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Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

Why are the obvious points so hard to see?

The USA does not have an energy crisis, is has a drilling and production crisis. It is government regulations that prevent the free market to solve the high price of energy.

I challenge the idea that we are anywhere near, let alone past, so-called peak oil, for we have more known reserves in oil that at any time in our history. The USA alone has an estimated 31 billion barrels of oil offshore of its coasts and 117 billion barrels of oil under land owned or managed by the government, plus 139 billion barrels beneath privately held land. According to the Department of the Interior, 62 percent of all on-shore federal lands are off limits to oil and gas developments, with restrictions applying to 92 percent of all federal lands.

In fact, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the death of oil has been greatly exaggerated.

The one solution that always works is for government to get out of the way and let free markets and capitalism work. Oil and the oil companies have been highly regulated for over 100 years. Although the oil companies maybe making historic profits, they are also paying record taxes. In fact, Exxon pays three times more in taxes than it earned in profits. Exxon’s earnings per share are 10 percent, compared to Google’s at 33 percent. Exxon pays more taxes in one month than Google does in a year.

The real culprits of high fuel costs are the environmental groups that control the Democrats in Congress, with their no-growth polices and fantasy vehicles and fuels. The environmental groups have stopped all construction of oil refineries, nuclear power plants and hydroelectric plants.

Environmental groups have stopped all clean and safe plants by pushing lies off on an uneducated public. For example, they are against nuclear power because of the waste. However, all the nuclear waste created by this country would fit in a high school gymnasium. The nuclear waste generated by a family of four for twenty years would fit in a shoe box. If it was reprocessed, the left-over waste would fit in a pill bottle, and would only be radioactive for about twenty years. Compare this to the same amount of power from a coal-burning plant: the waste would fill approximately twenty railroad cars and put many tons of radioactive material into the atmosphere. But nobody worries much about the radioactivity of coal ash, because the chemicals in it are far more dangerous. They include several thousand tons per year of mercury and other heavy metals, along with huge amounts of lead, arsenic and asbestos, for example. Yet even the huge quantities of chemical waste in coal ash are of little concern compared to the gaseous emissions from burning coal, which kill an estimated 10,000 to 50,000 Americans every year, depending on which study you believe. (See “Ignorance about Nuclear Power is Killing Us.")

Nicholas von Hoffman's arguments are virtually worthless, especially taxing oil. What he fails to realize is that conservation can only take us so far. It is basic supply and demand. We can only cut demand by so much before it starts to affect our economy and way of life. Hoffman, promotes the same socialist policies of central planning and government interference to fix a problem that they caused, by trying to do what he advocates. Isn’t it time we started being smart and let the free market work, as opposed to intellectual elitism that got us into this mess with ideas that are no more than mental masturbation?

Robert Exton

San Francisco, CA

Jul 10 2008 - 5:46am

Web Letter

Von Hoffman is much too quick to dismiss inner-city rail travel with unsupported statements that it is "too expensive." Unless we see studies that include all the external costs of auto travel in major metropolitan areas, it is premature to dismiss mass rail transit. Anyone who has visited Paris knows that the subway plays an integral part of keeping that city cleaner and less congested.

Also, who says surface rail lines cannot be relocated? That's just BS.

And what about the old "elevated" trains? They work in Chicago, don't they?

I really am surprised to see such backward thinking in The Nation, of all places. This sounds more like Fox News, if you ask me.

Thomas Renda

Washington , DC

Jul 7 2008 - 5:05pm

Web Letter

Oh joy! It is so nice to see someone finally suggest rationing as a key part of resisting climate change. Considering that many climatologists now estimate that America must reduce its emissions by 80-90 percent in less than two decades or risk tipping the planet into deadly positive feedback loops, there is no time to wait for some miracle technology. By rationing energy use, each individual can decide for himself/herself how best to use his/her allotment. The infrastructure is already in place to ration grid power and liquid fuels; all we need is the political will to not be the generation that ends history.

Considering that the most affluent 15-20 percent of Americans are indifferent to costs, a simple carbon tax or cap and trade system will result in wealthy people continuing to consume with abandon while the rest of the population must get by with no emissions; this is neither possible nor politically feasible. If the wealthy want to consume more than their quota, they can always put up solar panels and wind turbines and plant some crops to convert to fuel on their estates.

Brad Foster

Eugene, OR

Jul 7 2008 - 2:36am

Web Letter

It is good that Mr. von Hoffman wants to see some real action on our energy problems. Some of his suggestions seem mis-based or ill-informed, but he can cure that with detailed study.

Aesthetic objections to wind turbines are excess NIMBYism. Survival objections to terrorist-attack-vulnerable nuclear plants producing unstorable waste are not. Neither are objections to starving the poor by turning food into biofuel or turning food-growing land into biofuel plantations.

Railroads don't have to run 300 mph bullet trains. They can run 100 mph electric trains, which is quite fast enough. We can tax oil and oil products to discourage oil use and pay for restoring the passenger rail system. We could build transcontinental passenger-only rail lines down the medians of all the Federal Interstate Highways that We The People already own--no eminent-domain court fights necessary. I also suspect that trolley and streetcar line systems are more long-term energy-efficient than Mr. von Hoffman gives them credit for. They could be built along central and strategic routes, and networks of humble shuttle buses could bring people to the streetcar stops and trolley-train stations. The only barriers are political. The power of the car/bus/truck/oil industries will have to be crushed. Their political influence will have to be beaten down to zero, otherwise no energy progress will be permitted to occur.

And indeed, as someone else already wrote, per capita energy consumption will have to be reduced.

To encourage conservation, we will have to punish waste, and the way to punish waste is punitive pricing. My natural gas use ranges from 0.1 CCF/day in summer to 1 or so CCF in winter. My electric use is less seasonally predictable; ranging from 2.6 kilowatt-hours/day in a good month to 3.8 kilowatt-hours/day in a bad month. And I live a perfectly decent twentieth-century lifestyle.

Also, as someone wrote, the technological possibilities for production and conservation of energy are already better than Mr. von Hoffman allows himself to believe. There are thousands of websites about energy development and conservation; for example:
Viridian Design Movement
Peak Energy
The Ergosphere
The Energy Guy:
and Journey to Forever
Spend enough time studying each of these sites plus the best of the other sites they point you to, and you will see that a lot of supply-stabilization and demand-reduction solutions already exist and just need to be widely understood and put to use.

A few more:

Red Rock Energy is a vast dump-heap of links toarticles, tables, and data about energy fact and theory, devices, sources, vendors, projects, etc. All kinds of things here might be useful to the would-be home conservationist and lover of tools, supplies, gadgets, and gizmos. In the upper left corner is a clickable link into a webring of access to yet other energy sites.

Aprovecho Institute is a much tinier site with a much tinier range. Some of its ideas on super-efficient stoves for Third World Settings can be thought about deeply and then reconfigured for use on First World Stovetops and Burners.

Energy Bulletin is an "issues and concerns" website of archived articles and links written over time. But some of the articles and/or links can be traced back or forward to actual information about actual energy solutions to actual energy problems.

Joshua Banner

Ann Arbor, MI

Jul 5 2008 - 3:13am

Web Letter

Of course it would be desirable to have a long-range plan for energy in this country. But the American way is to let individuals and corporations do the adjusting, and they do it piecemeal and slowly. Only a planned economy can entertain and put through fundamentally long-term plans. Americans are not so inclined. We shall have to muddle along, and if it works more or less, we shall find that vindication of our disinclination to plan ahead.

Let the Europeans plan ahead.

Norman Ravitch

Savannah, GA

Jul 4 2008 - 1:38pm

Web Letter

So wrong in so many fundamental ways, I just have to share:

Rationing: I don't trust the government to do anything right. They're way too incompetent or corrupt or both. Tight supply = high prices = efficient rationing mechanism.

Manhattan Project: same view of government as above. But some elitist, politically correct, unaccountable panel like the National Academy of Sciences--get real! Joe Lunchbucket is not going to turn his life over to such a group. A more democratic instrument is in order.

NIMBYs: these folks have never been, and will never be rational. Thankfully, people with mortgages, and kids to feed, will be more rational than these clowns. This is one area on which we agree.

Trains: much more efficient than cars or buses. Not a panacea, but certainly has a niche to fill.

Buses: same as trains, they certainly have a niche. Will be more important, but still a small part of the solution.

Oil futures: make the hedge fund boys pony up 50 percent of the value of their investment just like equities. I guess this is #2 we agree on.

Taxing oil: expensive energy is here to stay--there's no going back to Kansas, Dorothy. The days of cheap oil are over. We don't need more taxes for government to piss down the drain.

Richard Seballos

Dublin, OH

Jul 4 2008 - 9:12am

Web Letter

Nicholas von Hoffman's article is good because he recognizes a crisis. Its bad because he has no idea how to respond to it, and offers several irrelevant or counterproductive suggestions.

Glaringly absent from his list is a call to reduce energy (and goods) consumption. This betrays his confidence in technological solutions, some of which, including nuclear power, would potentially do more lasting damage to the biosphere than our fossil fuel consumption--except that there is not enough uranium to replace fossil fuel for electricity.

Buses are useful, but light rail is far more efficient in the short and medium turn, because although requiring a slightly higher initial investment, it requires much less in the long run and can run on electricity from any source. Laying rail on the existing streets and highways doesn't occur to Mr. von Hoffman, but with far fewer cars on the road, it would be easy to take over lanes for exclusive use.

Research is not needed, frankly, on any level. The political will to apply existing technology, from local agriculture to zero-energy houses, already exists, for anyone interested in or acquainted with what's already going on.

Jerry Silberman

Philadelphia, PA

Jul 4 2008 - 6:41am

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