June 17, 2010

Always A Low Priority

The Daily Show takes on history:


Contemporary talk of "green power" is no different than the kinds of talk of non-fossil fuel energy sources that have been out there for at least as long as I've been alive.  Obama, Bush the Younger, Clinton, Bush the Elder, Reagan, Carter, Ford, and Nixon (and probably Johnson and Kennedy and Eisenhower and Truman before them) all were really up against the same problem -- economics.  Oil is cheap, oil is efficient, oil is plentiful, oil fits readily into the economic and technological infrastructure we have already created where other energy sources do not. 

Mainly, though, oil is cheap.  In real dollars, we're paying less for our gas now than we paid for it in the Reagan Administration, and we appear to be on the downward slope of a spike in prices arising from a long-term historic low in the cost of refined petroleum.

We won't get serious about developing alternative energy technologies until and unless it becomes economically efficient to do so. Not until the real cost of oil at least doubles from its current price. And we'll continue to have wars motivated in part by the need to secure access to oil, we'll continue to have environmental degradation from burning the stuff, and we'll continue to have oil spills from industrial accidents.

In the meantime, there is, in fact, plentiful cheap oil, and no fuel known to mankind packs a better punch in terms of its mass-to-energy ratio than oil.  The inflation-adjusted price of refined petroleum products is powerful evidence of the truth of that statement, even if it seems unlikely to you at first glance.  If we've already passed peak oil (and I'm not at all sure that we have) it's still a long way down the slope.

2 comments:

Maxwell James said...

I often agree with you, but this is a good example of where I don't. The low price of oil is largely artificial, the result of government intervention and established infrastructure.

We can choose as a society to begin shifting our infrastructure any time we choose, just as we did with the development of the interstate system in the 1950's. That was not an economically efficient project in its own time either.

A Teacher said...

Well, I've also heard it said that the price of gasoline outside the US is artifically inflated by taxes and tarrifs as well. It begs the question as to what ~is~ the cost of a gallon of gas/ barrel of oil...

The sad reality is that fossil fuel is 'easy', and as long as it's easy, and abundant, we'll stay at it.