A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Oil Addicition and OSC

An interesting and thought-provoking piece by Orson Scott Card over at ornery.org. I don't agree with all of it-- I think he's over-stating the undesirability of large lots and areas without sidewalks for one thing-- but I heartily agree with the general gist of the essay. There's a a reason that coal and natural gas and oil are called non-renewable energy sources. We can't make any more of any of them-- when they're gone, they are gone. And we better start planning for the day they will be gone, or at least in much shorter supply, before the inevitable shortfall sends the world spiraling into a catastrophic economic collapse.

Here's the key passage for me:

We can continue to live richly, by ceasing to consider huge houses, endless driving, and big box stores a desirable thing in our lives.
Absolutely. I like land, and I use our large yard extensively for family and social activities, but the sizes of new houses these days is just perposterous. And when I lived in L.A. and my 15 minute commute took 45 minutes to an hour, it just about drove me nuts. Big box stores don't bug me that much-- I enjoy Menards and Home Depot quite a bit, for example-- but I do think that the constant plunking them down in remote regions is annoying.

I want my kids to have all I had and more-- worldwide energy depletion is going to make that really, really difficult. Especially with China and India increasingly embracing the culture of the automobile.

Also for the record, while I remain skeptical of exactly how big a difference humans make in the global warming trend, I do not believe it to be a scam like OSC. Which, for me, makes wheening us off of a car culture all the more desirable.

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All of the major energy companies are investing in ways to improve current fuel source extraction, as well as researching alternative energy sources and options. No energy company wants to collapse because they continued to focus only on the non-renewable energy source that is their current major product. New energy sources are not going to be implemented immediately, but the need to find new and/or environmentally friendly fuel sources is a must for the survival of their business and industry.

Improving the extraction technologies for the current fuels will help increase the output currently, as well as making it affordable to extract from areas where it was previously not profitable to do so. Enhancing the discovery technologies will help to detect new locations that can provide fuel other than normal locations where we would find energy reserves.

For the consumer, some alternative technologies and fuels are already available. Hybrids are gaining more popularity, and they are becoming available in larger body styles so as to be more appealing to a broader range of consumers. Flex-fuel vehicles are also out there, but those haven't taken off as quickly due to a lack of ethanol availability at most gas stations nationwide, and also because of various government policies intended to help (but may actually be hindering) the ethanol industry.

On the carbon emission front, energy companies are trying to make current fuels burn cleaner in order to lessen their CO2 output. Also, some hazardous stabilization additives for fuels on the market are being replaced with less hazardous alternatives (e.g. replacing MTBE with ethanol).

As far as the commuting goes, most people hate that part of their job. I spend an hour on the road each day just getting to and from work. The only two realistic options for changing that would be to either (a) move closer to my job, or (b) to get a job closer to home. Unfortunately, another option that my employer does not currently permit would be to allow some of the employees to telecommute (e.g. log into the system from home), provided that doing so would allow them to carry out the responsibilities of their given positions.

Imagine how many more people would not need to commute daily if even 10% of a major metropolitan area's workforce did not need to drive in. Besides the fuel, time, and stress savings that would be realized but cutting out the commute, how much more could be saved by the average individual because that person would not need to pay for daycare, lunches out, etc. Even home life could become easier because some mundane home tasks could be completed (laundry, dishes, dusting, etc.) while on the little down times between job duties.

There's one possible solution to reducing one of the biggest uses of the automobile, and it doesn't even involve big oil, giving up one's vehicle, or moving into an OSC approved house.
All good points, Mojo, and some of the reasons I don't entirely agree with OSC's extremism. But the movement away from fossil fuels is progressing REALLY slowly. And I remain unsold on Ethanol, since it takes carbon-based fuels to convert the corn to fuel. The net gain is likely to be marginal at best, and currently is actually negative.

I do think it's absurd that more companies do not allow their employees to telecommute. It's the information age, and computers are everywhere-- why exactly are we requiring people to drive to work EVERY day? Some days it will undoubtedly be necessary, but there have to be plenty of other days when it is a complete waste of time and-- literally-- energy.

And it is discouraging, and a little sad, to me when I see so many fields and woods ripped up to make yet another subdivision of McMansions. Seems a dreadful waste of... well, nearly everything.
The big difference between urban living and suburban living is that the true costs of suburban development are not reflected in the costs of doing so. Water, roads, infrastructure, the degradation costs of converting greenfields into yards- all are costs borne disproportionately among the society.

Meaning that were the big houses on big lots without sidewalks and no mass transit to pay their respctive costs, the alternative would be less attractive.

Humans are like cats in that they are adaptable to different living and social conditions: their effective need for living space can be adjusted between large extents.
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