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Re: [carfree_cities] Re: Foreign Policy Author's Insight into American Oil Policy

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  • Mike Harrington
    Actually, I said that it is probably too late for fusion energy research to do any good, given the tremendous hurdles to be overcome, i.e., huge expenditures
    Message 1 of 12 , Dec 3, 2002
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      Actually, I said that it is probably too late for fusion energy research to do any good, given the tremendous hurdles to be overcome, i.e., huge expenditures over a long period of time, before it could be economically feasible. As far as fusion energy "gutting the environment," it sounds to me like it would be a lot cleaner than the hydrocarbon-based technology we have now. If you go back and check the note, you'll see that I'm not even sure it would be feasible, not being gifted in plasma physics.

      The point is that a either a sudden or a long-term, inexorable increase in energy prices would be the necessary ingredient for a depression, and since it's been such a long time since one of those has hit, people have forgotten just how bad that they can be. Your home would be very cold in the winter or roasting in the summer, you wouldn't have a job or it wouldn't pay enough to live on, and there probably wouldn't be enough food for most people to eat. How could it happen? Hostilities in oil-producing regions causing market instability are a possibility. It's true that the military and foreign policy of the US is heavily funded to make sure that doesn't happen, but I wonder how long the US will be able to keep it up. Ten years? Thirty years? Forever is a long time. The one flexibility that President Bush doesn't have that Franklin Roosevelt did was that the US was an oil exporter in 1941 (we rode trains and streetcars and could walk to the store then), not an importer of nine million barrels per day, so a "fortress America" was possible. Furthermore, I think increasing world-wide energy use will see Saudi Arabia depleted in about fifty years, and most oil fields will be played out long before then. There's bound to be a point where demand overtakes supply and an economic correction sets in. The effect could be much worse than the 1930's because we consume so much more energy per-capita than we did then, since cheap energy has been built into the model since that time. The global economy today certainly isn't very encouraging, and energy shock under these conditions would certainly have us all on our knees.

      To say that there won't be a time where the abject misery common today in the third world will be the rule everywhere due to an energy collapse is wishful thinking. That's why energy conservation in the US by means of an anti-sprawl policy could have a long-term stabilizing effect on energy prices worldwide. And, as far as cheap energy prices are concerned, nothing would please me more than cheap oil prices in continents like Africa where famine and disease are so widespread, as I have seen firsthand. The third world is composed of human beings that deserve a chance and who have as much right to live as the rest of the world. Conservation on the part of the US could be an inspiration to the two-thirds of humanity who can't afford even today's energy prices, let alone the higher prices that will come. It is possible for North America to use less energy and have a better standard of living than we do today, which I think is what the concept of carfree cities is all about. It is also desirable for improvements in the standard of living of the third world, not just for humanitarian reasons, although that should be the most important part, but for selfish ones. For instance, starving countries are bad for world political stability, and increases in diseases like AIDS due to worsening economic conditions could result in increased infection rates in developed countries. What goes around comes around.

      It is impossible for people today, you included, to survive without cheap energy prices. Attacking science and technology can be dangerous, because it is what keeps you and your loved ones alive. What I'm afraid of is that it may be past the point where science will help very much.

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "dubluth" <dubluth@...>
      To: <carfree_cities@yahoogroups.com>
      Sent: Tuesday, December 03, 2002 5:11 PM
      Subject: [carfree_cities] Re: Foreign Policy Author's Insight into American Oil Policy


      > I am slow posting this response.
      >
      > Mike Harrington attempted to defend the idea that low priced energy is a good thing. Evidence suggests that given more physical power humankind may well do itself, and certainly other species, more harm than good. The points Mike raised skirt the central question. While he also sheds some light on his preferences, the question of environmental consequences of cheap energy isn't settled.
      >
      > Mike Harrington wrote:
      > Altering the planet is not always a bad idea. For example, if the Sahel Desert were irrigated, rainfall and tree cover in sub-Saharan Africa would probably increase.
      >
      > Me:
      > I agree that local alterations in the natural environment can materially benefit humans. To disagree would be to say that the cultivation of the land for crops is a bad idea. Regional alterations may also be found to be beneficial to populations of humans. The short term benefits of some alterations will be greater than the future costs. However, the converse is true. We often fail at predicting some of the most significant consequences of alterations in the environment. Prehistoric and modern cultures have gone extinct after calamities such as famine, brought about by man-made alterations to the environment.
      >
      > No doubt, there is a tendency to believe that applying modern technology virtually always reaps benefits and that conservatism on that score is foolish and harmful. It is reasoned that it is the less advanced societies' lack of energy resources and technology that causes their failure to master the environment. Mike might agree in principle that such a bias is unwarranted. Yet, while he is opposed to the highway culture, he is wanting another national industrial policy, fusion energy research and development. He believes that its success would guarantee no less than a continuation of modern 1st world habits of consumption.
      >
      > Our experience with cheap energy is a great deal of environmental destruction. Energy for war machinery and conquest. Energy for single occupancy vehicles with a resulting demand for roads and exurban development. Of course, energy provides great benefits also. In principle, energy should be priced at its cost of production and the price of damaging uses be charged seperately to the user. In practice, energy production is subsidized and no attempt is made to recover third party costs from users as they cause the damage. Hit and miss regulation that variously moderates behavior and positive energy prices that DO moderate damaging behavior are all we have.
      >
      > An attraction of this car-free cities idea is that it simultaneously offers a very beneficial environmental regulation -- banning the automobile from the city -- while directly improving the space where people live and do business.
      >
      > We should put technology to its best uses. If such a thing as correct pricing were achieved, it would help guide proper uses and development. In general, the achievement of ecologically sound practices doesn't imply a low tech future. My own bias is that people should live long enjoyable lives and that that should apply across nations and into future generations. Cheaper energy would provide immediate benefits but, with no curb, would also empower one generation to thoughtlessly gut the very environment which would otherwise provide vital services to its progeny.
      >
      > Bill Carr
      >
      >
      >
      > "What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected."
      >
      > >From letter attributed to Chief Sealth, 1851.
      >
      >
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