Bubble Bubble, Oil and Trouble
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
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.
CHARLES E. ROBINSON
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.