A DbC Apology

oiled bird I apologize to DbC readers. At the height of the Macondo Prospect blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, I said the following about the idea that President Zerobama would start listening to sanity about energy and ecology. “Nothing,” I then predicted, “could be more threatening to the continuance of corporate capitalism. There will be much hand-wringing, a few monkey trials, and another toughening of the regulations. Then deep-water drilling will resume in full. Nothing else is possible, barring a major social upheaval.”

Mea culpa: There have been neither monkey trials nor major new rules. And the partial pause lasted 15, not 6, months. Until yesterday, when the pre-Horizon Deepwater course was re-adopted:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Tuesday announced its proposed five-year plan for offshore oil drilling, which calls for opening new areas in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.

MSNBC reports:

The sales off Alaska, where native groups and environmentalists have objected to drilling, would be the first since 2008. And they would [include the] Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, which Interior officials called a “frontier” for drilling.

In the western and central Gulf,…the proposal puts all unleased acreage up for sale.

By the way, the semi-major social upheaval going on has been essentially silent about energy and ecology.

Doing the Car Math

snake_pig In his latest Do the Math post, physicist Tom Murphy estimates that total human energy use, in all forms across the whole globe and its 7 billion inhabitants, is something like 13 TW (TW = terawatts, or trillion watts). Murphy also calculates that the United States’ annual use of 7 billion (yes, it’s the same number now as the planet’s population) barrels of petroleum constitutes an energy burn of 1.3 TW, or ten percent of total human power use.

For those tracking the insanity of cars-first transportation, this suggests a few follow-up calculations.

We know that, as of 2009, 72 percent of U.S. oil use was in the form of transportation fuel. We also know that some additional petroleum is used both to build automobiles and to build and maintain asphalt roads for automobiles, so the true share of U.S. oil use explained by cars and trucks is certainly at least 75 percent.

Since the United States burns 10 percent of humanity’s total current energy budget on oil, and since cars-first transportation accounts for at least three-quarters of total U.S. oil use, then oil-based transportation in the United States devours 7.5 percent of humanity’s total energy budget.

At present, the population of the United States is about 4.5 percent of Earth’s human population.

Interestingly, the 59 percent of the total U.S. oil burn that goes into personal cars and trucks works out (.59 times 7.5) to 4.4 percent of total world energy use, meaning that, if energy use were distributed fairly across the planet, the U.S. fleet of personal-use automobiles would be devouring the nation’s entire per-capita share.

This, of course, doesn’t include the gas and diesel fuel that gets used in the country’s cargo-delivery trucking system. Much or all of the long-distance trucking sector exists as a way to break and preempt labor unions and thereby restrain labor expenses/incomes, as long-haul truckers are about as disinclined to form unions as railroad workers are prone to forming them.

The President who happily signed the most recent major legislation encouraging the ascendance of long-haul trucking over railroad freight, the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, despite the obvious energy inefficiency of trucks compared to trains? Nope, not Reagan. Our old friend and darling of phony-green false history, one James Earl Carter, Jr.

Remembering the Real Eisenhower

Ike Shah

“He [Eisenhower] felt that it [accepting the legitimacy of Iran’s overwhelmingly popular elected government in 1953]…might have grave effects on United States oil concessions in other parts of the world.” (Minutes of March 11, 1953 White House Meeting of the National Security Council)

Having already authorized Operation Ajax, “President Eisenhower did not wish to hear details of covert operations, so did not attend [further] meetings” about its implementation.  (All the Shah’s Men, p. 164)

A brave hero of democracy and freedom and chain-of-responsibility, indeed.

P.S.  Any American who runs his or her mouth about the Middle East without first obtaining serious knowledge of Operation Ajax is a hypocrite, a fool, and simply unqualified to make any sound on the topic.

The MPG Hoax

donkey-car I often lambaste “electric” cars in this space. My aim in doing that, however, is not to lend aid and comfort to petro cars, which are, in their actually existing form, even worse than “electrics” and hybrids, from an energy-use perspective. I am against “electric” cars because they are halo-ware, a carefully planned distraction from the only kind of reform that stands a chance of bringing transportation systems into line with the requirements of energy and ecological sustainability. Converting to “electric” cars is something that directly competes with radical reconstruction of towns and cities to favor walking, bicycling, and public transit.

Yet, as a kind email commenter on my recent re-post at CounterPunch pointed out to me, it certainly isn’t enough to observe that the energy efficiency of “electric” cars is vastly exaggerated. The same is also increasingly true for petro cars.

The reason for that is the same as the reason I discussed yesterday in relation to “electric” cars: Assessing vehicle efficiency from the point of charging or filling excludes the huge energy expenditures it takes to deliver the charge or the fuel to the plug or the tank.

In the case of the “electric” car, the amount of energy (in the form of coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind turbines, or solar panels) it takes to produce an electrical charge for the car’s engine is significantly larger than the energy embodied in the delivered charge.

But just as (contrary to the childish suggestions of corporate marketing on the topic) electricity is not magic, neither is petroleum. Just as it costs energy to get electricity for “electric” cars, so does it costs energy to discover, drill, process, store, and deliver every gallon of gas pumped into an automotive tank.

In the past, the EROEI for petroleum was extremely high. Over time, as the easy and obvious reserves have declined, it has taken much more energy to discover and drill for petroleum. As a result, oil’s EROEI has plummeted and will undoubtedly continue to decline into the future.

As this happens, it becomes increasingly misleading to use MPG as the basis for evaluating the efficiency of petro-powered cars.

If we had an actual (rather than merely a nominal) green movement in this country, it would be pushing for a universal dust-to-dust standard for comparing the energy-use rate of various form of transportation machinery, including all cars, whatever their engine type.

That, of course, would be purest anathema to the corporate capitalist overclass, which is institutionally and psychologically addicted to perpetuating cars-first transportation right up and into Carmageddon’s awful dawn. Ergo, it is squarely off-the-table, even among the greens. They prefer gestures and pathetic photo-ops and going along to feel like they’re getting along.