Sunday, January 21, 2007
Good argument on relative importance of global heating vs. "energy
(Esp. since energy "independence" is a fantasy anyway.)
Energy Independence http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/20/AR2007012001152_pf.html
The wrong target for policymakers
Sunday, January 21, 2007; B06
BOTH CONGRESS and the Bush administration seem certain to return to energy policy this year. The subject is likely to be featured in President Bush's State of the Union address; a variety of energy bills have been proposed in Congress; and this year's reauthorization of the farm program may repackage agricultural handouts as ethanol-promoting energy policy. But there is a danger in the way political leaders are framing this issue. "Energy independence" is more elusive and less rewarding than is commonly perceived. It should not be allowed to take precedence over attempts to curb global warming.
The United States imports 60 percent of the petroleum it consumes, about double the share two decades ago. Those imports come mostly from countries whose governments are unstable, unsavory or overtly hostile to the United States: 60 percent of the world's oil reserves are in the Middle East, 10 percent in Africa, 6 percent in Venezuela and 5 percent in Russia. It sounds reasonable to argue that if the United States relied less on these regions for its fuel, it would be better off.
But consider this thought experiment: If the United States replaced all oil imports with domestically produced fuel, how much more secure would it be? Well, a Venezuelan or Iranian oil embargo could still hurt U.S. motorists and oil-consuming industries. An embargo would create a global scarcity of oil, and fuel prices would jump -- including the price of fuel in the United States. Admittedly, Americans would be paying those high prices to producers in their own country rather than to producers abroad, but the importance of this distinction is debatable. Some producers in the United States are foreign-owned, and many production operations abroad are U.S.-owned.
Some military planners say that, even so, energy independence would boost national security. The nation must be able to count on access to sufficient fuel to power its military machine and key industries. But two-fifths of the oil consumed in the United States is domestically produced, and the nation maintains a strategic petroleum reserve. Besides, it would take a truly formidable enemy to prevent the United States from buying oil simultaneously from the Middle East, West Africa and Latin America. True energy security comes not so much from energy independence as from diverse sources of supply.
Another security argument for energy independence is that by importing oil from radical Islamic regimes the United States is financing both sides in the struggle against terrorism. But it doesn't matter to Islamic radicals who buys their oil; the United States has banned Iranian oil imports since 1979, but Iran's crude still fetches the world price in the international market. It's true that, in pursuing energy independence, the United States would either restrict its consumption or boost its output; this would slightly alter the global balance of supply and demand, perhaps reducing the oil price and diminishing Iran's revenue. But even this effect is not certain: Saudi Arabia might respond by pumping less so that prices remained stable.
This is not to say that curing the American addiction to oil would bring no security benefits whatever. Over the long term it would probably exert a moderating influence on oil prices; this would reduce the influence of authoritarian petro-states such as Russia or Venezuela. But this distant and uncertain benefit should not be the prime driver of energy policy. Mr. Bush and Congress should focus their energy policy on mitigating climate change and accept security gains that may flow from that as a welcome byproduct.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
When is "Tinkerbell" the enemy of good sense and community
(I'm thinking about building eventually, and it will be a house where I
can grow old ...)
*_.and Tinkerbell Transit_*
*posted by Josh Goodman*
Only once every three or four blue moons do we receive an interesting
press release through our fax machine here on the 13th Floor, but this
_one_ <http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news/2007/010.htm> from Fairfax
County, Virginia certainly qualifies. It introduced a new term to me:
Peter Pan housing.
Peter Pan housing refers to homes built in a way that seems to assume
their occupants will never grow old -- designs that prove troublesome
because their owners rarely seem to be blessed with perpetual youth.
Problematic features the county has identified include "entry stairs,
narrow doorways or lack of a first-floor bathroom."
In response to these concerns, Fairfax is reviewing building codes and
trying to increase financing options for retrofitting homes.
Retrofitting is expensive, but one Fairfax official pointed out that
having an elevator installed is cheaper than a year in assisted living.
Obviously, the aging of the Baby Boom generation makes this a big issue,
but so does the substantial _decrease_
<http://www.inthenews.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/display.cgi?id=10130> in the
percentage of American houses with only one story over the past few
decades. As a result, a lot of places probably need to go after Peter
Pan housing with Hook-like zeal.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Great article on the energy conundrum
Read the whole thing--long excerpts below the link
*Joy Ride to Global Collapse*
Reflections on Kunstler's/ Home from Nowhere/
No one is talking to us about giving up cars today - even though there
is hard scientific evidence that the freewheeling automotive world we
know today will have totally vanished within the lifetime of most of us
now living. A few idealists are talking about maybe getting us to
constrain our use a little bit. None of them are running for any
position of political influence in this country. They would be lucky to
get their family's vote. We don't want to hear it.
Auto mania is not confined to Americans. The love affair is
international and now grows fastest in the nations of the Second and
Third World. Humanity burns 70 million barrels of oil a day. At the
present rate of increase, it is projected we'll be burning 100 million
in 20 years. But we'll never get there. We are close to that peak of
global production which was foreseen almost half a century ago by Dr. M.
King Hubbert, the foremost petroleum geologist of his day. (See link at
the end of this column.) The descent from that peak only takes a few
decades. We know that petroleum is a finite resource. But even as
gasoline prices begin to creep upward some time in the not-too-distant
future we won't curtail our driving until real supply shortages
absolutely force the issue.
Take a look at an ugly future scenario:
*The sudden, agonizing death of the private automobile is a wall that
global society will hit full speed, pedal to the metal when a global
petroleum crisis finally catches up with us. We will not accept any
solutions that will soften the impact until the real shortage hits us at
some time (early) in the next century. If we continue to fail to take
any reasonable steps to prepare for it, and it comes upon us thus, the
constriction of the petroleum base of our global economy is quite likely
to begin a plunging, bucking, gasping downward spiral towards a deep and
lasting depression-with-inflation that could virtually end modern times
as we now know them.*
I will explain the combination of hard science and human hard-headedness
which backs the liklihood of this future. But first, let's examine where
Even if we believe that we are joyriding toward the abyss, few of us
will volunteer to be first to quit driving. I've tried it twice. Once in
Tallahassee as Florida's "Energy Czar," and once as a freelance
investigative reporter in Washington, D.C. What a royal pain it was to
be carless in Florida's sprawled-out, little, old capital city. What a
joy it was not to have to fool with parking in our nation's capital.
Cabs there were plentiful and cheap. Walking was a pleasure. The
excellent subway and bus lines were just a hop from my little flat three
blocks from the Library of Congress. But that urban experience is the
exception. For most Americans life without a car is unthinkable - even
in Washington, D.C. It is too late to talk about rational restraint.
As James Howard Kunstler's new book/ Home from Nowhere/ makes clear, the
entire complex of the American civilization and infrastructure that we
have built since World War II is almost unworkable without our massive
herd of private autos. We can't get along without them, although
Kunstler would clearly like to tame them. Kunstler's first best seller,/
The Geography of Nowhere/, was described by a Wall Street Journal
reviewer as "a sharp polemic." The language of/ Home from Nowhere/ is
just as crisp and creative as he continues his positive indictment of
America's post-World-War-II built environment.
I say "positive," because in/ Home from Nowhere/ Kunstler tries to focus
on curing the blight - what we are already beginning to do in a few
places, and what more we can and must do.* "we have the knowledge to do
the right thing; we lack only the will to do the right thing"* I,
however, turned immediately to the chapter entitled "Car Crazy." The
book's dust jacket says it "offers real hope to a nation yearning to
live in authentic places worth caring about." Not only does the car
chapter not deliver hope, Kunstler's auto jeremiad is almost as bleak as
my post-petroleum scenario. After a splendidly concise and eloquent
damning of what American car craziness is doing to our built
environment, he concludes his chapter, "We have the knowledge to do the
right thing; we lack only the will to do the right thing. The
inescapable conclusion is that our behavior is wicked, and that we are
liable to pay a heavy price for our wickedness by losing the things we
love, including our beautiful country and our democratic republic."
What makes the decline of the Petroleum Age so relentlessly damaging is
that there is no fuel that is going to substitute for it. I know the
technological optimists, with a lot of cynical hype from the
auto/petroleum industrial axis and a lot of naive wishing by the Greens,
vaguely promise a clean, beautiful, driving world on "a mixed fuel
economy." It is this promise that keeps us tranquilly driving along
burning it up for "a few more years" without feeling at all wicked. Some
cabal of scientists in white coats is going unmask the Second Law of
Thermodynamics as an oldthink fraud.* NONE of the promised alternatives
will replace petroleum* It ain't gonna happen. None (let me get way out
on the limb and repeat that: NONE) of the promised alternatives will
replace petroleum - not even vast stores of natural gas, which is the
closest potential substitute, but is also finite.
Nor will liquified and "scrubbed-up" coal juice. Nor (again disregarding
for the moment the environmental and safety questions) will the scores
of new nuclear plants needed to charge up electric cars be economically
supportable in a Post-Petroleum Age. Why? That was explained to us by an
almost forgotten scientist at the University of Florida over 20 years
ago. It is the concept of "net energy." If it takes one barrel of oil to
produce every ten barrels of oil, you have nine barrels of oil left to
run the rest of society. As oil becomes more difficult to find and
transport, the net yield decreases. There is less to run society. Oil
All other costs that are touched by oil (everything) also rise.
Eventually, you creep into recession-with-inflation, which economists
said wasn't supposed to happen - until it did happen after the 1973 oil
embargo. This is where economists display their ignorance of physics.
Many economists, people who should know better, say at that point people
go out and explore for more oil. (We're still finding new oil, but not
at the rate we're burning it. And there are a steadily diminishing
number of places on the planet where we haven't poked holes.) Or,
economists chirp, we'll find other energy sources and drive prices back
down. That is what happens for every other commodity, they say, and
energy is no different from any other commodity.
Energy is not just another commodity in our modern economic system.
Energy is the underlying power that carries the burden and makes our
modern economic infrastructure "more productive" (less labor intensive).
Petroleum is the dominant energy source for the transportation network
that undergirds the global economy, and the planet's most plentiful,
most versatile, most transportable and most efficient energy source. In
a very real and measurable sense the price of every other energy source
we have floats on a "subsidy" of cheap petroleum. In other words every
other energy form we use, including all of the "solar" energies are as
cheap and usable as they are because they are "underwritten" by cheap
oil. (Cheap petroleum and natural gas produce and transport those
silicon PV cells. When the oil is gone, the price of "solar" will
skyrocket, along with every other "alternative energy source," in direct
proportion to the petroleum used in every step of its production and
delivery.)* we would quickly turn our planet into a desert trying to run
our current automobile fleet on biomass*
"Gasohol" is another ideal example of an "alternative fuel" that floats
on a cheap petroleum subsidy. It takes cheap oil for each step of
planting, tending, fertilizing, spraying, harvesting, transporting and
processing corn into alcohol. It takes more cheap oil to blend that
alcohol into something that will (still imperfectly, compared to
gasoline) power your car. Gasohol from corn, sugar, peat, beets,
sawdust, tropical rain forest, or any other "biomass" is not going to
run our present global auto world, let alone the expanding auto world
glowingly predicted by the car industry for the future. Ignore, for a
second the fact that such massive use would quickly begin cannibalizing
the biomass that supports all life and supplies such basics as food and
"Biomass" is not a long-term massive source of global energy because
many of our current agricultural and forestry practices "mine the soil,"
and are, in the long run, neither "renewable," nor "sustainable." Ignore
the environmental concerns about CO2, ozone, etc. Ignore the shrinking
global biomass and arable land that will be needed in ever greater
amounts to feed, clothe and house a swelling human population. There
isn't enough biomass on earth to run our petroleum economy at its
present level if we are insane enough to try it. (And we are.) We would
quickly turn the planet into a desert trying to run our current
automobile fleet on biomass.
And so the real "Catch 22" for alternative fuels is that when the
petroleum economy begins to stumble over shortage, all of the
"alternative fuels" that are supposed to be waiting in the wings, are
going to rise in price dramatically. It is going to be an ugly,
cost-pushed, escalating thing that is going to cripple the global
economy and impoverish global society.* Congress can't print oil and
they can't repeal the second law of thermodynamics* Cleaned-up coal and
natural gas and perhaps even some nuclear will provide our electricity
for a period of time. And some niche-market transportation, too. Wind
power can be a real electric winner for many places on the planet (not
much wind here in Florida and cloud cover makes solar PV a marginally
expensive source on much of the planet).
But none of these sources, along with their electric cars, will run our
present automotive economy at the level of wealth and consumption we
enjoy in this glorious sunset of our Petroleum Age. Trans-continental
economies that are most strung-out on automobiles and trucks (the United
States, Canada, Australia, etc.) are likely to be hardest hit first. So
just when we need to make the transition to other fuels we will discover
that everything we do is much more expensive and we seem to have less
than we anticipated. It will puzzle economists. The economy will slow
down but the prices of everything will keep on rising. We will then
rediscover the age-old truth: money is not a real thing; it is only an
accounting device. Congress can't print oil and they can't repeal the
Second Law of Thermodynamics.
So after we have ritually fired the then-current crop of politicians and
the new ones haven't changed anything, we won't know who to blame. What
will be going on? Now pay attention economists. Here are three dicta
that may sound heretical.
First is Minter's Little Observation:* Neither capital nor labor can
Growing out of this observation is Minter's Little Law of Energy
Subsidy:* The shortage of a more efficient energy source in an economy
will always make the remaining sources of less efficient energy more
expensive and even less efficient.*
Will humanity belatedly begin to use all energy more efficiently when we
finally hear those sucking sounds in the petroleum barrel? Of course. We
will have to. But such efficiencies will not make us more prosperous (as
they do today). By that time they will only slow the rate at which we
get poorer. Why?
Heed Minter's Little Maxim:* A society's transition from a more
efficient energy source to a less efficient energy source will always
and invariably decrease the wealth, flexibility and options available to
that society.* In other words, just when we most need the wealth and
flexibility of cheap petroleum energy to make the transition to a less
energy-intensive infrastructure, everything is going to cost much, much
more. We will be poorer.
If this is all true, what should we be doing?
I do not have many answers. We should at least take off the rose colored
alternative fuel glasses that are blinding the Greens and providing a
smoke screen for short-sighted governments and industries. Until we do
that we can't accurately begin envisioning what a post-petroleum society
is really going to look like. Possibly we should stop sinking so much
money into long-term expansions of infrastructure to support
automobiles. Maybe a few advanced thinkers will begin considering
post-petroleum cities with electric-only cars, or without
private-passenger cars altogether. You tell me.
One thing that seems obvious is that we need to begin an honest net
energy analysis of all of the proposed alternative fuels, and just what
their/ true net/ is/ after all of the present petroleum subsidies are
worked out of the formula./ That is not going to be as easy as it
sounds. Petroleum subsidizes everything we make and do. But it is vital
if we are to make rational judgements not based upon the partisan
polemics of vested interests or true believers. Just what we will do
with this knowledge once we get it is another matter. The Western World
is run by corporate leaders who think quarter-to-quarter, politicians
who think election-to-election, and a public that is hostile to bad news
about their lifestyle (especially our beloved cars). The Pacific Rim
countries are enslaved to automobile exports (and petroleum poor).
The oil exporters are already exaggerating their reserves to get loans
and the global financial community is making those loans. Is there
anyone out there who isn't heavily vested in a continuation of the
existing myopia?* we probably don't have as much time as we think*
In an earlier column, I said that since we obviously are going to do
nothing about transportation until it is way too late, America's only
energy policy option is to work for efficiency in our buildings and
built environment. Certainly that is the focus of Kunstler's two books.
That is the focus of what we have been calling "Sustainable Design."
What is crucial for the design professions to realize is that we
probably don't have as much time as we think before we will not be as
rich as we once were.
To me that spells building for quality and endurance. It means an end to
"consumable" buildings. It means building for ourselves and posterity.
It means the old-fashioned conservative virtues of thrift and
investment, not burn-up and squander. To be Biblical, it means using the
remaining fat years to prepare for the coming lean years. Without
considering the decline of petroleum, Kunstler already thinks we are
wicked to be trashing our lives, our cities, and our infrastructure in
our mad romance with the automobile. Would he think us diabolic if he
understood we are really racing towards a post-petroleum economy that
stands to impoverish our posterity?
If so, he would probably be right. Morally what we are doing is very
much akin to burning the children's lifeboats on the Titanic to keep the
partying adults warm for another half an hour.
In the very humane, final chapter of Kunstler's book, he reflects on the
fine life that the success of his previous book,/ The Geography of
Nowhere/, has given him in a small town in New York. It's an idyllic
world of writing and painting in an almost car-free cocoon. He should
enjoy it with a clear conscience. He, at least, has jousted with the
beast and urged reform.
But we are unreformable, and it seems certain that any such modest
reforms as humanity would swallow will only delay the inevitable by a
few years. And so, as I understand it, a global economic crunch of epic
proportions, one that stands to debase much of our current wealth and
render much of our current infrastructure valueless, lies just over the
horizon sometime in the next century. The economic tremor of the early
'70s was but a mild hint of the times to come. Once again humanity is
going to demonstrate Voltaire's little maxim: "History teaches us that
history teaches us nothing."/ Jim Minter, Editor/
Monday, January 08, 2007
Oakland press joins the ethanomania bandwagon
Smart meters indeed
Taking Control of Electric Bill, Hour by Hour
By DAVID CAY JOHNSTON
Ten times last year, Judi Kinch, a geologist, got e-mail messages telling her that the next afternoon any electricity used at her Chicago apartment would be particularly expensive because hot, steamy weather was increasing demand for power.
Each time, she and her husband would turn down the air-conditioners — sometimes shutting one of them off — and let the dinner dishes sit in the washer until prices fell back late at night.
Most people are not aware that electricity prices fluctuate widely throughout the day, let alone exactly how much they pay at the moment they flip a switch. But Ms. Kinch and her husband are among the 1,100 Chicago residents who belong to the Community Energy Cooperative, a pilot project to encourage energy conservation, and this puts them among the rare few who are able to save money by shifting their use of power.
Just as cellphone customers delay personal calls until they become free at night and on weekends, and just as millions of people fly at less popular times because air fares are lower, people who know the price of electricity at any given moment can cut back when prices are high and use more when prices are low. Participants in the Community Energy Cooperative program, for example, can check a Web site that tells them, hour by hour, how much their electricity costs; they get e-mail alerts when the price is set to rise above 20 cents a kilowatt-hour.
If just a fraction of all Americans had this information and could adjust their power use accordingly, the savings would be huge. Consumers would save nearly $23 billion a year if they shifted just 7 percent of their usage during peak periods to less costly times, research at Carnegie Mellon University indicates. That is the equivalent of the entire nation getting a free month of power every year.
Meters that can read prices every hour or less are widely used in factories, but are found in only a tiny number of homes, where most meters are read monthly.
The handful of people who do use hourly meters not only cut their own bills, but also help everyone else by reducing the need for expensive generating stations that run just a few days, or hours, each year. Over the long run, such savings could mean less pollution, because the dirtiest plants could be used less or not at all.
The vast majority of utility customers know only the average price of the electricity they used in any given month. But wholesale prices for electricity are set a day in advance, usually on an hour-by-hour or quarter-hour basis. Power companies and utilities are keenly aware of the pricing roller coaster, but they typically blend the numbers into a single monthly bill for their customers.
For most Chicagoans, the average summer price last year was 8.25 cents a kilowatt-hour. Although Ms. Kinch and her husband at times paid as much as 36.5 cents a kilowatt-hour — the peak price on the humid afternoon of Aug. 2 — they paid less than their neighbors over all. On 38 days, some of their power cost less than a penny a kilowatt-hour.
Other consumers who know the hourly price of their electricity have actually been able to get paid by utilities for power they did not use. In New York City last July, for instance, when there was a blackout in Queens, residents of one building on Central Park West voluntarily cut their demand as much as 42 percent and sold the capacity back into the electricity market so that it could be used where it was more needed.
Certainly, such situations are a big exception. The fact that most people have no idea how much their power costs has emerged as a sticking point in the ongoing effort to restructure the nation’s electricity business, which the federal government is moving from a system in which legal monopolies charge rates set by state regulators, toward a competitive system where the market sets the price.
But how does efficient pricing emerge in a business where access to information is so lopsided? A market, as defined by the courts, is a place where willing buyers and sellers who both have reasonable knowledge agree on a price; in the electricity markets, the advantage lies distinctly with those who make and distribute power.
Under either the traditional system of utility regulation, with prices set by government, or in the competitive business now in half the states, companies that generate and distribute power have little or no incentive to supply customers with hourly meters, which can cut into their profits.
Meters that encourage people to reduce demand at peak hours will translate to less need for power plants — particularly ones that are only called into service during streaks of hot or cold weather.
In states where rates are still regulated, utilities earn a virtually guaranteed profit on their generating stations. Even if a power plant runs only one hour a year, the utility earns a healthy return on its cost.
In a competitive market, it is the spikes in demand that cause prices to soar for brief periods. Flattening out the peaks would be disastrous for some power plant owners, which could go bankrupt if the profit they get from peak prices were to ebb significantly.
But as awareness of “smart meters” grows, so does demand for them, not only from consumers and environmental groups but also from government bodies responding to public anger over rising power prices. In Illinois, for example, the legislature passed a law in December requiring the program Ms. Kinch joined four years ago to be expanded from 1,100 customers to 110,000.
The law also required that Commonwealth Edison, the Chicago utility, hire a third party to run the program. It chose Comverge Inc., the largest provider of peak-load energy management systems in North America.
The smart metering programs are not new, but their continued rarity speaks in part to the success of power-generating companies in protecting their profit models. Some utilities did install meters in a small number of homes as early as three decades ago, pushed by the environmental movement and a spike in energy prices.
Today, the same set of circumstances seems to be prompting a revival of interest, and even the utility companies seem resigned to the eventuality of such programs. Anne R. Pramaggiore, the senior vice president for regulatory affairs at Commonwealth Edison of Chicago, said that in the past, interest in hourly meter was transitory.
“We really haven’t dealt with these issues for 30 years,” she said.
But a sustained effort to install more meters is likely now because of what Ms. Pramaggiore called a “fundamental change” in the energy markets. Rising fuel costs and environmental concerns are — once again — front and center.
When consumers know the price of their electricity in advance and can tailor their use, even minor changes in behavior can lead to lower home utility bills and less reliance on marginal power plants, said Kathleen Spees, a graduate student in engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon.
“Small reductions in demand can produce very large savings,” said Ms. Spees, who analyzed prices charged within the PJM Interconnection grid, which coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity for 51 million people from New Jersey to Illinois.
Consumers who cut back on power use at peak times can do more than just avoid high prices. They can make money, as people in the building on Central Park West learned last summer.
Peter Funk Jr., an energy partner at the law firm Duane Morris who lives in the 48-unit co-op, persuaded his neighbors three years ago to install a single meter to the Consolidated Edison system and then to operate their own internal metering system. That made the building big enough to qualify for hour-by-hour pricing.
When the next day’s prices are scheduled to soar, the building superintendent and a few residents get e-mail messages or phone calls. “We have an orderly plan all worked out to notify people” so they can reduce their power use during the designated times, Mr. Funk said.
The residents save more than just the money on power not used during peak periods, when pricing has been as high as almost 50 cents a kilowatt-hour. During the blackout in July, when parts of Queens were without electricity for up to nine days, the building cut demand as much as 42 percent and sold the unused capacity for about $3,000.
That money helps the building offer a valuable benefit: On most weekend mornings, electricity for residents is free.
Monday, January 01, 2007
Too many people
America the Overfull
AMERICAN crowing is harmless enough, but the announcement this year that the United States population had reached 300 million, had (to my ear) the unmistakable growl of a boast. It was as though the colossal agglomeration of people amounted to another great score in our love affair with bigness.
The news gave me no pleasure. I just felt sad, while at the same time hating my wistful mood. Fogeydom is the last bastion of the bore and reminiscence is its anthem. As William Burroughs noted, in the 1950s, What I want for dinner is a bass fished in Lake Huron in 1920.
It is futile to want the old days back, but that doesn’t mean one should ignore the lessons of the visitable past — say, when there were half that number of people in the country. In some important ways life really was better then because of it. The overcrowded, much noisier, more hectic, intensely urbanized and vertical world of the present can seem hostile and hallucinatory to anyone who knew America in a simpler form.
In my lifetime the population has doubled. I’m glad I grew up when the number of Americans was so much smaller. How does one explain to anyone under 50, or to the grateful unfazed immigrant from an overpopulated nation, that this was once a country of enormous silence and ordinariness — empty spaces not just in the Midwest and the rural South but in the outer suburbs of New England, like the one I grew up in, citified on one margin and thinning to woods on the other. That roomier and simpler America shaped me by giving me and others of my generation a love for space and a taste for solitude.
Talking fondly, and sadly, of the past, it is impossible to avoid the elegiac tone of Edmund Gosse in “Father and Son.” In this, one of my favorite books, Gosse recalls the richness and beauty of the English shores of his youth, and the rock pools he had delved into with his father, who was a naturalist (and a crank). Gosse writes of “the soft and radiant forms, sea anemones, seaweeds, shells, fishes, which had inhabited them, undisturbed since the creation of the world,” and then speaks of their violation by collectors: “There is nothing, now, where in our days there was so much.” Fifty years before, “on the coast of Devonshire and Cornwall, where the limestone at the water’s edge is wrought into crevices and hollows, the tide line was, like Keats’s Grecian vase, ‘a still unravished bride of quietness.’ ”
Even in its heyday, Medford, Mass., was never compared to a Grecian urn. But it is impossible for me not to feel a sense of grief when I reflect on how my part of Webster Street — the house footprint, indeed the whole block where I was born — is now buried under Interstate 93. Before that road was put through and Medford Square was still important, the Mystic River linked us to the world, and High Street rejoiced in the same sinuous contours it had in April 1775, when Paul Revere rode down it at midnight, warning of the British attack.
I grew up in a country of sudden and consoling lulls, which gave life a kind of pattern and punctuation, unknown now. It was typified by the somnolence of Sundays, when no stores were open. There were empty parts of the day, of the week, of the year; times when there were no people on the sidewalks, no traffic in the streets, no audible human voices, now and then no sound at all. In this hushed world, a bumblebee was a physical presence, the sound of a cicada could dominate an August afternoon.
Nowhere was solitude more available than on a long drive, especially at night; and it seems to me that my generation was defined by the open road, and the accompanying hope that a promise lay at the end of it. The almost trance-like experience of driving down the soft tunnel of a dark highway at night was something I relished. At most, there would be the distant red lights of a car far ahead, and always the murmur of the glowing radio, the hiss of the tires and, at a certain speed on narrower roads, the fizzing past of telephone poles with their rhythmic whiplash.
Late at night, in most places I knew, there was almost no traffic and driving, a meditative activity, could cast a spell. Behind the wheel, gliding along, I was keenly aware of being an American in America, on a road that was also metaphorical, making my way through life, unhindered, developing ideas, making decisions, liberated by the flight through this darkness and silence. With less light pollution, the night sky was different, too — starrier, more daunting, more beautiful.
I have not seen roads or night skies like that for many years. As Gosse said about the ring of living beauty of the English shore, “All this is long over and done with.”
A longing for a simpler world, for a glimpse of the past, is one of the motives in travel. But the rest of the world has fared no better in terms of population pressure, and in many places it is much worse, even catastrophic. The population of Malawi 40 years ago was small and sustainable. None of us Peace Corps volunteers there at that time thought in terms of rescuing the country but only of helping to improve it. Now Malawi can’t feed itself; it’s one of the many countries that people wish to flee, renowned for being hopeless, unjustly publicized as an enormous orphanage of desperate tots, needing to be saved, devoid of pride, lost without us. The notion that a pop singer (back then it would have been Elvis) would breeze through and scoop up a child in a condescending gesture of rescue was unthinkable then.
In India a few months ago, as I was leaving my hotel in Chennai, I noticed a hotel employee shadowing me. He warned me that the sidewalks were so packed with people I would be swallowed up and stifled. He was right. And I was unable to cross the main street in Bangalore, a leafy city of under a million people in 1973 and now a hectically improvised sprawl of seven million. Mumbai’s population of nearly 20 million rivals that of São Paulo, Brazil, and Lagos, Nigeria — nightmare cities.
Travel, except in almost inaccessible places, is no longer the answer to finding solitude. And this contraction of space on a shrinking planet suggests a time, not far off, when there will be no remoteness: nowhere to become lost, nothing to be discovered, no escape, no palpable concept of distance, no peculiarity of dress — frightening thoughts for a traveler.
Yet some of the most populous countries manage to be habitable because they are societies with strict, and civilized, codes of conduct. India, China and Japan are convenient examples, but I would include many African and Middle Eastern countries, too. The vindictive stereotype of the Muslim as a xenophobe does not tally with my experience of wandering in the Muslim world, where I have been treated hospitably, welcomed by strangers as “dayf al Rahman,” a guest of the Merciful One.
We are passing through a confused period of aggression and fear, characterized by our confrontational government, the decline of diplomacy, a pugnacious foreign policy and a settled belief that the surest way to get people to tell the truth is to torture them. (And by the way, “water boarding” was a torture technique at the worst of the Khmer Rouge prisons.) It is no wonder we have begun to squint at strangers. This is a corrosive situation in a country where more and more people, most of them strangers, are a feature of daily life. Americans as a people I believe to be easygoing, compassionate, not looking for a fight. But surely I am not the only one who has noticed that we are ruder, more offhand, readier to take offense, a nation of shouters and blamers.
Yes, it is just silly and fogeyish to yearn for that simpler and smaller world of the past. But one could ask for the past’s better manners, the instinctive decorum that has served to mitigate conflict. One of the lessons of travel is that, though half the world is wearing T-shirts and sneakers, they manage to live in overpopulated cities because they have not abandoned their traditional modes of politeness. These grace notes, which make traveling in crowded countries bearable, are a lesson to us in a mobbed and jostling world.
Should be the only ones allowed
* Home Builders Association promoting energy efficient homes
Bay City Times
By Jeff Kart
The Bay County Home Builders Association has formed a Green Built
Michigan chapter to help train members and other licensed builders on
ways to build more energy efficient and environmentally friendly homes
in the area.
Monday, December 04, 2006
A dark vision, powerfully described
Saturday, December 02, 2006
The Actual Speech by Rickover-amazing foresight
/Published on Saturday, December 2, 2006 by Energy Bulletin/
"Energy resources and our future" - remarks by Admiral Hyman Rickover
delivered in 1957
*By Rear Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, U.S. Navy*
FOR RELEASE AT 7:00 P.M. TUESDAY, MAY 14, 1957
Remarks Prepared by
Rear Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, USN
Chief, Naval Reactors Branch
Division of Reactor Development
U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
Assistant Chief of the Bureau of Ships for Nuclear Propulsion
For Delivery at a Banquet of the Annual Scientific Assembly of
the Minnesota State Medical Association
St. Paul, Minnesota
May 14, 1957
Energy Resources and Our Future
I am honored to be here tonight, though it is no easy thing, I assure
you, for a layman to face up to an audience of physicians. A single one
of you, sitting behind his desk, can be quite formidable.
My speech has no medical connotations. This may be a relief to you after
the solid professional fare you have been absorbing. I should like to
discuss a matter which will, I hope, be of interest to you as
responsible citizens: the significance of energy resources in the
shaping of our future.
We live in what historians may some day call the Fossil Fuel Age. Today
coal, oil, and natural gas supply 93% of the world's energy; water power
accounts for only 1%; and the labor of men and domestic animals the
remaining 6%. This is a startling reversal of corresponding figures for
1850 - only a century ago. Then fossil fuels supplied 5% of the world's
energy, and men and animals 94%. Five sixths of all the coal, oil, and
gas consumed since the beginning of the Fossil Fuel Age has been burned
up in the last 55 years.
These fuels have been known to man for more than 3,000 years. In parts
of China, coal was used for domestic heating and cooking, and natural
gas for lighting as early as 1000 B.C. The Babylonians burned asphalt a
thousand years earlier. But these early uses were sporadic and of no
economic significance. Fossil fuels did not become a major source of
energy until machines running on coal, gas, or oil were invented. Wood,
for example, was the most important fuel until 1880 when it was replaced
by coal; coal, in turn, has only recently been surpassed by oil in this
Once in full swing, fossil fuel consumption has accelerated at
phenomenal rates. All the fossil fuels used before 1900 would not last
five years at today's rates of consumption.
Nowhere are these rates higher and growing faster than in the United
States. Our country, with only 6% of the world's population, uses one
third of the world's total energy input; this proportion would be even
greater except that we use energy more efficiently than other countries.
Each American has at his disposal, each year, energy equivalent to that
obtainable from eight tons of coal. This is six times the world's per
capita energy consumption. Though not quite so spectacular,
corresponding figures for other highly industrialized countries also
show above average consumption figures. The United Kingdom, for example,
uses more than three times as much energy as the world average.
With high energy consumption goes a high standard of living. Thus the
enormous fossil energy which we in this country control feeds machines
which make each of us master of an army of mechanical slaves. Man's
muscle power is rated at 35 watts continuously, or one-twentieth
horsepower. Machines therefore furnish every American industrial worker
with energy equivalent to that of 244 men, while at least 2,000 men push
his automobile along the road, and his family is supplied with 33
faithful household helpers. Each locomotive engineer controls energy
equivalent to that of 100,000 men; each jet pilot of 700,000 men. Truly,
the humblest American enjoys the services of more slaves than were once
owned by the richest nobles, and lives better than most ancient kings.
In retrospect, and despite wars, revolutions, and disasters, the hundred
years just gone by may well seem like a Golden Age.
Whether this Golden Age will continue depends entirely upon our ability
to keep energy supplies in balance with the needs of our growing
population. Before I go into this question, let me review briefly the
role of energy resources in the rise and fall of civilizations.
Possession of surplus energy is, of course, a requisite for any kind of
civilization, for if man possesses merely the energy of his own muscles,
he must expend all his strength - mental and physical - to obtain the
bare necessities of life.
Surplus energy provides the material foundation for civilized living - a
comfortable and tasteful home instead of a bare shelter; attractive
clothing instead of mere covering to keep warm; appetizing food instead
of anything that suffices to appease hunger. It provides the freedom
from toil without which there can be no art, music, literature, or
learning. There is no need to belabor the point. What lifted man - one
of the weaker mammals - above the animal world was that he could devise,
with his brain, ways to increase the energy at his disposal, and use the
leisure so gained to cultivate his mind and spirit. Where man must rely
solely on the energy of his own body, he can sustain only the most
Man's first step on the ladder of civilization dates from his discovery
of fire and his domestication of animals. With these energy resources he
was able to build a pastoral culture. To move upward to an agricultural
civilization he needed more energy. In the past this was found in the
labor of dependent members of large patriarchal families, augmented by
slaves obtained through purchase or as war booty. There are some
backward communities which to this day depend on this type of energy.
Slave labor was necessary for the city-states and the empires of
antiquity; they frequently had slave populations larger than their free
citizenry. As long as slaves were abundant and no moral censure attached
to their ownership, incentives to search for alternative sources of
energy were lacking; this may well have been the single most important
reason why engineering advanced very little in ancient times.
A reduction of per capita energy consumption has always in the past led
to a decline in civilization and a reversion to a more primitive way of
life. For example, exhaustion of wood fuel is believed to have been the
primary reason for the fall of the Mayan Civilization on this continent
and of the decline of once flourishing civilizations in Asia. India and
China once had large forests, as did much of the Middle East.
Deforestation not only lessened the energy base but had a further
disastrous effect: lacking plant cover, soil washed away, and with soil
erosion the nutritional base was reduced as well.
Another cause of declining civilization comes with pressure of
population on available land. A point is reached where the land can no
longer support both the people and their domestic animals. Horses and
mules disappear first. Finally even the versatile water buffalo is
displaced by man who is two and one half times as efficient an energy
converter as are draft animals. It must always be remembered that while
domestic animals and agricultural machines increase productivity per
man, maximum productivity per acre is achieved only by intensive manual
It is a sobering thought that the impoverished people of Asia, who today
seldom go to sleep with their hunger completely satisfied, were once far
more civilized and lived much better than the people of the West. And
not so very long ago, either. It was the stories brought back by Marco
Polo of the marvelous civilization in China which turned Europe's eyes
to the riches of the East, and induced adventurous sailors to brave the
high seas in their small vessels searching for a direct route to the
fabulous Orient. The "wealth of the Indies" is a phrase still used, but
whatever wealth may be there it certainly is not evident in the life of
the people today.
Asia failed to keep technological pace with the needs of her growing
populations and sank into such poverty that in many places man has
become again the primary source of energy, since other energy converters
have become too expensive. This must be obvious to the most casual
observer. What this means is quite simply a reversion to a more
primitive stage of civilization with all that it implies for human
dignity and happiness.
Anyone who has watched a sweating Chinese farm worker strain at his
heavily laden wheelbarrow, creaking along a cobblestone road, or who has
flinched as he drives past an endless procession of human beasts of
burden moving to market in Java - the slender women bent under
mountainous loads heaped on their heads - anyone who has seen statistics
translated into flesh and bone, realizes the degradation of man's
stature when his muscle power becomes the only energy source he can
afford. Civilization must wither when human beings are so degraded.
Where slavery represented a major source of energy, its abolition had
the immediate effect of reducing energy consumption. Thus when this
time-honored institution came under moral censure by Christianity,
civilization declined until other sources of energy could be found.
Slavery is incompatible with Christian belief in the worth of the
humblest individual as a child of God. As Christianity spread through
the Roman Empire and masters freed their slaves - in obedience to the
teaching of the Church - the energy base of Roman civilization crumbled.
This, some historians believe, may have been a major factor in the
decline of Rome and the temporary reversion to a more primitive way of
life during the Dark Ages. Slavery gradually disappeared throughout the
Western world, except in its milder form of serfdom. That it was revived
a thousand years later merely shows man’s ability to stifle his
conscience - at least for a while - when his economic needs are great.
Eventually, even the needs of overseas plantation economies did not
suffice to keep alive a practice so deeply repugnant to Western man's
It may well be that it was unwillingness to depend on slave labor for
their energy needs which turned the minds of medieval Europeans to
search for alternate sources of energy, thus sparking the Power
Revolution of the Middle Ages which, in turn, paved the way for the
Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century. When slavery disappeared in
the West engineering advanced. Men began to harness the power of nature
by utilizing water and wind as energy sources. The sailing ship, in
particular, which replaced the slave-driven galley of antiquity, was
vastly improved by medieval shipbuilders and became the first machine
enabling man to control large amounts of inanimate energy.
The next important high-energy converter used by Europeans was gunpowder
- an energy source far superior to the muscular strength of the
strongest bowman or lancer. With ships that could navigate the high seas
and arms that could outfire any hand weapon, Europe was now powerful
enough to preempt for herself the vast empty areas of the Western
Hemisphere into which she poured her surplus populations to build new
nations of European stock. With these ships and arms she also gained
political control over populous areas in Africa and Asia from which she
drew the raw materials needed to speed her industrialization, thus
complementing her naval and military dominance with economic and
When a low-energy society comes in contact with a high-energy society,
the advantage always lies with the latter. The Europeans not only
achieved standards of living vastly higher than those of the rest of the
world, but they did this while their population was growing at rates far
surpassing those of other peoples. In fact, they doubled their share of
total world population in the short span of three centuries. From one
sixth in 1650, the people of European stock increased to almost one
third of total world population by 1950.
Meanwhile much of the rest of the world did not even keep energy sources
in balance with population growth. Per capita energy consumption
actually diminished in large areas. It is this difference in energy
consumption which has resulted in an ever-widening gap between the
one-third minority who live in high-energy countries and the two-thirds
majority who live in low-energy areas.
These so-called underdeveloped countries are now finding it far more
difficult to catch up with the fortunate minority than it was for Europe
to initiate transition from low-energy to high-energy consumption. For
one thing, their ratio of land to people is much less favorable; for
another, they have no outlet for surplus populations to ease the
transition since all the empty spaces have already been taken over by
people of European stock.
Almost all of today's low-energy countries have a population density so
great that it perpetuates dependence on intensive manual agriculture
which alone can yield barely enough food for their people. They do not
have enough acreage, per capita, to justify using domestic animals or
farm machinery, although better seeds, better soil management, and
better hand tools could bring some improvement. A very large part of
their working population must nevertheless remain on the land, and this
limits the amount of surplus energy that can be produced. Most of these
countries must choose between using this small energy surplus to raise
their very low standard of living or postpone present rewards for the
sake of future gain by investing the surplus in new industries. The
choice is difficult because there is no guarantee that today's denial
may not prove to have been in vain. This is so because of the rapidity
with which public health measures have reduced mortality rates,
resulting in population growth as high or even higher than that of the
high-energy nations. Theirs is a bitter choice; it accounts for much of
their anti-Western feeling and may well portend a prolonged period of
How closely energy consumption is related to standards of living may be
illustrated by the example of India. Despite intelligent and sustained
efforts made since independence, India's per capita income is still only
20 cents daily; her infant mortality is four times ours; and the life
expectance of her people is less than one half that of the
industrialized countries of the West. These are ultimate consequences of
India's very low energy consumption: one-fourteenth of world average;
one-eightieth of ours.
Ominous, too, is the fact that while world food production increased 9%
in the six years from 1945-51, world population increased by 12%. Not
only is world population increasing faster than world food production,
but unfortunately, increases in food production tend to occur in the
already well-fed, high-energy countries rather than in the
undernourished, low-energy countries where food is most lacking.
I think no further elaboration is needed to demonstrate the significance
of energy resources for our own future. Our civilization rests upon a
technological base which requires enormous quantities of fossil fuels.
What assurance do we then have that our energy needs will continue to be
supplied by fossil fuels: The answer is - in the long run - none.
The earth is finite. Fossil fuels are not renewable. In this respect our
energy base differs from that of all earlier civilizations. They could
have maintained their energy supply by careful cultivation. We cannot.
Fuel that has been burned is gone forever. Fuel is even more evanescent
than metals. Metals, too, are non-renewable resources threatened with
ultimate extinction, but something can be salvaged from scrap. Fuel
leaves no scrap and there is nothing man can do to rebuild exhausted
fossil fuel reserves. They were created by solar energy 500 million
years ago and took eons to grow to their present volume.
In the face of the basic fact that fossil fuel reserves are finite, the
exact length of time these reserves will last is important in only one
respect: the longer they last, the more time do we have, to invent ways
of living off renewable or substitute energy sources and to adjust our
economy to the vast changes which we can expect from such a shift.
Fossil fuels resemble capital in the bank. A prudent and responsible
parent will use his capital sparingly in order to pass on to his
children as much as possible of his inheritance. A selfish and
irresponsible parent will squander it in riotous living and care not one
whit how his offspring will fare.
Engineers whose work familiarizes them with energy statistics;
far-seeing industrialists who know that energy is the principal factor
which must enter into all planning for the future; responsible
governments who realize that the well-being of their citizens and the
political power of their countries depend on adequate energy supplies -
all these have begun to be concerned about energy resources. In this
country, especially, many studies have been made in the last few years,
seeking to discover accurate information on fossil-fuel reserves and
foreseeable fuel needs.
Statistics involving the human factor are, of course, never exact. The
size of usable reserves depends on the ability of engineers to improve
the efficiency of fuel extraction and use. It also depends on discovery
of new methods to obtain energy from inferior resources at costs which
can be borne without unduly depressing the standard of living. Estimates
of future needs, in turn, rely heavily on population figures which must
always allow for a large element of uncertainty, particularly as man
reaches a point where he is more and more able to control his own way of
Current estimates of fossil fuel reserves vary to an astonishing degree.
In part this is because the results differ greatly if cost of extraction
is disregarded or if in calculating how long reserves will last,
population growth is not taken into consideration; or, equally
important, not enough weight is given to increased fuel consumption
required to process inferior or substitute metals. We are rapidly
approaching the time when exhaustion of better grade metals will force
us to turn to poorer grades requiring in most cases greater expenditure
of energy per unit of metal.
But the most significant distinction between optimistic and pessimistic
fuel reserve statistics is that the optimists generally speak of the
immediate future - the next twenty-five years or so - while the
pessimists think in terms of a century from now. A century or even two
is a short span in the history of a great people. It seems sensible to
me to take a long view, even if this involves facing unpleasant facts.
For it is an unpleasant fact that according to our best estimates, total
fossil fuel reserves recoverable at not over twice today's unit cost,
are likely to run out at some time between the years 2000 and 2050, if
present standards of living and population growth rates are taken into
account. Oil and natural gas will disappear first, coal last. There will
be coal left in the earth, of course. But it will be so difficult to
mine that energy costs would rise to economically intolerable heights,
so that it would then become necessary either to discover new energy
sources or to lower standards of living drastically.
For more than one hundred years we have stoked ever growing numbers of
machines with coal; for fifty years we have pumped gas and oil into our
factories, cars, trucks, tractors, ships, planes, and homes without
giving a thought to the future. Occasionally the voice of a Cassandra
has been raised only to be quickly silenced when a lucky discovery
revised estimates of our oil reserves upward, or a new coalfield was
found in some remote spot. Fewer such lucky discoveries can be expected
in the future, especially in industrialized countries where extensive
mapping of resources has been done. Yet the popularizers of scientific
news would have us believe that there is no cause for anxiety, that
reserves will last thousands of years, and that before they run out
science will have produced miracles. Our past history and security have
given us the sentimental belief that the things we fear will never
really happen - that everything turns out right in the end. But, prudent
men will reject these tranquilizers and prefer to face the facts so that
they can plan intelligently for the needs of their posterity.
Looking into the future, from the mid-20th Century, we cannot feel
overly confident that present high standards of living will of a
certainty continue through the next century and beyond. Fossil fuel
costs will soon definitely begin to rise as the best and most accessible
reserves are exhausted, and more effort will be required to obtain the
same energy from remaining reserves. It is likely also that liquid fuel
synthesized from coal will be more expensive. Can we feel certain that
when economically recoverable fossil fuels are gone science will have
learned how to maintain a high standard of living on renewable energy
I believe it would be wise to assume that the principal renewable fuel
sources which we can expect to tap before fossil reserves run out will
supply only 7 to 15% of future energy needs. The five most important of
these renewable sources are wood fuel, farm wastes, wind, water power,
and solar heat.
Wood fuel and farm wastes are dubious as substitutes because of growing
food requirements to be anticipated. Land is more likely to be used for
food production than for tree crops; farm wastes may be more urgently
needed to fertilize the soil than to fuel machines.
Wind and water power can furnish only a very small percentage of our
energy needs. Moreover, as with solar energy, expensive structures would
be required, making use of land and metals which will also be in short
supply. Nor would anything we know today justify putting too much
reliance on solar energy though it will probably prove feasible for home
heating in favorable localities and for cooking in hot countries which
lack wood, such as India.
More promising is the outlook for nuclear fuels. These are not, properly
speaking, renewable energy sources, at least not in the present state of
technology, but their capacity to "breed" and the very high energy
output from small quantities of fissionable material, as well as the
fact that such materials are relatively abundant, do seem to put nuclear
fuels into a separate category from exhaustible fossil fuels. The
disposal of radioactive wastes from nuclear power plants is, however, a
problem which must be solved before there can be any widespread use of
Another limit in the use of nuclear power is that we do not know today
how to employ it otherwise than in large units to produce electricity or
to supply heating. Because of its inherent characteristics, nuclear fuel
cannot be used directly in small machines, such as cars, trucks, or
tractors. It is doubtful that it could in the foreseeable future furnish
economical fuel for civilian airplanes or ships, except very large ones.
Rather than nuclear locomotives, it might prove advantageous to move
trains by electricity produced in nuclear central stations. We are only
at the beginning of nuclear technology, so it is difficult to predict
what we may expect.
Transportation - the lifeblood of all technically advanced civilizations
- seems to be assured, once we have borne the initial high cost of
electrifying railroads and replacing buses with streetcars or interurban
electric trains. But, unless science can perform the miracle of
synthesizing automobile fuel from some energy source as yet unknown or
unless trolley wires power electric automobiles on all streets and
highways, it will be wise to face up to the possibility of the ultimate
disappearance of automobiles, trucks, buses, and tractors. Before all
the oil is gone and hydrogenation of coal for synthetic liquid fuels has
come to an end, the cost of automotive fuel may have risen to a point
where private cars will be too expensive to run and public
transportation again becomes a profitable business.
Today the automobile is the most uneconomical user of energy. Its
efficiency is 5% compared with 23% for the Diesel-electric railway. It
is the most ravenous devourer of fossil fuels, accounting for over half
of the total oil consumption in this country. And the oil we use in the
United States in one year took nature about 14 million years to create.
Curiously, the automobile, which is the greatest single cause of the
rapid exhaustion of oil reserves, may eventually be the first fuel
consumer to suffer. Reduction in automotive use would necessitate an
extraordinarily costly reorganization of the pattern of living in
industrialized nations, particularly in the United States. It would seem
prudent to bear this in mind in future planning of cities and industrial
Our present known reserves of fissionable materials are many times as
large as our net economically recoverable reserves of coal. A point will
be reached before this century is over when fossil fuel costs will have
risen high enough to make nuclear fuels economically competitive. Before
that time comes we shall have to make great efforts to raise our entire
body of engineering and scientific knowledge to a higher plateau. We
must also induce many more young Americans to become metallurgical and
nuclear engineers. Else we shall not have the knowledge or the people to
build and run the nuclear power plants which ultimately may have to
furnish the major part of our energy needs. If we start to plan now, we
may be able to achieve the requisite level of scientific and engineering
knowledge before our fossil fuel reserves give out, but the margin of
safety is not large. This is also based on the assumption that atomic
war can be avoided and that population growth will not exceed that now
calculated by demographic experts.
War, of course, cancels all man's expectations. Even growing world
tension just short of war could have far-reaching effects. In this
country it might, on the one hand, lead to greater conservation of
domestic fuels, to increased oil imports, and to an acceleration in
scientific research which might turn up unexpected new energy sources.
On the other hand, the resulting armaments race would deplete metal
reserves more rapidly, hastening the day when inferior metals must be
utilized with consequent greater expenditure of energy. Underdeveloped
nations with fossil fuel deposits might be coerced into withholding them
from the free world or may themselves decide to retain them for their
own future use. The effect on Europe, which depends on coal and oil
imports, would be disastrous and we would have to share our own supplies
or lose our allies.
Barring atomic war or unexpected changes in the population curve, we can
count on an increase in world population from two and one half billion
today to four billion in the year 2000; six to eight billion by 2050.
The United States is expected to quadruple its population during the
20th Century ¬ from 75 million in 1900 to 300 million in 2000 - and to
reach at least 375 million in 2050. This would almost exactly equal
India's present population which she supports on just a little under
half of our land area.
It is an awesome thing to contemplate a graph of world population growth
from prehistoric times - tens of thousands of years ago - to the day
after tomorrow - let us say the year 2000 A.D. If we visualize the
population curve as a road which starts at sea level and rises in
proportion as world population increases, we should see it stretching
endlessly, almost level, for 99% of the time that man has inhabited the
earth. In 6000 B.C., when recorded history begins, the road is running
at a height of about 70 feet above sea level, which corresponds to a
population of 10 million. Seven thousand years later - in 1000 A.D. -
the road has reached an elevation of 1,600 feet; the gradation now
becomes steeper, and 600 years later the road is 2,900 feet high. During
the short span of the next 400 years – from 1600 to 2000 - it suddenly
turns sharply upward at an almost perpendicular inclination and goes
straight up to an elevation of 29,000 feet - the height of Mt. Everest,
the world's tallest mountain.
In the 8,000 years from the beginning of history to the year 2000 A.D.
world population will have grown from 10 million to 4 billion, with 90%
of that growth taking place during the last 5% of that period, in 400
years. It took the first 3,000 years of recorded history to accomplish
the first doubling of population, 100 years for the last doubling, but
the next doubling will require only 50 years. Calculations give us the
astonishing estimate that one out of every 20 human beings born into
this world is alive today.
The rapidity of population growth has not given us enough time to
readjust our thinking. Not much more than a century ago our country –
the very spot on which I now stand was a wilderness in which a pioneer
could find complete freedom from men and from government. If things
became too crowded - if he saw his neighbor's chimney smoke - he could,
and often did, pack up and move west. We began life in 1776 as a nation
of less than four million people - spread over a vast continent - with
seemingly inexhaustible riches of nature all about. We conserved what
was scarce - human labor - and squandered what seemed abundant - natural
resources - and we are still doing the same today.
Much of the wilderness which nurtured what is most dynamic in the
American character has now been buried under cities, factories and
suburban developments where each picture window looks out on nothing
more inspiring than the neighbor's back yard with the smoke of his fire
in the wire basket clearly visible.
Life in crowded communities cannot be the same as life on the frontier.
We are no longer free, as was the pioneer - to work for our own
immediate needs regardless of the future. We are no longer as
independent of men and of government as were Americans two or three
generations ago. An ever larger share of what we earn must go to solve
problems caused by crowded living - bigger governments; bigger city,
state, and federal budgets to pay for more public services. Merely to
supply us with enough water and to carry away our waste products becomes
more difficult and expansive daily. More laws and law enforcement
agencies are needed to regulate human relations in urban industrial
communities and on crowded highways than in the America of Thomas Jefferson.
Certainly no one likes taxes, but we must become reconciled to larger
taxes in the larger America of tomorrow.
I suggest that this is a good time to think soberly about our
responsibilities to our descendents - those who will ring out the Fossil
Fuel Age. Our greatest responsibility, as parents and as citizens, is to
give America's youngsters the best possible education. We need the best
teachers and enough of them to prepare our young people for a future
immeasurably more complex than the present, and calling for ever larger
numbers of competent and highly trained men and women. This means that
we must not delay building more schools, colleges, and playgrounds. It
means that we must reconcile ourselves to continuing higher taxes to
build up and maintain at decent salaries a greatly enlarged corps of
much better trained teachers, even at the cost of denying ourselves such
momentary pleasures as buying a bigger new car, or a TV set, or
household gadget. We should find - I believe - that these small
self-denials would be far more than offset by the benefits they would
buy for tomorrow's America. We might even - if we wanted - give a break
to these youngsters by cutting fuel and metal consumption a little here
and there so as to provide a safer margin for the necessary adjustments
which eventually must be made in a world without fossil fuels.
One final thought I should like to leave with you. High-energy
consumption has always been a prerequisite of political power. The
tendency is for political power to be concentrated in an ever-smaller
number of countries. Ultimately, the nation which control - the largest
energy resources will become dominant. If we give thought to the problem
of energy resources, if we act wisely and in time to conserve what we
have and prepare well for necessary future changes, we shall insure this
dominant position for our own country.
/~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Editorial Notes ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Contributor Rick Lakin writes:
Admiral Rickover was considered the Father of the Nuclear Submarine.
As an employee of the US Atomic Energy Commission, later Department
of Energy, he had great influence on the development of our
country's civilian Nuclear Power Generation Industry.
This speech, given almost 50 years ago, sheds an important light on
our current discussion about the future of energy in our country. In
the 1970s, Admiral Rickover worked closely with President Jimmy
Carter on energy issues. I served on Navy Nuclear Submarines as a
Nuclear Reactor Operator for 8 years.
I would like to give special thanks to Theodore Rockwell, author of
*The Rickover Effect: How One Man Made a Difference* for searching
his files and sending me a copy of this speech so that I could
convert it for digital publication. Mr. Rockwell has a more recent
book, *Creating the New World: Stories & Images from the Dawn of the
Atomic Age*. Both are available on amazon.com <http://amazon.com>.
Biography of Hyman G. Rickover from Wikipedia:
Many thanks to Rick Lakin and Theodore Rockwell who have made this
historic document available. Rickover's speech was covered in an
excellent 1957 article in the Christian Science Monitor that EB just
posted: Admiral Rickover: The future of fossil fuels
This document is also posted at
/*Article found at : *
*Original article : *
A commodities trader takes on ethanomania
Ethanol skeptic sees painful realities ahead
BY ART HOVEY / Lincoln Journal Star
Thursday, Nov 30, 2006 - 12:07:16 am CST
What he can’t see coming from his seventh-floor office window in
downtown Lincoln, Doug Carper can usually piece together on the four,
super-sized computer screens at his desk.
Having pored over all the charts and graphics, and having weighed the
numbers against his many years as an agricultural commodities broker,
the 56-year-old Carper sees trouble coming for Nebraska’s ethanol industry.
He sees more of the same for much of the agricultural economy that
“I’m not posturing. I have no agenda,” Carper said in a Tuesday
interview in his office. “I see trouble looming here in the American
heartland and a lot of good, well-intentioned people facing some
terrible and ruinous losses.”
His sense of trepidation may seem completely at odds with recent reality.
Expansion in the ethanol industry in Nebraska is proceeding at an
unprecedented pace. Corn prices are rising. Congress seems poised to
expand its mandate of renewable fuels.
But circumstances that lead others to conclude there’s money to be made
by aggressive investment have Carper thumping his desk so hard pens leap
in the air.
“For what constructive purpose are we disrupting agriculture in this
manner?” he asked. “For what constructive purpose have we embarked on
this dangerous public policy initiative?”
As far as Carper is concerned, there is no constructive purpose to
putting so much emphasis on ethanol as an answer to shrinking energy
Even if every bushel of corn in the United States were turned into
ethanol, it wouldn’t make much of a dent in overseas oil dependence, he
“It’s a delusion that somehow we are solving the country’s energy needs
when, in fact, at the extreme, ethanol could never be a substantial
solution to the nation’s energy requirement. It’s patently wrong and
absurd to think we can.”
Beyond that, he sees so much emphasis on ethanol leading to higher food
prices. He sees what he called a tremendous negative effect on the
state’s cattle feeders, possible disruption in the food distribution
system and some substantial portion of new ethanol plants failing to
make a go of it as profit margins inevitably narrow.
How sure is he he’s right about that last point?
“As sure as I can be that poorly capitalized, shakily managed companies
almost always have a fairly high fatality rate.”
With politicians of every political stripe singing ethanol’s praises,
Carper knows how hard it is to make criticism heard. Maybe that’s why
his voice tends to rise in volume as he refers to what he describes as
“the realization phase” and replies to questions that call for some detail.
“We’re going to need the largest year-to-year increase in corn
production,” he said.
“We’ve never shifted more than 3 million acres in history. And we’re
going to need 6 or 7 million, if not 10 million acres, this (next) year.”
Furthermore, counting so heavily on ethanol as an energy answer leaves
no room for a poor crop, he said.
“You can only imagine that the job next year becomes even more
difficult, because we continue to ramp up. ... We’re simply raising the
bar and raising it every year.”
Nebraska will pay a price in increased irrigation consumption, in
removal of erodible acres from the Conservation Reserve Program, and in
less obvious ways, he said.
“Farmers are good stewards of the land,” he said, “but money talks.”
At distant points that count on the United States for corn exports,
hunger will be a result of what he describes as a food or fuel fight.
“You won’t go hungry. I won’t go hungry. But somebody will go hungry.”
Don Hutchens, executive director of the Nebraska Corn Board, sees no
reason, so far, to worry about ethanol causing corn producers to fall
behind in efforts to keep up with the state’s corn demand.
“If we look into what we know is under construction in Nebraska today
and at the picture as it might look in three years, I’m not very nervous
about that aspect,” Hutchens said.
Nebraska exports about 420 million bushels of corn per year, he said.
More ethanol means more value added to a product that stays at home.
“I think, economically, we become much better off than to load it on a
rail car to the international marketplace or to another domestic location.”
What about hunger in far-off places? Hutchens answered with another
question: “Is it the responsibility of the Nebraska corn farmer to keep
prices as low as he possibly can so no one in the world has food
Back at Carper’s office, a much more skeptical ethanol watcher cites
“the most bullet-proof scheme that any lobbying group ever devised in
such a short period of time.”
And he said he’s not vulnerable to accusations of occupational ax grinding.
For whatever influence ethanol may have on grain trading, he’s out of
that business now and into managing other people’s money.
But his previous occupation, which he took up at age 22, gives him some
historical frame of reference on remarkable and uncertain times for the
nation’s ethanol-energy connection.
“We’re really embarking on uncharted territory,” he said. “In all the
years I’ve been trading, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
/Reach Art Hovey at (402) 523-4949 or firstname.lastname@example.org