Western Europe,  has embraced that conclusion. The Saint Petersburg to Moscow high speed line will be run with Siemens trains by the end of 2009, with a domestic content of components of 30% [expected to grow to 80% by 2015, as Siemens transfers technology, and Russian industry rise its standards high enough to produce it. Meanwhile the French Alstom got a huge contract for high speed tilting trains going all the way to Helsinski, Finland [tilting trains are more friendly with older tracks]. Russia is developing the engineering and planning background for high speed rail all over, at speeds above 400 kilometers an hour (250 mph). French engineers believe they could reach speeds around 400 miles per hour [aerodynamics has become problem number one].

Some people will feel that I am contradicting myself: first I am against the government singing the praises of hybrids, and apparently planning to finance them, now I am for the government encouraging, and even financing trains. Well, there is no contradiction, it’s comparing apples and supermarkets. Hybrids are like apples, except those particular apples could well not be the best. Trains are like supermarkets: there is lot more there. 

Hybrids, especially plug-in hybrids, are an audacious hope, nothing more. Cars with sophisticated technology, and a much higher mileage, have already been sold in Europe by the millions. So it is not clear that this particular automotive technology, hybrids, will ever work better than its competition [better conventional engines, or electric cars]. Whereas the general concept of railroad technology works, and even better than car technology [as far as efficiency is concerned; e. g., in the present USA, trains are four times more efficient than the best trucks; most of the work done by transportation is done by rail]. So funding trains in general is funding one of these programs that works that Barack was talking about. But we don’t need to try the alternative, doing with neglecting trains: we already did, and even in Europe, and it does not work. Not at all.

Modern trains work so well, that the European Union, under the prodding of some Swiss cantons (!), has basically decided to put all trucks on trains for long range travel, as soon as possible. It’s better for all of Europe and even the world.

Trains would make the USA not just more efficient, but more friendly: instead of piling up in airports for ever, people would take trains; cheaper, and, most often, faster. So families and friends would see each other more often. Trains are more friendly and dignified than the glorified sardine cans in which people fly.

Another interest is that, although a French high speed train was bombed by Al Qaeda, destroying completely a carriage, killing all passengers there, the train then stopped, saving the rest of the passengers [even the biggest jumbo jet would have been pulverized].

Still another interest is that electric trains can be fed by renewable energy [in France more than 90% of the electricity is renewable or closed cycle nuclear; see below]. They do not have to run on hydrocarbons.

SOLAR THERMAL TOWERS and PHOTOVOLTAIC PLANTS in the Western deserts have a great potential, although they will require ugly power lines [which cannot be buried economically, unfortunately, it seems]… Environmental objections to them should be pulverized.

AND WHAT ABOUT MUCH MORE EFFICIENT PLANES? The somewhat ridiculous, but otherwise excellent, Boeing Aircraft company is firing workers, causing great hilarity in Toulouse, France, where Airbus headquarters are located [Airbus will fire nobody]. Airbus’ latest jet, the A380 Super Jumbo [some sitting 840 passengers have been ordered] makes 85 miles per gallon per passenger [with around 500 passengers]. In other words, it is superbly efficient. Both Boeing and Airbus are developing jets that are a bit smaller, which should be even more efficient [the 787 and the A350].

But Airbus does not have the capacity at this point to develop a very efficient successor to the A320, a much smaller jet.

The A320 is the one that ditched on the Hudson river, morphing itself into a water craft, thanks to its excellent pilot who was able to keep the plane flying without stalling at very low speed, thanks in turn to computerized electric controls fed by power from the Auxiliary Power Unit and an emergency RAM turbine. In other words, the Airbus jet did not crash, because it had technology much more advanced than those of its Boeing equivalent, the 737. It was a miracle, but also a warning: European technology is forging ahead, and even squadrons of American geese would not stand in the way. Financing gimmicks from Silicon Valley will not compete with serious European engineering.

To keep the USA leading in aerospace technology, the Obama administration should give money to Boeing to develop such a short range, efficient plane [the French government has started to suggest that they would be pleased if Airbus made some efforts towards a more efficient short range plane, and that they are definitively not pleased that in 20 years the A320 efficiency increased by only 2%, while that of the Super Jumbo jumped enormously].

Thus, thanks to well targeted subsidies, it should be possible to marry harmoniously industry, ecology, and even trade [instead of going into hypocritical legal battles with the French about aerospace subsidies].

There are more than 100 civil nuclear plants in the USA, and something needs to be done about their global obsolescence. In particular about the necessity of switching to a closed nuclear cycle as soon as possible [see below]. Research in other nuclear technologies beckon [Thorium, thermonuclear].

***

OBAMA ENERGY PLAN OVERVIEW WITH COMMENTARIES:

Here is the Obama’s “Energy Plan Overview”, as taken from the White House site, January 21, 2008, with my own comments on the right in tilted letters, using capitals if I feel particularly strident. I added numbers on the left, to make the list of Obama’s points clearer:

Obama: 1) Provide Short-term Relief to American Families. Commentary: [Why just short term? In Europe the poor get long term energy subsidies]

Obama: 2) Crack Down on Excessive Energy Speculation. Commentary: [This is ABSOLUTELY NEEDED! EXCELLENT! A lot of the futures' trading should be restricted to commercial operators, leverage should be so reduced for others, that it could operate the other way]

Obama: 3) Swap Oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to Cut Prices. Commentary: [This a silly GIMMICK; besides, the word "Strategoi" means general of an army in Greek: that reserve is for extreme emergencies, not to play the markets.]

Obama: 4) Eliminate Our Current Imports from the Middle East and Venezuela within 10 Years. Commentary: [It may sound good to the ignorant, but because oil is traded worldwide, it is a bit like saying one will not breathe air from Venezuela and the Middle East within 10 years].

Obama: 5) Increase Fuel Economy Standards. Commentary: [This is historically ineffective; instead, just converge towards European CO2 emissions ASAP; they have been adopted by China, etc...].

Obama: 6) Get 1 Million Plug-In Hybrid Cars on the Road by 2015. Commentary: [This is a TOTALLY UNWARRANTED, UNEXPLAINED STEERING OF A COMPLETELY UNPROVEN, PECULIAR TECHNOLOGY BY GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION; is this pushed by unsavory financial interests? Aside from the fact they will be mostly made by foreign car makers, one million plug-ins will not make a dent: too little and most of US electricity is produced by dirty coal plants.]

Obama: 7) Create a New $7,000 Tax Credit for Purchasing Advanced Vehicles. Commentary: [That very French method was used several times by France, and has now been adopted by Germany; and it has proven effective; but the French subsidies right now are only around $3,000].

Obama: 8] Establish a National Low Carbon Fuel Standard. Commentary: [These are the Euro CO2 emissions that I talked about above]

Obama: 9) A “Use it or Lose It” Approach to Existing Oil and Gas Leases. Commentary: [Sounds good]

Obama: 10) Promote the Responsible Domestic Production of Oil and Natural Gas. Commentary:[Sounds good]

Obama: 11) Create Millions of New Green Jobs. Commentary: [It sounds good, but it will not happen as fast and as much if energy keeps oscillating in price, and not at all if oil goes down to $20 a barrel, which could happen if the USA does not nationalize its entire financial industry swiftly.]

Obama: 12) Ensure 10 percent of Our Electricity Comes from Renewable Sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025. Commentary: [Does “renewable” include nuclear? in France NUCLEAR FUEL IS RECYCLED AND BURNED AGAIN (instead of being put away as in the USA, with most of its energy unused, and very dangerous and polluting): that makes nuclear energy “renewable”, to a great extent. One calls that the “CLOSED NUCLEAR CYCLE”; the USA should ABANDON ITS “OPEN NUCLEAR CYCLE” which creates a strong nuclear waste problem; actually France transformed US nuclear weapons in fuel that now sits, waiting to be used (!)].

Obama: 13) Deploy the Cheapest, Cleanest, Fastest Energy Source – Energy Efficiency. Commentary: [That will happen ONLY IF ENERGY IS EXPENSIVE].

Obama: 14) Weatherize One Million Homes Annually. Commentary: [It will work only if energy is expensive]

Obama: 15) Develop and Deploy Clean Coal Technology. Commentary: [This is an unproven technology; meanwhile half of US electricity is from dirty coal].

Obama: 16) Prioritize the Construction of the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline. Commentary: Natural gas, CH4, is cleaner than any other hydrocarbons.

Obama: 17) Reduce our Greenhouse Gas Emissions 80 Percent by 2050. Commentary: [That's Euro babble that Europe is moving towards, but the taxes on gas in the United Kingdom are more than six (6!) dollars per gallon...]

Obama: 18] Implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. Commentary:[Cap and trade has been tried in Europe, under French leadership, but has encountered various difficulties, including abuse and gaming the system by major corporations].

Obama: 19) Make the U.S. a Leader on Climate Change.

That obsession, to lead again, be the chief again, is, as long as one does not start with a rise energy prices, just inspiring talk, and wishful thinking, soaring above vacuum. Because, without the preliminary rise in energy prices, nearly any single one of the preceding Obama energy points is all too expensive for the deficit laden government to bear.

Americans love to hear that they will “lead”. But, when one does not know how to do something, one learns by following first. Following others in energy policy is smart, ignoring the history of the rest of the world’s experiences is not.

***

Patrice Ayme.

Patriceayme.com

***

P/S 1: Rising taxes in a recession, some are sure to say, is folly. Overall, certainly. But irrelevant to the preceding, because rising energy taxes can be made revenue neutral, by lowering other taxes, for example by lowering income taxes on the non-rich [however non-rich is defined; to fight a recession, it could be defined as those who spend less on basic goods and services].

 

P/S 2: Road utilization extracts revenue from the rest of the government’s budget in the amount of 107 billions, the gas tax being too small to repair roads. That’s to rob Peter to pay Car.


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