Bubble Bubble, Oil and Trouble

Los Angeles
Thanks for your "Freedom From Oil" issue [Aug. 2/9]. Many of the ideas proposed—e.g., getting the military to buy green—have been around for a long time; it is disappointing that they remain mostly unimplemented. The most compelling argument for getting off our butts and doing something about peak oil is energy return on investment (EROI), the ratio of the energy delivered by a process to the energy used in that process. Cutler Cleveland of Boston University has reported that the US EROI of oil and gas extraction has decreased from 100:1 in the 1930s, to 30:1 in the 1970s, to roughly 11:1 as of 2000. So for every barrel we expend, we currently receive around eleven barrels of oil. If you add the costs of damage and lost livelihood from oil spills, the EROI will be even lower. Once it takes a barrel to get a barrel, oil will be useless.


East Moline, Ill.

You suggest using the government’s purchasing power to spur the green energy market. President Obama’s executive order is a good step in that direction, but it should also be passed as legislation, because executive orders can be overturned. We must push every state, city, county, school district, park, community college, etc. to do likewise: establish these measures by executive order, then follow up with legislation.

Here in Illinois, State Representative Mike Boland has passed legislation mandating hybrid, flex-fuel or biodiesel vehicles be purchased as the state replaces vehicles, and that Energy Star lighting replace incandescent lights as they burn out in state buildings. Boland also passed legislation requiring that all new state buildings or major renovations meet LEED standards. He was joined by the Green Party candidate for governor in pushing for a $1 billion Green Capitol bill to fund local governments and nonprofit groups to "green" their facilities. Multiply those kinds of efforts by the thousands of state and local governments across the country, and you will speed our nation’s clean, green economy.

Chief of staff to Mike Boland



Brookline, Mass.

Regarding "Freedom From Oil": yes, Americans should drive their X number of miles to work in energy-efficient vehicles. But they also must cut back on that X-mile commute. Yes, people should keep warm in the winter in energy-efficient homes. But in these homes, Americans need to set the thermostat in the forties and fifties, not at sixty-eight. Yes, taxes on carbon-based fuels should be increased and payroll taxes decreased. But the payroll tax should be diminished at the rate of 10 percent per year for ten years, and the revenue burden shifted completely to taxing energy. Taxes should bring the price of energy in line with its true cost, which is several times its current price, when you account for environmental costs and the military cost of maintaining the flow of imported oil.

With ten years to adjust to a higher, more realistic energy price, we will figure out how to make transportation more efficient and how to do less of it. Warm winter clothing (possibly battery operated) will become fashionable as we figure out that it costs less to keep the person warm than to heat the whole house. Necessity is the mother of invention. Let us summon up our most important renewable resource: American ingenuity.




Richland, Wash.

It is heartening to see The Nation tackling the complex issue of energy, particularly its acknowledging that the transformation to sustainable energy will take time. Of course, our goal should be 100 percent green energy, but there are limits to how quickly this can be done. Solar cell production requires huge amounts of ultrapure water, which the environment can’t provide. Components in hybrid cars and wind turbines are often made of rare-earth minerals that exist in limited quantities.

Given these natural limits, the only interim technology is nuclear. New generation nuclear plants are much smaller and safer than their predecessors and produce comparatively little waste. Combined with fuel recycling and safety and security measures, they will play an important role between now and when we can fulfill our energy needs with green sources. We can’t expect hydrocarbon fuel use to be minimized until about 2050, after which nuclear can be phased out. This transition will take a lot of foresight and patience, which can be difficult to accept. But accept it we must.

C.J. MITCHELL, chemical engineer



Brooktondale, N.Y.

Your "Freedom From Oil" issue presents the conventional vision of a future clean-energy supply based on wind, solar and other technologies feeding a smart grid. But every product that is derived from oil or other fossil fuels can also be derived from some form of biomass. Biomass should be elevated to first priority among renewable energy sources, as it already provides the greatest quantities of clean energy today, will likely provide the lion’s share in the future, does not require new or exotic technologies and is the only way to replace fossil fuels. Policies supporting biomass energy, such as agricultural price supports and a carbon tax, could quickly inject new economic life into rural America and immediately reduce pollution by directly displacing fossil fuels.




Pittsburg, Kans.

I kicked the petroleum oil habit years ago. I have been using American-made synthetic lubricants in my automobiles for more than thirty years. Every jet and spacecraft in the universe uses synthetic lubricants. They are available nationwide and are a serious green solution to petroleum lubricants. I am a synthetic lubricants dealer, I sell them to friends and customers and I have registered others as dealers of synthetic lubricants, which can be used for all kinds of oil and grease applications. So, if readers are serious about kicking the oil habit, my e-mail address is ggarman@sunnetworks.et.




Big Bad Book Dealers

Carlsbad, Calif.

Regarding Colin Robinson’s excellent and accurate "The Trouble With Amazon" [Aug. 2/9], it should be noted that besides the unfair discount advantages Amazon receives from publishers, unlike independent bookstores, it is not required to charge sales tax.




Hinesburg, Vt.

Colin Robinson’s piece is excellent as far as it goes. But it suggests that Amazon’s predatory behavior is out of the ordinary. It seems to me merely an instance of the extension of the "free market" to all areas of existence, one of the incidental consequences of which is the impoverishment and uniformization of what remains of our culture. Every country has its pathologies, but at least in France, with the 1982 Lang law prohibiting discounts on books of greater than 5 percent, the condition of independent booksellers is healthier than in the United States. Any such provision is, of course, unthinkable here.