Energy Lessons

$99.60 for a tank of dieselI spent $99.60 on a tank of diesel today.    It was the lab exercise for today’s lessons on energy. 

Let’s start with a review.

Long time ago, in South Carolina, I learned that energy bills went up in the summer.  We all ran our air conditioners to keep cool.  I learned that gas prices went up in the summer, because people drove to their vacations.  When school started back up, the price went back down.   One summer I learned about OPEC, and how the supply of oil in the Middle East can affect the price at the pump.

When I moved out to the California coast, I learned that energy bills can actually go down in the summer!  The natural air conditioning of evening fog cools down the house.  Just remember to open the windows. 

Last spring I bought a diesel SUV.  The price of diesel was less than gas and I rejoiced for months, enjoying the savings at the pump.  Last winter I learned that diesel fuel is also heating fuel.  In the winter, people get cold and turn on their furnaces, driving up the price of the diesel.  End of rejoicing.

That brings us to the present.   Over the past few days,  NPR provided four new lessons on energy!

One was a terrific piece on Kelley Greenman, an aspiring young “policy wonk.”  From that piece I learned that transportation contributes 17% of the greenhouse gases causing global warming, and agriculture contributes 18%.   (Correlated by a lengthy 2007 UN document — read Mike Hudak’s distilled version for extra credit.)  It would have been discouraging, except Kelley was so refreshing.

Buried in a business report, was the interesting tidbit that the growth in retail sales was almost entirely due to the surge in fuel prices.  Duh.  If I’m paying $100 a tank to commute, I’m not going to be spending a lot of money at the mall.  A lesson in the obvious.

A more interesting lesson was an interview with Michael Klare on Fresh Air, the author of Rising Power, Shrinking Planet.  Did you know that a primary motivator of the fighting in Basra was control over the oil black market?  Iraqi fighting isn’t all about ethnicity and religion, but is also about good old human greed.  That part is reassuring, somehow.  

Even more interesting was that the Central Command and the new Africa Command appear to have been created to protect our oil interests.  Yeah, yeah, I knew that about the Middle East, but Africa?  Nigeria?

What was more disturbing was Michael’s concern that we’re approaching the state of the world before World War I, with its deadly combination of alliances and meddling in other countries’ internal interests.  (If WWI doesn’t give you the willies, you need to know more about trench warfare and poison gas.)

Then there was the  article last week describing the current “perfect storm” of world hunger.   This lesson was advanced: We have prosperity in India and China, and prosperity for the farmers who are helped by the demand for biofuels, joining with the usual crop killers of drought and floods, to cause hunger in the parts of the world that survive on a cup of food a day.   There’s a shrinking planet for you.

I think I’ve had about as energy economics as I can handle right now. 

Today I spent $99.60 for a tank of gas that will last me a week if I’m lucky.  $99.60 to contribute to global warming.  $99.60 to send soldiers into harm’s way.   $99.60 to participate in an economy that might precipitate World War III.    At least it wasn’t $99.60 for biodiesel (giving to Food for the Poor while contributing to world starvation would too ironic, even for me).   At least while I’m commuting, using up those 23 gallons of diesel, I can listen to NPR, and learn about something else.

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