Do Cheap Oil Prices Really Damage the Environment?

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Holly Whitman

Holly Whitman is a writer and journalist based in Washington DC. She loves to share her thoughts on the intersection of politics and culture, and writes on everything from feminism and human rights to climate change and technology.

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14 Responses

  1. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Iran is not an OPEC member

    orly?Report

  2. Avatar North says:

    A good post. Fretting over oil prices in of themselves seems like a fools errand for environmentalists concerned about climate change. They have much bigger fish to fry.Report

  3. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Nobody had to get all “we’re LITERALLY KILLING THE PLANET” to handle acid rain caused by leaded gas. And we handled it pretty well, although it took about twenty years and a completely new philosophy of manufacturing quality before automobile drivetrains got back to the same power-to-weight ratios.

    Unfortunately, with global warming, people saw an opportunity to really rub everyone’s noses in the Wasteful American Way Of Living. And that got to be more important than actually handling the issue. It wasn’t enough for there to be less carbon emitted; we had to know why we didn’t DESERVE to emit carbon. It had to be a moral penance, not a practical decision.Report

    • Nobody had to get all “we’re LITERALLY KILLING THE PLANET” to handle acid rain caused by leaded gas

      Nor did anybody have to get all “Stupid environmentalists don’t understand science and are going to destroy our economy” to make sure lead stayed on gas. But they did anyway.Report

    • Avatar Francis in reply to DensityDuck says:

      Actually, they did. Same with CFCs. Same with NOx and catalytic converters. Every single environmental regulation has needed to have the dial turned up to 11 because otherwise the pushback from manufacturers was overwhelming.

      Hard rock mining, from gold to coal, creates enormous environmental impacts. But because the impacts are local, the enviros can’t do the whole OMG We’re All Going to Die thing, because we won’t. Only the locals will. And do.

      And as to climate change, I’m sure the world is full enough of ignorant smug do-gooders who know virtually nothing about the production of electricity for you to work up a full head of outrage about Those People wanting to impose a moral penance on you.

      That’s called nutpicking. On my side, we can point at the idiots who roll coal in their modified trucks. It’s still nutpicking.

      The point remains that we are conducting a world-wide experiment on ourselves, and things seem to be going wrong. We are not all that far from doing major irreversible damage to the oceans and major crop failures.Report

    • Avatar giovannidaprocida in reply to DensityDuck says:

      Leaded gasoline caused acid rain?

      I think you’re conflating two separate problems. It is my understanding that acid rain is caused by atmospheric release of sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides, while leaded gasoline led to high levels of lead being inhaled by kids (and adults, but the neurotoxic effect is greater on kids than on adults).

      I agree with Francis that complaining about the people who are all “we’re LITERALLY KILLING THE PLANET” and “we had to know why we didn’t DESERVE to emit carbon” is nutpicking.

      (edited because Francis got there first)Report

  4. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    As Scott Sumner says, never reason from a price change. A price change can be caused either by a change in supply or a change in demand, and without knowing which one it is, you can’t predict the effect it will have on consumption.

    The most obvious cause is price manipulation from OPEC.

    That would be an increase in supply, which would lead to increased consumption.

    On top of that, the Chinese economy has seen a massive slowdown.

    That’s a demand reduction, which all else being equal results in reduced consumption.

    As far as I can tell, the actual effect has been a wash, with global oil consumption continuing its slow but steady upward trend.Report

  5. Avatar Will H. says:

    I liked the piece, and especially the part about the increase in the efficiency of renewables.

    Nit:
    basic economics are keeping rigs pumping
    Not so.
    Rigs don’t pump.
    Rig count is something entirely different than well capacity.
    The well is the part that sits below ground level, and it is topped with either a wellhead or a wellcap. A pumpjack is the typical means of pumping. Rigs are either drilling rigs, pulling units, or workover rigs. A pulling unit has no doghouse, and a workover rig has a much bigger platform.
    But this is forgivable, unlike … hrmmm … , say, misidentifying the instrument that Geddy Lee plays. That would be much more than a nit.Report

  6. Avatar Les Cargill says:

    At least Monetarist economists also note that the initial pebble in the Financial Rockslide Of ’08 was an uptick in oil price, leading the Fed to prematurely ( in perfect hindsight ) tighten. Rotten mortgages lay around like oily rags. Trying to use housing policy as a social good-generator backfired in the absence of a strong job market.

    Also also, the political tooth-baring over “fracking” seems to ignore that gas has now rendered the book value of (domestic US) coal producers to nearly nothing. That seems to be a positive move, IMO. This being said, it’s not like you can just close off a gas well easily or cheaply store natural gas. Down on the Eagle Ford shale, gas flares light the night…Report

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