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7455Re: [carfree_cities] Is the oil dependence problem on the radar?

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  • Doug Salzmann
    Jun 22, 2004
      On Sat, 19 Jun 2004, Steve Geller wrote:
      > There's still coal. There might even be some surprise oil formations,
      > or some new technology to cheaply process marginal oil formations.

      Indeed, there's still coal -- The undisputed king of global warming
      and filthy air. See the recently-circulated article in which we hear
      the Shell honcho proclaim, "I'm really very worried for the planet."


      By comparison with coal, oil is clean energy.

      Considering the history of discoveries over the past three decades
      (during which exploration technology has improved by orders of
      magnitude), it seems quite unlikely that surprise formations, of
      sizes likely to make a long-term difference, are out there to be

      No doubt, recovery processes will improve, but there will always be
      unavoidable *energy* costs associated with overcoming gravity,
      friction, etc. Unless those costs are relatively low in comparison
      with the energy value of the recovered fuel source, that marginal oil
      is an energy *sink.* Not to mention the environmental damage
      associated with production of oil from unconventional formations.

      > If none of this takes place, we're simply going to have to get most
      > our energy from something besides oil. There's still wind, geothermal,
      > hydro, tides, waves and of course the sun.

      Yep. Those, with other renewables, will have to suffice. Just don't
      imagine that 6-10 billion people are going to use these sources to
      "enjoy" "standards of living" similar to those currently prevailing in
      North America and Western Europe.

      > And don't forget nuclear power. Maybe the members of the "nuke club"
      > will get together and reprocess spent fuel elements for another
      > trip through the reactors, instead of making the stuff into WMDs.

      A fair amount of reprocessing could, of course, take place. It would
      have to, because, contrary to all of the 1950's nonsense about power
      too cheap to meter, *fissionable* uranium is actually rather scarce on
      this planet.

      We could certainly produce much more nuclear-generated
      power than we do now, but there is only one way (unless you want
      to wait for the Fusion Fairy) that it is even conceivable to
      use it to replace cheap oil: Build a bunch of fast-breeder reactors.

      Just imagine a world of greedy warmongers and clashing cultures
      blessed with an unlimited supply of cheap plutonium. Pu-239 is *such*
      useful stuff and, with a half-life of 24,100 years, so very durable.

      Of course, even that nightmare scenario depends upon relatively early
      adoption of a plan for all-out nuclear construction, and widespread
      commitment to its implementation. It takes a lot of time, money and
      (ever-scarcer and more expensive) *energy* to build nuke plants. The
      last round of such building took place in a world of much cheaper and
      more plentiful oil.

      I'm afraid that those who expect technology or Fortune to save us from
      the looming permanent energy crunch have unreasonable and unsupported
      expectations. It ain't gonna happen.

      If human civilization is to survive (I think it's a big "if"), it will
      have to be in communities that use much less energy and many fewer
      resources, while discharging a tiny fraction of the poisonous waste,
      we Westerners do now. Consumer culture and endlessly-growing
      material wealth will be history, or we will be.

      So, imagine a carfree, post-industrial, sustainable city or town --
      and go build it. Soon.



      "Is it not a strange blindness on our part
      to teach publicly the techniques of warfare
      and to reward with medals those who prove to
      be the most adroit killers?"

      -Donatien-Alphonse-Francois de Sade, 1740-1814

      Doug Salzmann
      Post Office Box 307
      Corte Madera, CA 94976 USA

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