Geo-Greening by Example
by Thomas L. Friedman
“…we could change the car-buying habits of a large segment of the U.S. public, which would make it profitable for the car companies to convert more of their fleets to hybrid or ethanol engines, which over time could sharply reduce our oil consumption.”
The 500-Mile-Per-Gallon Solution
by Max Boot
“Add in `flexible fuel’ options that already allow many cars to run on a combination of petroleum and fuels like ethanol (derived from corn) and methanol (from natural gas or coal), and you could build vehicles that could get — drum roll, please — 500 miles per gallon of gasoline. That’s not science fiction; that’s achievable right now.”
The greatest threat to our civilization is business as usual. Peak oil pales in comparison. Global economy boosters are influential in the mainstream American press. What are they proposing? Fantastic and nonsensical solutions to power dreams of perpetual growth. The 500 mile per gallon car is not achievable at present; Max Boot seems to have lifted that idea from Fareed Zakaria in his recent Newsweek editorial. As futurist Bruce Sterling archly noted, “that would be par for the Bush course all right == faith-based internal combustion engines.”
Energy problems around the globe are increasingly obvious. The solutions are wide ranging, composed of painful choices and tradeoffs. Instead of answering manifest concerns, such as how will we feed the globe when liquid fuels start to decline, Thomas Friedman (among others) answers questions that are irrelevant with solutions that won’t work. To wit, techno fabulist Wired Magazine estimated 3.25 million future cars, and Friedman ruminates that we therefore need ethanol and nuclear pronto to fill em’ up, as well as a dash of wind and sun to taste.
Ethanol is unsustainable. It does not have positive energy return on energy invested. If it did, say with cellulose ethanol (trees instead of corn), it would be by a slim margin. There is only so much room in corn, or trees, to pack latent carbon fuel. You would perhaps plant twenty acres of crop out of which one acre would be usable for external consumption, the rest sustaining production. And this, we pump into 3.25 million cars? To what end? Jared Diamond has asked what the individual who cut down the last tree on Easter Island was thinking. Follow ethanol insanity an illogical end point and we find out.
Nuclear is not a practical replacement for liquid fuels. The Bush administration is proposing 50 new nuclear power plants in the U.S. by 2020, construction to commence in 2010. Barring the discovery of several new Ghawar sized fields, oil will have peaked by 2010. This will make construction of new nuclear infrastructure extraordinarily difficult, but not impossible. If the task is achieved, what does the U.S. win? 50 Gigawatts.
Make a leap of faith and assume one could efficiently and immediately turn all that energy into a replacement for liquid fuel. Working roughly from Physicist David Goostein’s numbers, each nuclear reactor could supply the equivalent of 3 million barrels of oil a year. Aggregate the hypothetical 50 new reactors and that becomes about 3 percent of the current yearly imports of oil for the United States.
Clearly, there is a lack of rigor in the energy proposals of economists and pundits who wish to see global growth continue in a straight line up to heaven. Their vision is a modern day Tower of Babel. A glance at the latest ASPO numbers for depletion shows that by 2020 we will have 17 percent less oil to use on a daily basis, but the ride will likely be bumpy, with periods of oil famine, and periods of plenty.
If Geo-Green ideas are unchallenged, we will watch tragedy unfold as unsustainable proposals continue to be written as energy policy in Washington D.C., with billions spent on blind industry wish fulfillment. Subsidies for nuclear and ethanol. Grants tossed down the rat hole to study oil shale and methane hydrates. Problems will be created faster than they are solved, right up to the point where oil depletion kicks our global economy like a mule.
The Geo-Green paradigm must be unmasked and reframed. It is not green, nor is it globally sustainable. Rather, it represents a mass delusion, the future of the globe as an ever growing continuation of our western experience – cell phones, supermarkets, televisions, and cars. Cheezy poofs and cancer for the third world embody the pinnacle of this civilization.
Allowing callow utopians frame their dead end policies as “green” will kneecap the credibility of true sustainable green movements when depletion begins.
Solutions that have a solid chance to succeed should be proposed and pursued. This might include rethinking our cities, gradually eliminating the need for cars, (lowering maintenance needs on roads) and clever use of solar energy via local, organic agriculture where petroleum inputs are carefully eliminated. Electricity and liquid fuel should be applied to pumping water and maintaining agriculture before all else.
Proposing a return to a semi-agrarian society is a tough sell in our bling addled age, but it represents a truly conservative ethic. Breathing room is needed to solve our problems and prevent an overshoot population collapse. We needn’t unweave the progress of the last century, but rather take the opportunity to cast aside the worst parts of industrialism that pollute our world and devalue our lives.
The globe should have about 23 million barrels of oil a day flowing in 2020. That is a massive amount of energy, enough to solve all our problems, and represents a self enforcing Kyoto, as depletion will proceed apace from there.
An opportunity, if we don’t squander it.