Guess Who’s Back Lingering Around My Cabin Door?

I’m pointing you to Newscoma again because she’s telling you how it is in rural America with the price of gas.

It’s scary, folks.

And it’s scary for me in two ways.  It’s scary to know how many people, people in our community and our region are suffering, terribly, already, and gas isn’t coming down anytime soon.  We’re going to hit five dollars a gallon.  There’s just no way around that.

I’m already looking into taking the bus if we get the house and just leaving the car parked because, sweet Jesus, gas is expensive.

But I have a bus to take.

I keep thinking of the Butcher’s friends from high school who stopped farming because it got too expensive and so they now commute to work either into Muscatine or the Cities.  How can they afford gas?

Shoot, closer to home, how can people who live out in Dickson and Fairview afford to commute into Nashville?

And, if they move to town, where are they going to go?

I tell you, I know what I make, which is pretty average for what the “secular” side of my employer pays and I know what kind of house I can afford and I can tell you that, for me to get a house in my price range, we had to go look at some shitholes.  Beneath what I can afford?  The pickings are slim.

So, say you’re an employee of my employer and you’re just making $30,000 a year and your wife is staying at home with your three kids.  If you live out in Fairview or Dickson, you can get a house, with a yard and three bedrooms and you can make it work.  Shoot, that’s why so many folks headed out to Smyrna and Murphreesboro and on down 24 or up to Gallatin.

You can live out there better for less than you can in the city.  And when gas was $1.75, the distance wasn’t as much of a consideration.

But now?  And soon in the future?  Folks are going to have to move to town.  And we didn’t spend the last five years putting up $100,000 housing stock.  We spent it putting up $250,000+ condos.  How are these folks supposed to move to town?

I don’t know.  It bugged me to see them talking about how this affects folks on the fringes of society more than it affects “most” Americans.  Maybe that’s just a fact of life of living in the South.  Maybe what is so clear down here is that many of us might not yet be on the fringe, but the fabric is unraveling, and quick.

The other thing that pisses me off is that, in order for things to change, the folks above us are going to have to start suffering.  It’s going to have to hurt them in their pocket books.  But I think what that Times article shows is that they’re not yet, not really.

Which means, I think, that we’re going to have to suffer a lot worse.  The ground has got to shift in a scary way beneath the people above us and the only way that can happen is if the ground slides out from under us.

Scary shit.

So, yeah, when I see pundits like Andrew Sullivan basically cheering for the price of gas to continue to rise, I want to punch him in the face.  Yes, I know we’ve got to be working on alternative fuels, immediately, if not sooner.  Shoot, maybe y’all should have spent more time listening to Jimmy Carter instead of mocking him for being a wimp, back in the day.  But the thing is that high gas prices in Washington D.C. is an inconvenience.  High gas prices in rural America means that people don’t eat.

We have a problem.  We need to fix it now.  And maybe we can’t fix it now, but we need to be putting as much energy into it as we are putting into… oh, I don’t know… maybe a war?… and get busy figuring out what “next” is and how we’re going to transition to “next” as seemlessly as possible.

(Also on my list of people to punch in the face?  People who are still claiming we’re not in a recession.  Fine, by economic definitions, we’re not in a recession.  Stop using economic definitions to argue against real people’s suffering.)

56 thoughts on “Guess Who’s Back Lingering Around My Cabin Door?

  1. The sad thing is, from my perspective, is the lack of knowledge people have about rural areas and that incomes are a lot less with more driving time especially for farmers. For me to drive 50 miles round trip to an adjoining community is roughly about $10 in gas.
    Trying to communicate that is difficult. I end up defending the argument about rural communities instead of talking about the root of the issue which is we are living the problem now.
    I honestly think, in my community at least, that the middle class is effectively gone.
    I’m so glad you understand.
    It’s not a crisis. Yet.
    But it could become one quickly.

  2. we didn’t spend the last five years putting up $100,000 housing stock. We spent it putting up $250,000+ condos. How are these folks supposed to move to town?

    wait another five years and those still-unsold condos will be on the market for sub-$100K. or perhaps the value of the dollar will come down to make the equation balance that way, i’m not sure.

    (i’m insanely lucky; i can walk to work, living in a town small enough i can bike to everywhere so long as the weather permits that and i have a bit of time. but my small town is in the middle of bumfuck nowhere — if i want to get to anywhere else at all worth going, i have to drive hundreds of miles each way. worse comes to worst, mine is a town that won’t be getting any gas, because we’re too far out of the way and the demand will be too high elsewhere.)

  3. For the urban poor this is a problem as well. Most transit is designed to get suburbanites in to the central business district. Most urban poor are relegated to service jobs and the few manufacturing jobs left which are most certainly not in the central business districts. They are on the fringe and they are far from most low-wage workers homes.

    The local produce store near me is hiring but is also planning on closing the store when the lease runs out. I could go work for one of their other stores but with gas and childcare both being so expensive, there is no way I can justify the job financially.

    I live on spousal support instead. And it sucks. But I still have it so much better than many because I can choose to live on the spousal support. I think of the people I know living in rural Wyoming, and while I know they have benefited from the natural gas boom, the price of gas will really hurt those not close to what passes for central cities there.

  4. Every time I read this type of report from “rural” America, I am seething.

    And after I clicked on your site, I clicked over at MSNBC where one of the lead stories is about how the price of fuel is increasing the cost of school lunches.
    Well, guess who that will hurt, again? THE POOR.

    Being one of the lucky few, I work at home. I might put gas in my car once every 2 weeks. I can walk to the grocery store – it’s 2 blocks. But when I do go put gas in my car, I become absolutely livid. I can’t imagine how I would feel/respond if I was still doing a 24 mile round trip commute to work every day. And even though I work at home and don’t have to suffer with this as much or as often as so many, I find myself having to cut corners. I don’t go out anymore and socialize at restaurants or meet up with friends at a bar for a drink. I opt for free entertainment, such as movies here or at friend’s houses or television via Hulu, rather than going out to a movie and spending $25+. Small sacrifices for me, but I don’t have a family to take care of. I shudder to think what that’s like.

    What really burns me up, is that neither of the presidential candidates is making this priority number 1 and our current president is like an ostrich with his head buried in the sand. And the reason this is so is because (a) none of them will ever know what it’s like to choose between the food they put on the table, medication or gasoline to get to work (b) they don’t have an emotional response at the gas pump because they don’t do that menial task like the rest of us.

    Hearing about how others are suffering via a daily report is vastly different from direct suffering.

    Being from MS, and knowing farmers in the delta and elsewhere in the state, I’ve heard this for a while. Last time I was down there, I spoke with a 65+ year old relative who owns an independent trucking business – he’s been a lifelong Republican. He said these words “The Republicans have ruined this country for people like me.”

    That’s big people. Very big.

  5. So, yeah, when I see pundits like Andrew Sullivan basically cheering for the price of gas to continue to rise, I want to punch him in the face.

    Good heavens yes. I’ve run into this more than I can stomach in person when people ask me about energy policy. There have been some good planning studies done showing that if we built a high-voltage set of relatively few transmission lines from the eastern Dakotas to the east coast, combined with continuing to install wind turbines as fast as possible in the high-wind western areas of that network, energy prices for all areas affected by that network would drop. They would drop the most in densely packed urban areas that are short on nearby sources of generation, the very areas most at risk for blackouts in the heat of summer, and the very areas with the greatest concentration of people who can be killed by the heat but who have no options when the power goes out.

    Invariably some upper-middle-class McMansion resident will start talking about how we don’t *need* all that if we all just use less power. While real people are at real risk of death from the heat as we overload our transmission infrastructure more and more each year. It makes me want to slug someone.

  6. Unfortunately, any sort of systemic change is going to create casualties. When gas is affordable, no one cares about conservation. I too applaud higher gas prices, there is simply no other way to get large groups of people motivated. Like war, this process is going to disproportionately affect the poorest among us. I hate it, but it is coming anyway…lets get on with it.

    I’ve said the same thing with respect to immigration. Until the short-sighted among us have to deal with the catastrophic effects of knee jerk, feel good legislation, public sentiment cannot be changed.

  7. Many people cannot do their current jobs from home. But many of us can. Aunt B., could you work from home, with a broadband connection? If all of us did, who could, that would represent a large decrease in gas consumption, and could (possibly) even bring-down the cost of gas for those who must commute. Maybe when gas hits $6/gal, and the bosses have to choose between paying people enough to commute, or letting them work from home, we’ll see this really take off.

  8. Well of course we have to quit being such energy hogs, and of course the change is going to hurt. What I think B was saying — slap me if I’m wrong B — is that simply cheering change that starves people is one step down the road to becoming those we despise.

    Cheering the necessary adjustment *while* talking about what we can do to make the process less catastrophically unfair might be one way to avoid taking that step down that road.

    When I talk about new electric transmission lines, one of the first things I usually mention is making sure the nearby landowners don’t get screwed in the process of trying to keep up with our growing population enough that we don’t have any more people dying for lack of a/c in hot summer blackouts. Yeah, someone gets hurt no matter what on that one, but I think B’s message was we can at least acknowledge that there are real people getting hurt.

  9. Yes, of course, but I am not smart enough to understand what b is saying, so i usually just hijack the threads here and pontificate.

  10. After I posted here, I am still seething. And I think I now realize why.

    The article in the NYT focuses on the MS Delta and the economic plight of people down there. To people in NY, this might as well be a third world country being talked about. I remember all too well the comments of NY congressman Charles Rangel: “Who the hell wants to live in Mississippi?”

    As far as the people in NY and the other large cities of America, the problems of Mississippi (and other rural areas) are problems they don’t have to deal with. All of us in flyover country, to these people, have chosen our lot in life and will have to deal with it, high gas prices and all.

    Sure, I agree with Mack. We have to quit being energy hogs. I started cutting back way before this gas price surge. I wrapped up in a blanket all winter on the sofa, but I still had a $200 natural gas bill to pay for 2 months straight. I don’t drive my car very often – last week I didn’t move my car for 4 days.

    I was on the iChat with a friend this morning — he works for a company that supplies to the chemical and petroleum industries. His direct quote regarding the oil issue is this:

    “The oil supply is not fundamentally different today versus last year, an das a matter of fact, there is more untapped discovered oil reserves than ever before. Big reserves in Canada, ANWR and off the coast of Brazil! They predict that ANWR has 3 times the reserves as the middle east. Ain’t that some s**t?”

    Now, as I sit here doing my design work, I don’t know much about his line of work, but we both agreed on one thing – greed is the driving force here. Pure and simple greed.

  11. Alas I’m at work on my computer with limited capabilities, or I’d just post on this, but a couple of random thoughts on this.

    ~ These fuel prices are starting to cause some inflation. At my company, four months ago a queen frame cost $45. This was the price it had been for a couple of years. Then it jumped to $55 because of rising costs a few months ago. And we just raised it again to $60 last week.

    ~ I had read somewhere that T. Boone Pickens, the oil billionaire, was heavily investing in wind turbines, predicting that 20% of our electrical needs could be produced by them within 20, or something like that. It’s one thing when a politician panders with subsidies, or Al Gore gets on his little stump… but when a successful capitalist actually invests his own cash, that’s when I’m convinced of feasability.

  12. James Lileks, who lives in Minnesota and has parents in the Fargo area, writes a great deal about wind turbine energy. Apparently it’s happening out there, and is a booming industry.

    In the meantime I find it very telling that in some of my research on the fuel industry I discover that a large measure of the cause for the rise in gas prices is because investment banks have begun speculating on oil and hoarding it. In those same prairie states that are generating wind turbine energy there are fields and fields of oil storage tanks where investment banks have been buying–and hording–oil in an effort to ensure their continued wealth and ongoing supply.

    Not to be all pop culturey about it, but it really does seem like a sort of George Bailey (the wind turbine people) versus Mr. Potter (the oil-storing bankers) writ large.

    Frankly, I have more respect for those who are trying to create alternative energy than those who are driving up the price of current energy to further line their pockets. The former seems forward-looking and progressive, the other seems churlish, selfish and a bit nasty.

  13. Frankly, I have more respect for those who are trying to create alternative energy than those who are driving up the price of current energy to further line their pockets. The former seems forward-looking and progressive, the other seems churlish, selfish and a bit nasty.

    Ah, the Market. Kat, you more than most articulate a very compelling Libertarian argument. Even when i disagree, I am usually swayed, at least for a minute, toward infusing some market realities into my Liberalism. But here is one of those perfect examples of something I consider to be part of the Commons, being exploited by the Market, well, because they can. This is where Govt regulation can and should intervene.

  14. This is where Govt regulation can and should intervene.

    Welcome to the problem of globalisation. We do have some market controls on the hoarding of products, but because of globalised market forces banks like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs can buy their speculative oil futures on the markets in Japan and the UK without running afoul of U.S. SEC governance. Nice, huh?

    In another argument AGAINST government control, one of the problems causing the inflation in oil prices is that several governments in Asia offer oil subsidies in order to grow their economy.

    That means that we in the U.S. who have no government subsidies (as we shouldn’t–the oil industry doesn’t need corporate welfare and really no other corporation does either, imho) pay the actual going rate, whereas the folks on the ground in China, India, Viet Nam, etc. get cheap cheap gas thanks to their government. Because oil is now cheaper (due to subsidies) in those countries, oil consumption is going to be on the rise whether or not we come up with alternative fuels here in the U.S. Of course that puts us in a better place thirty years from now when the Chinese can no longer afford to underwrite the New Black Opium habit of their people, but in the meantime it creates hardship here in the states.

  15. The U.S. government does subsidize the petroleum industry, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars a year. An overview of these subsidies is here. Probably a lesser amount per capita than many Asian countries, but not by a lot.

    As far as speculators, I believe it’s a good thing they are driving prices up now. As Aunt B. touched on with her comment about taking many years to make infrastructure changes such as revamping housing stocks. Another important infrastructure issue is public transit, which is not equipped to handle the ridership they’re seeing now, much less what they’ll see when gas prices are higher.

    If the production of a group of oilfields is plotted together, it looks like a hill: Increasing production as new wells are drilled, peak (the top of the hill), decreasing production as the remaining oil becomes more difficult to distract. It’s common for production rates on the downside to decline at 5-10% a year. If world oil production starts declining at 5-10% per year, there will be no time to make the infrastructure changes we need to transition to more sustainable energy.

    If speculation drives prices high a decade before the global peak, motivating investment in infrastructure changes, we might manage that transition. As horrible as it is on so many individuals and families and communities, I think it would be much worse if we managed to keep prices low now only to hit a brick wall later.

    Unfortunately, it’s very easy to see the positives in statistics like increased ridership on public transit and passenger rail, fewer highway miles being driven, less gas being consumed… and completely forget the hardship and desperation that is behind so many of those statistics. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m sure glad people like Aunt B. and Newscoma are writing about it.

  16. I openly admit I don’t know enough about the oil industry or how these such things work to have an educated opinion on it, but does anybody know what Europe is doing differently. You hear everywhere that gas is $10/gal there, and that’s supposed to be so bad. Yet, I recall being in Austria in 2000, and gas was running about $9/gal at that time. What have they been able to do to only see a dollar increase over 8 years?

  17. I’m not familiar with the specifics of what Europe does differently regarding the petroleum industry, but I know some of the differences regarding other aspects of energy policy. When it comes to the development of wind power, for example, they are way ahead of us in terms of percent of power used and in research on future possibilities. All this despite having much less rich wind fields than we do.

    Germany has an extremely high percentage of power coming from wind, and they got there by legislating in support of people putting up their own small wind turbines long ago. They’re also not shy about pairing wind turbines with small pumped hydro installations, which work as a natural complement to each other (if anyone really wants to hear more about this, I’ll explain, but I might tend to go on a bit). In the US, due to our environmental concerns, there’s no way we’d have let anyone mess with our lakes and wetlands enough to pair wind with pumped hydro all over the place. The Germans may have actually made the more sound environmental call on that one.

    All that reduces the amount of energy that must be produced from non-renewable sources. That must have some effect on petroleum prices.

  18. Just dropping another point in the mix, this time about the $250,000 condos vs $100,000 homes.

    The majority of folks in places like where ‘Coma and my mom are in mostly-rural Northwest TN? Their home-buying price range is more like $50,000. $75,000 for the more well off.

    Not to mention you could probably put two to two and a half of the house you’re buying into my mom’s house, which was around $40-45,000 five years ago.

    Take a look at zip 38242 on when you have time, the majority are between $30-70K, more or less. Most of the folks who could buy those homes can’t afford to buy a home in metro Nashville.

    Now, there’s one house I highly recommend in that bunch (very well built ‘cos it was built by my great-grandfather and great-uncle) that’s between $70-80, but it has a garage apartment to it too. We’re trying to talk my godmother into buying it… luckily she is retired at this point so work transportation’s not a big issue.

  19. Aunt B is right, the “let them eat cake” poverty analysis of the NY times is sickening.

    And yes, Amurkans need to start using a LOT less energy (factor 3 reduction just to reach European levels). But the way to do that is to have programs that allow the poor to survive the transition, such as the most massive housing and public transit program ever (the Bush-deficit might not help with this, but it doesn’t make it less necessary).

    The folks promoting wind farms are mixing apples and oranges: wind produces electricity, oil is needed for transport. Cheaper electricity won’t help oil prices, or very little. Not that wind power shouldn’t be promoted, but it’s just one aspect of a much bigger problem, and transport is America’s Achilles heel.

  20. Christian, I sometimes can’t tell when you’re kidding and when you’re not. Do you honestly think that it’s weird that gas consumption in Tennessee would be high (even higher than budgetted) in April?

    For one thing, we don’t have a severe drought this year, so people who didn’t plant last year can get some shit in the ground this year. That takes gas.

    And people got their tax returns. They had a little extra money to spend on gas.

  21. The folks promoting wind farms are mixing apples and oranges: wind produces electricity, oil is needed for transport.

    Hmmm. Wind powered cars would be so kick ass.

  22. Hmmm. Wind powered cars would be so kick ass.

    I don’t know about fully wind powered, but I wonder why we don’t utilize wind energy to supplement power consumption in a vehicle. Now that I think about it, that would seem to make a whole lot of sense since the very act of driving would push the turbine through air making “artificial wind.”

  23. “The folks promoting wind farms are mixing apples and oranges: wind produces electricity, oil is needed for transport. Cheaper electricity won’t help oil prices, or very little.”

    Not really. DOE 2006 figures show 65 million MWh of generation fueled directly by petroleum. And coal provides the fuel for half our generation, and petroleum is involved in its trasport, unlike wind.

    Wind turbine generation directly on a consumer vehicle wouldn’t work — too much added weight and drag. Wind or solar plugged into your garage to charge your electric vehicle would work great however. And sail-based vehicles could go somewhere — I haven’t seen anything viable, and they’d probably be special purpose, but for the right special purposes it could maybe work.

  24. Now you have my mind spinning on the lovely idea of a wind-indirectly powered car. When does wind tend to be highest in most parts of the USA? Night. When would your car mostly likely be plugged in to charge? Night. You’d probably need some kick-ass supercapacitors to smooth out gusts, but damn it’s a nice notion.

  25. Jeez. Lots of disinformation and shoddy thinking about a crucial topic.

    Cars use energy to make that wind – in fact a major factor in energy efficiency of cars is the wind resistance. Putting a wind turbine on a car means converting one form of energy (to move the car) into another (from the turbine motion), probably with large losses in the conversion. Not smart.

    Also, electricity is generally considered the highest quality form of energy. Using that for transport, unless it’s an efficient grid, like for public transit, should be considered in the context of all the other demands for electricity.

  26. Helen,

    you’re right, some petroleum goes to power generation, but it’s not huge. The coal transport is done by rail, yes, with diesel powered locomotives, but that network is damned efficient compared to the rest of transit in the US (car and truck). So it’s still apples and oranges.

  27. Actually 65 million megawatt hours is huge, as is transport fuel for coal.

    Is it enough to suddenly halve the gas price if we quit doing that? Almost certainly not, in part because monopolistic practices have as much to do with our current gas prices as anything. The fact that there isn’t one quick easy solution to our petroleum issues doesn’t mean that the factors that make the problem are suddenly not part of the problem.

  28. I’m not sure what “electricity is generally considered the highest quality form of energy” means in this context. Could you be more specific?

  29. Putting a wind turbine on a car means converting one form of energy (to move the car) into another (from the turbine motion), probably with large losses in the conversion.

    So the preferable option is to lose ALL the energy? The “wasted” energy lost in such a conversion would most be in the form of motion. The thing is, that’s kind of the point of a car in the first place. It would take MORE energy to move the turbine than you’d produce with the turbine, but if the turbine is part of the thing you’re trying to move in the first place, it seems to me that any energy the turbine produces is a net gain minus the weight of the device.

    Right now air passes in through the grill of the car and basically hits a wall. I could be way off, but I’m failing to see how putting a fan between the grill and the radiator would make the car LESS efficient.

  30. Dolphin, the short answer it increases both drag and weight to the point where the added power to move the vehicle is greater than the power saved.

    Wnd turbines operate by pulling energy from the motion of air, with a theoretical limit of 67% of energy extracted by a perfect turbine. You have to put 100% of the energy into that system (of turbine moving relative to air) to get 67% out. It’s a losing game inherently. Then there’s imperfections in the turbine, line losses, power needed to move the extra weight since we’re talking about a moving turbine, and the like.

  31. Here’s another approach to that explanation, in case the last one didn’t help:

    Imagine a car running down the road at 55 mph, or equivalently, a stationary car with it’s environment running past at 55 mph.

    The air going over, under, around, and through the car doesn’t hit the car and stop (i.e. lose all its energy). If it did, the motion of the air relative to the car would stop, since the air now has no motional energy (when the reference point is a stationary car). The air goes over, under, around, and through. It loses some energy in the process, which is why cars have aerodynamic drag (which increases as the square of speed, which is why driving 45 instead of 65 can save you load o’ dough on gas though not time).

    If you put a turbine in there, you’re not “catching” energy that’s not being used, you’re pulling more energy out than the built-in drag is already using, at a 2:3 conversion ratio — for every 2 units of extra energy pulled out, you have to put an extra 3 units into moving the air relative to the car or the car relative to the air.

    If that’s as clear as mud, I can take another crack at it, or the relevant equations are up on wikipedia.

  32. So the preferable option is to lose ALL the energy?

    i don’t think you understand the physics here, Dolphin… the apparent wind around a moving car is only there because the engine burns fuel to keep the car moving. part of that fuel’s energy goes, in fact, to overcoming the air resistance which that apparent wind represents. streamlining a car to be more aerodynamic saves fuel because overcoming the wind resistance gets easier.

    bolting on a turbine would increase that same wind resistance, and require more fuel burnt in the engine to overcome. what with thermodynamics souring your marginal gains (they always do) you’d burn more extra fuel than you’d gain energy from the turbine — much more, in practice.

    in short, the “wind” around a moving car isn’t a real wind, in most cases. it’s an epiphenomenon of the car’s velocity, and is dearly bought in gasoline to maintain that velocity. there’s no energy in that wind to be harvested; energy goes into creating it whenever it is there. you want to minimize that apparent wind, not put extra frictional hurdles in its way.

  33. Aunt B: “Do you honestly think that it’s weird that gas consumption in Tennessee would be high (even higher than budgetted) in April?”

    Yes, considering April of last year we consumed 50,000,000 less gallons in one month when gas cost less.

  34. Helen: i’m not totally certain, but i’d guess the “quality” of an energy form relates to the ease with which it’s converted to other forms, and/or the ease with which it’s transported. electricity is easy to move around and can be easily turned into light, heat, or movement, so it’s high quality.

    alternately, i suppose you could define the concept in terms of how much effort has to go into “refining” the energy form. generating electricity from primary energy sources takes a good deal of equipment and incurs considerable operating costs. few practical energy forms would be higher quality by that measurement.

  35. Yes, but that’s why I brought up the weather. We had that hard frost and then the drought. Farmers weren’t in the fields. How does April 2008 compare with April 2006?

  36. I believe you guys (though I’m still not thrilled at being called “not smart” by Cassie, for thinking this doesn’t off-hand sound unreasonable, but then I’m more than willing to acknowlege that there are far more people in the world far smarter than I, so I’ll own it), but what I am just not understanding is that it sounds like the reasons this wouldn’t work all rest on the assumption that a fan moving through air creates more drag than a solid wall moving through air, which my well be true, but I don’t understand why that is and in fact it seems counterintuitive that that would be the case.

  37. no, a fan moving through air doesn’t create more drag than a solid wall (of the same size) moving through air at the same speed would. but it does create drag where, if you didn’t have the fan, there would be that much less drag. overcoming the drag created by the moving fan, in order to keep the fan moving (and not get stopped by the drag), takes more energy than you can get out of any electrical generator powered by the fan.

    this kind of you’ll-always-lose-energy double bind is everywhere in physics, thanks to the three laws of thermodynamics: one, you can’t win, two, you can’t break even, and three, you can’t quit the game.

  38. got it now. Just needed it repeated enough times that I could roll it around in my head until it clicked. Thanks for those who explained it.

  39. Oh good. It was a good question, dolphin. What you were proposing conceptually boils down to a perpetual motion machine, and while once we get why a particular one doesn’t work, they’re fun to have a laugh at, the reality is that most of us come up with such ideas on the way to truly understanding how energy moves through systems.

    I don’t know anyone who’s ever had a good invention who didn’t get derailed by a perpetual motion machine idea at some point. It’s just a step in getting to the good ideas, and given that we’re in an energy crunch, we need all the people we can get thinking up ideas.

  40. I know we’ve moved past this, but now that I’m at the computer I wanted to clarify something to Cassie or lyrl (whomever corrected me about U.S. Oil Subsidies.)

    While we in the U.S. DO subsidise Oil COMPANIES–something I am against, by the way–we do not subsidise personal or corporate oil use.

    In the Asian countries where oil subsidies are slowly killing their governments, they actually pay citizens and companies subsidies to offset the high cost of oil consumption.

    It’d be like the government here giving out Gas Stamps the way we give out food stamps.

  41. Thanks, Katherine, that makes sense. I had wondered about direct vs. indirect subsidies when I was writing that yesterday, but it didn’t really click. The importance of that difference makes a lot more sense to me after reading your explanation.

  42. Hi again, just wanted to apologize for the strongly worded comment. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that anyone is stupid, far from it, just, well, misinformed. For me, the lack of basic knowledge on energy use (confession – I’m a researcher and teach a class on the topic) is terrifying, especially in America. This is a huge problem, one that requires a decent understanding of the basic processes and trade-offs, and the general population, politicians, etc are just woefully unequipped to deal with it. Again, not calling anyone stupid. I’ll try to think of some links to basic energy information on the web, but a holistic perspective is hard to come by.

    Nomen noscio is correct about electricity: it has the most uses and is easy to transport, only drawback is the storage difficulty.

    And regarding transportation solutions, there are a family of them, all related to reducing road traffic:
    – denser and diverse cities (diverse in the sense of commercial activities mixed in with cultural and residential, so you don’t have to drive to get a bottle of milk or go see a movie or go to work or school)
    – efficient and user-friendly public transit within and between the neighborhoods and cities
    – freight by rail, not by road

    Some of these strategies will take decades of work and huge investments, but might as well get started now, and they’ll pay off in the end. In the mean time, more efficient cars, car-pooling and trying to relocate near public transit might help, but I feel those solutions are putting the burden of a collective problem on each individual, which really sucks.

  43. Yes, cassie, but this is truly an opportunity for this country to stop beating its chest and proclaiming its superiority, and actually demonstrate it. Personally, i think if our elected leaders are square with us, we will respond, and in a big way.

    Part of the process is educated people about how much damage we have done in the name of cheap, plentiful oil. We have wrecked entire countries, and we have waged war when our supply was threatened. There are consequences to those choices, and we may just now be experiencing them.

  44. I agree, Mack, that it would be nice for politicians and the media to just start talking frankly about where we are and what we need to do to get someplace firmer.

    But my question for you is this? How do you go about doing that in the face of the rampant anti-intellectualism in this country? Where having and demonstrating knowledge is somehow considered elitist?

  45. How do you go about doing that in the face of the rampant anti-intellectualism in this country? Where having and demonstrating knowledge is somehow considered elitist?

    The people stuck in Darwin’s waiting room will just have to perish. ;)

    Seriously, heres where I go all woo woo and invite the crazies to attack me: As you know from any of our conversations, I’m betting on the “collective consciousness.” Some of it can be attributed to the wealth of information that is the internet, but i think a more likely factor is in the way we are hard-wired.

    We, on some cellular level, remember certain things. Its probably the reason we tend to gather together whenever possible…safety in numbers and all that…but I think there are signs everywhere that people have lost confidence in this consumer-driven lifestyle. Its empty, at it core, and we have created millions of stories to convey that to others.

    I found it interesting that gardening classes are filling up at a record pace. At some point, people will reconfigure their priorities and effect a wholesale lifestyle change. Food, of course. is priority number one.

    I applaud this. The changes will be rough, people will suffer, but I’m convinced that when we emerge on the other side, we will have re-invented ourselves into beings with totally different values.

    Now…where did i put that bong….

  46. “We need a new moonshot,” my department chair said in a faculty meeting, “a collective goal reaching into the future for the whole country to focus on.”

    “We’ve already got one,” some of the faculty responded in surprise, “energy independence and sustainability.”

    The thing that’s different here is while we once again need the collective effort for the monolithic goal, the process itself can involve both monolithic aspects and local independent aspects.

    Here’s one example, and it uses the wind-and-transport tie again: Pluggable hybrid or purely electric vehicles. A very few people already drive purely electric vehicles that they charge at home from photovoltaic panels on their carports. This is a good option if you live in a reliable-sun area. For those who don’t live in a reliable-sun area, but have plenty of wind, a small personal wind turbine could do the job.

    It gets better. There’s a new helical small wind turbine design out for consumer use that is both small and designed to take advantage of the intermittent nature of wind within a city residential area. Even more important: Electric power losses in the distribution part of the network are absolutely staggering. We’ve been living with it because fixing it would cost a fortune that no one wants to be in charge of paying. If you generate your own power for your electric vehicle, you avoid the losses in the distribution system since you’re using it where you’re generating it.

    Even better would be the rise of co-ops for small communities to upgrade their distribution for their own homes/businesses.

    There’s a lot we can do, but we need to get the word out.

  47. Cassie, thanks for the term explanation, that makes sense. It threw me because you’re not actually talking about quality, but general-purpose-ness.

  48. How do you go about doing that in the face of the rampant anti-intellectualism in this country? Where having and demonstrating knowledge is somehow considered elitist?

    Well, one easy step is that when one is coming across folks who aren’t as intellectual or knowledgeable about a topic as you (collective “you”, not you, B or Cassie or anybody here in this thread in particular), is to approach them in a manner that is not condescending…it is amazing how open people will be to hearing your viewpoint when they are given respect and not treated as if you (again, collective “you”) think they are stupid.

    This is “How to Win Friends & Influence People” 101.

    If it wasn’t for Mack talking to me about our oil crisis and listening to my most basic questions without laughing at me (at least to my face, tee-hee), I would probably still be in a state of ignorance about it all. I’m so glad you guys who are more educated on certain topics do take the time to explain — that’s how we all will benefit and make this world a better place.

    /going to find Mack’s bong

Comments are closed.