We need to use less oil so we can keep using oil longer

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63 Responses

  1. Avatar Clint says:

    But the faster I consume oil, the higher the price, and, in turn, the more competitive alternatives become for an inevitable and natural transition to a different fuel source (this faster consumption would also reduce the longevity of any environmental consequences). I would also add that any large-scale effort to reduce my personal oil consumption is probably shifting that demand to dirtier fuels. When I make my first million and invest in my all-electric Nissan Leaf, there’s a better than even chance it will be relying heavily on coal-fired electricity. Or if I decide to go a different direction and invest in an E85 SUV (and somehow I am able to find an E85 station somewhere in America) the biofuels I would be using would have caused significant fertilizer runoff and subsequent “dead zones” in the Gulf of mexico before we’d heard of deepwater horizon.Report

    • Avatar theotherjimmyolson says:

      @Clint, Anyone who thinks he can buy his way out of the consumption dilemma, is not thinking too hard. You reduce your consumption by reducing your consumption. It’s not about purchasing a trendy electric car, It’s about reducing your use of a car. Yes, it means sacrifice, get used to it.Report

  2. Avatar North says:

    I’m no chemistry major Dave but my understanding is that plastic and asphalt production do not decrease the gasoline or kerosene production of crude oil. As I understand it, and I’m open to correction, crude oil separates when refined into different compounds. Gasoline is one of those, kerosene another, the dense muck that makes asphalt yet another and the goo that turns into plastics still another and so on and so forth. So using less plastic or less asphalt is not going to result in more gasoline or naphtha being available.

    That said there’s still good reason to not be wasteful with it. Oil truly is a remarkable chemical compound and we’re certainly not making more of it.Report

    • Avatar David Schaengold says:

      @North, You’re quite right. I guess the question is, the product of which stratum is actually setting the demand for extraction? The stuff they use in cars, I would guess, so in that case using less asphalt wouldn’t actually lead to less extraction overall. This diminishes my point, but hopefully the basic idea — that we should be conserving oil precisely because it’s so valuable — still stands.Report

      • Avatar David Schaengold says:

        @David Schaengold, “I would guess, so in that case using less asphalt wouldn’t actually lead to less extraction overall.”

        Except I suppose indirectly, in moving us towards a society where car-ownership isn’t obligatoryReport

        • Avatar North says:

          @David Schaengold, Perhaps? I don’t know, there are alternatives to asphalt for road surfacing. Certainly nowhere near as ubiquitous and cheap though.Report

          • Avatar David Schaengold says:

            @North, At last, a topic I know something about! Asphalt is indeed as cheap as it gets, at least for American standards of smoothness, but what I meant was that we should perhaps be building fewer roads altogether.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        @David Schaengold,
        Dave I agree completely and yes, I’d hazard that the maximal economic value lies probably within Gasoline. Wikipedia has a simple graphic that can give a good idea of how it breaks down:

        An amusing anecdote I have heard; In the 1900’s Kerosene was the big value maker of oil used in lighting homes, we burned coal to heat houses and drive industry and gasoline was an annoying and worthless byproduct that they typically burnt off at the plant. Now we burn coal to light our homes (electricity), kerosene drives our airplanes and gasoline is the main value driver of oil.Report

    • Avatar theotherjimmyolson says:

      @North, If you are going to crack petroleum, paving roads is an excellent use of asphalt. We have millions of tons of it in the bottom of the cracking towers, what else are you going to do with it.Report

  3. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    I don’t believe that “we” really need to do anything except to price the externalities correctly. These may be far more expensive than we thought, given both recent events and global warming, but what you are proposing here — some sort of national oil rationing — could only be achieved by socializing the entire oil industry worldwide. And even then we wouldn’t be able to agree on a quota or a coherent set of policies.Report

    • Avatar David Schaengold says:

      @Jason Kuznicki, I’m not really proposing any policies here (and even the basic point that we should stop using oil for non-essential things was misguided, as North points out above). The point was more that it was curious to see someone suggest that we should be using oil more and more freely because it’s so good. If we bracket the question of environmental externalities, arguably the market should already be pricing in the cost of oil becoming more expensive to extract, but there are a variety of reasons to think that isn’t happening. But I’m certainly no expert on the oil futures market. Is it generally thought that the cost of a future structural transformation is currently priced into the cost of gas?Report

      • Avatar North says:

        @David Schaengold,
        Dave, my understanding is that you would be correct in a scenario of “peak oil” but (kvetching by environmental groups notwithstanding) we have not reached global peak oil yet. So the oil supply is still expanding. Canada, for instance, has a supply of oil that increases almost geometrically in terms of economic extraction as the cost of crude increases.Report

        • Avatar rrr says:

          The issue with “peak oil” doesn’t deal with just supply, but rate of production. The earth could contain an unlimited supply of oil, but if we can’t extract it fast enough to meet demand it doesn’t matter.
          It would seem that once we reach that point, things get a little ugly pretty quickly.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            @rrr, I do concede the point on production. Unusable oil is the same as no oil. That said both supply and production are still increasing globally so I still don’t think we’ve hit peak oil. I also don’t follow why things would necessarily get ugly when we reach peack oil. Oil prices would commence an unyielding but most likely a gradual upward march. As the price of oil energy increased its lateral competitors would become more economical and oil use would decline.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        @David Schaengold,

        I don’t think that the costs of a future structural transformation can be priced in, because we do not know what the replacement technology will look like, we do not know when it’s arriving, and we do not know how much of the old technology can be repurposed rather than just scrapped. These questions all depend on predicting the state of our future knowledge, and if we knew that, we’d also know what the future technology will be, which of course we don’t.

        That said, cheering for using more oil or less seems strange to me, and to the degree that it has any effect on public policy, it will be to create price-distorting subsidies of existing technologies. This will impede future development in any direction.

        It’s worth noting, finally, that incremental improvements have been taking place largely unnoticed. Most plastic products today use far less plastic than those of a few years ago. They are designed to be more efficient, in response to a market incentive that already exists. (Cheering for people to use more oil means, in the end, cheering for economic inefficiency.)Report

    • Avatar theotherjimmyolson says:

      @Jason Kuznicki, I believe you personally need to do something Jason. Step up to the plate and tell us how you intend to reduce your use of fossil fuels.Report

  4. Avatar greginak says:

    Great post. It always amazes me how taking a longer term strategic view is just so difficult for many people. If we really like to use oil now, and we do, think how much people will like to use it in 25 or 50 years when it is likely to be much rarer. But people will freak about debt 50 years from now but cannot even imagine conserving oil for all the various reasons it would be good. Even for those people who don’t care about enviro reasons there are good business reasons, national security reasons and for everybody’s children and grandchildren.Report

  5. Avatar dexter45 says:

    Usually the LOOG has intelligent replies. I don’t always agree with them all, but I find few idiots, but the replies on this post amaze me. There are two main reasons to conserve oil. One is that 98% of reputable scientist believe that burning oil is harmful to homosapians and other oxygen breathing organisms. Two- If Wiki is to believed, america uses 20,680, 000 barrels per day with 66% of that total being imported. If my addition is accurate, that comes to about 960,808,200 dollars a day that goes to foreign states. Beside Canada and Norway, which oil producing country do you want to finance? Saudi Arabia with its wahabi schools, Chavez with his eight hour speeches, Iran with its money going to build bombs or BRITISH PETROLEUM?Report

    • Avatar Simon K says:

      @dexter45, ” 98% of reputable scientist believe that burning oil is harmful to homosapians and other oxygen breathing organisms.”

      I’m not sure what you’re talking about here?Report

      • Avatar theotherjimmyolson says:

        @Simon K, You may not have noticed, but the poster said burning oil. There are thousands of ways in which petroleum is superior to any other material that do not require burning it.Report

  6. Avatar dexter45 says:

    I am talking about global warming, the acidification of the ocean, smog, and the wars that seem necessary to keep America in oil. If Iraq did not have oil do you think we would be there in force? I am talking about BP’s murdering a way of life that has lasted since the French and Indian war. I am talking about the ozone alerts that plague Baton Rouge in the summer. I could go on but you get my point.Report

  7. Avatar dexter45 says:

    Maybe I missed the point, or maybe it is because I live in Louisiana and, at this particular moment have a fierce burning hatred for oil and the destructive things it does, but I did not get the impression that most of the writers think oil is as bad as I do.Report

  8. Avatar semiquaver says:

    …but having a car is not obligatory, it is simply “normal”. Flying long distance for pleasure is not obligatory either, except perhaps as a marker of social status. and thats the rub – its culture that drives the stupidest excesses. One thought: what if driving and flying were thought of as vices, like drinking (which they are) ? And on the policy side the carbon tax is the right prescription.Report

  9. Oil spills happen, both naturally and otherwise. We know this, and we have known this for many years. But we still need to drive our cars to work, and make plastic, and heat our homes. No one is willing to give that up, no matter how many dead manatees make it onto the news. And so any reactionary measures are likely to cause more harm than good. The best we can do is minimize oil spills by imposing rigorous standards of procedure, multiple layers of oversight, and trying to reduce overall consumption of oil as much as possible.

    Here’s what we have to gain from getting out of oil (Middle Eastern or otherwise): (1) no more dependence on decadent dictatorships – we can’t really go around preaching peace and freedom when we’re forced to publicly make out with crime lords, opium barons, and people who consider themselves living gods; (2) significantly reduced greenhouse gas pollution; (3) we can stop getting ripped off by OPEC; (4) we can avoid coming tensions with Russia, Canada, and Greenland over access to Arctic oil deposits; (5) the exorbitant prices our citizens pay to meet their daily energy needs will no longer line the pockets of speculators, currency manipulators, and day-traders; (6) we will have incentives to develop new energy technologies, which we can then market to the rest of the world.

    How to continue meeting our energy needs without oil is a difficult problem, and the solution is a widespread and gradual switch to nuclear power in as many areas as current technologies allow, with investments in other renewable energy forms as they pertain to various locations (for example, thermal energy for the ring of fire, solar power in the southwest, hydroelectric power for the Mississippi, and wind farms up and down the East Coast). Such a switch could provide jobs and incentives for science and technology training, both of which would have positive residual effects. We should put such a system in place in as minimally-invasive a way as possible: encourage the free market to take up the mantle, pass the torch from federal to state and local governments…

    To correct this problem, we don’t necessarily need more regulation, as liberal birdsong calls for, nor do we necessarily need less regulation, as conservative hacks continue to chant, but we could use some smarter regulation with less of a focus on GDP growth and more of a focus on creating a happy, healthy, society. The word “regulate” originally meant “to keep regular”. The Media’s visceral coverage of the oil spill should show Americans that our times and our policies are anything but regular:


    • Avatar North says:

      @Christopher Carr, Pretty good Christopher. I have no objections. Very well reasoned.Report

    • Avatar theotherjimmyolson says:

      @Christopher Carr, “No one is willing to give that up”. You would like to think that, because then you personally can escape all responsibility for your own consumption. The facts are that there are hundreds of thousands of people who have done just that and are waiting patiently for you to stop adding to global warming with all this hot air and, start doing your part.Report

      • @theotherjimmyolson, Actually, I do try very hard to minimize my electricity use. I live on a farm in Japan, produce almost half of my own food and buy the rest locally, take baths in natural hot springs. The only are where I splurge is in near constant computer usage for my work as editor of The Inductive (www.theinductive.com). My personal carbon footprint is extremely low.

        However, electricity use is a choice with externalities. While some of may feel compelled to use power responsibly, many of us waste. We should modify public policy to account for the facts, instead of imagining a world that doesn’t exist.

        Frankly, it is difficult to argue that nuclear power is not vastly superior to burning fossil fuels, and we should adjust public policy accordingly.Report

  10. Avatar dexter45 says:

    Christopher Carr What does one do with all that nuclear waste. It seems that building nuclear plants just throws the problem downstream. America has to start thinking long term and putting hundreds of tons of radioactive waste with the half life as long as some of those things just seems not fair to my unborn great grandkids. Second problem is- who gets to say which regulations are the ones needed? I would vote for the president of Greenpeace, but I really doubt that I am in the majority.Report

    • Avatar Trumwill says:

      @dexter45, Anyone know what France does?Report

    • @dexter45, Here’s the thing about nuclear: it’s not a perfect technology. There is solid waste, but because there’s solid waste, we can move it and transport it wherever we like. Greenhouse gases are a permanent by-product of fossil fuels that distributes throughout the atmosphere, but nuclear waste can be stored in a specific location. Eventually, we should be able to send nuclear waste into the sun or store it in space, which is inhospitable to life anyways. So the waste problem with nuclear is not a permanent one.Report

      • Avatar T.D. Sullivan says:

        @Christopher Carr, Well we do have rockets in this day and age. Perhaps mass dumps of radioactive waste into the sun would not be too crazy. Not a physicist here, but that solution might even add to the longevity of the sun. Anyone feel free to call BS on the physical problems with this notion.Report

        • Avatar North says:

          @T.D. Sullivan, It’d be cheaper to simply reuse the “waste” as fuel. Or to build nuclear power systems that don’t produce waste. Fun fact: the US in the 50’s actively chose to abandon thorium reactors in favor of uranium ones. The reason: thorium reactors don’t produce bomb grade plutonium and the US at the time wanted bombs, not electricity.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      @dexter45, Nuclear waste is pretty much a canard. The French reprocess most of theirs so they have very little laying around. Even using our old nuclear technology it is easily possible to produce very little waste (the result of decades of French nuclear powder is stored under the floor of a room the size of a high school gymnasium in glass cylinders). In the near future, however, technologies like Thorium reactors (which also are proliferation proof and produce no usable bomb components) or traveling wave reactors would be completely without waste. The primary impediment to using nuclear power is due to a social inertia, an unthinking habitual reflex against nuclear power by the environmentalist community and the fact that nuclear plants are expensive to build and it is cheaper (ignoring carbon) to simply burn coal or oil.Report

      • Avatar theotherjimmyolson says:

        @North, I’m in agreement with almost all you say, with one caveat. When I sought to intervene in the construction of Plymouth two in Massachusetts, I did so after considerable thought and soul searching there was nothing unthinking or reflexive about it. At the time I assumed that given the facts the American people would adjust their wasteful habits. How wrong I was.Report

        • Avatar North says:

          @theotherjimmyolson, Jimmy, I have no doubt I’m wrong with regards to many a specific person. But when speaking about environmental organizations in general I do honestly believe that their opposition is knee-jerk and unthinking. They came to age in an era where the nuclear industry was primarily focused on building bombs and there was no reason to object to carbon intensive energy supplies. In that situation nuclear power would not seem to have an upside. The world has changed, however, but they haven’t.Report

  11. Avatar theotherjimmyolson says:

    I don’t care about” supporting effort to conserve oil”, which is just an excuse to avoid actually doing some thing about your own consumption. What I do support is all those who have actually reduced their own consumption.Since I got the memo (the Arab oil embargo 1972) when the price of oil quadrupled. I have cut my own energy consumption over 75%, while the rest of my countrymen, hypocrites all, have increased theirs. My monthly electrical consumption, less than 300 KW hours. What’s yours? My houses heat load, 27,500 btu/hr. What’s yours? My cars’ mpg 38. What’s yours. my mileage/ yr? 3/5,ooo. What’s yours. Number of Plastic water bottles purchased? Zero.You? Number of hot showers/ week? One. You? Amount of wood burned to heat house/year? One and a half cords. I could go on, but my point is the tooth fairy is not coming to save your life style. It’s over . Get used to it. Adjust. Join me.Report

  12. Avatar theotherjimmyolson says:

    One more thing. At this point there is no escaping it, your grandchildren are going to be more than pissed at you for not doing something 38 years ago.Report

  13. Avatar John David Galt says:

    How much of the “damage” done by oil exploration (or for that matter, by wars some believe are fought to obtain oil) is really necessary to obtain oil, and how much is the result of political forces here at home that prevent us from using much more easily available US and Canadian sources of fuel? It seems to me that the vast majority of the damage belongs in the latter category and should be laid right at the feet of Pelosi and Obama.

    If only politicians could be held personally liable for the opportunity costs of their policies.

    And anyone who believes that oil is finite in any practical, meaningful sense should reread Julian Simon’s “Ultimate Resource 2”.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      @John David Galt, yup obama went back in time to create restrictions on drilling close to shore. he is just that powerful. and of course corrupt regulators, politicians who fight against effective regulation and corrupt and incompetent companies are blameless creatures who must never be mentioned.

      and of course drilling close to shore has no potential problems.Report

    • Avatar theotherjimmyolson says:

      @John David Galt, How old are you John David Galt? I not only believe oil is finite in a practical sense, I know it,as does every other educated human being on the planet earth. Any one who does not accept these facts is the enemy of human civilization and should be treated as such.Report

  14. Avatar dexter45 says:

    If France’s nuclear waste is such a small amount, why have they been shipping it to Russia? Link at smh.com.au. As far as America and Canada having a infinite source of oil, the problem is not only the oil, but what happens when one obtains it (Canadian oil sands and BP comes to mind) and the effects when one burns it. We are back to the 98% of reputable scientists that think using oil causes environmental problems. As for blaming the oil problems on Obama, who was president when the CIA overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran so we could put the Shah in power and form BP? Who was in power when America lied its way into a war that was not necessary so Haliburton could get several billion in no bid contracts?Report

    • Avatar theotherjimmyolson says:

      @dexter45, Because Russia needs the money. Simple question, simple answer.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      @dexter45, Jimmy is terse but essentially correct. What the “nuclear experts” say is waste appears to be recycled fuel sent to Russia to be enriched for re-use. Why it’s sitting on the outskirts of some town I have no idea. The Russians have to ship the fuel back to France sooner or later.Report

  15. Avatar dexter45 says:

    Theotherjimmyolsen, how do you get your KWs so low? I live in Louisiana without AC and our usage is running about 750 per month. I do take a lot of showers though because, in Louisiana, one smells foul at the end of a long day. Also, there are three women who take lots of showers. The house was designed for passive solar and was much cooler before Gustav blew down our 120 tall white oak and many other trees, but we still get by with just fans. Also, since I do live without AC, I am aware of the temps, and it is a little hotter now than before. May averaged about 6 degrees above average. But, since it snowed here last winter there can be no global warming.Report

    • Avatar theotherjimmyolson says:

      @dexter45, Every appliance you own is on whenever it is plugged in.I unplug unused apps. I have no incandescent lights.Hot water is a biggy, Bravo to you for no AC. I live in mid-coast Maine, so no AC needed.Simple math and a check of the data plates on your electricity users will tell you how much each uses, then it’s up to you to decide what to cut. I’ve been energy conscious all my life (I’m 69) so I’m probly unaware of things I do, or don’t do, to save energy. Good luck and thanks for asking.Report