Thursday
Jun082006

« Reply To KickTheOilHabit.org »

I sent this reply to KicktheOilHabit.org when their mass mail ended up in my inbox today. My comments revolve around the belief that there is a need to stop thinking of solutions in terms of mass-produced technological solutions. Indeed, our present dilemma arises out of mass produced technological solutions to earlier problems (the Machine Messiah). I am not anti-technology per se, but I do regard the technological solution to be a problem when it moves toward mass production. If a small group of people or a local region can craft a new device to solve their problems, and make only what they need, I think that is great. This way, what is needed is made and put to service by those who need it. Hopefully its a minimal energy expenditure and a maximum return. My point is that we need to think in total-terms, how much energy is used to create or implement any of these ideas that people hold up to be the new hopes for the future. I think its folly to create a solution that digs us deeper into the bottomless pit of technological addiction. I think the secret to kicking the oil habit is to use what we have more sensibly.

Hello,

I found your site today from one of your mailings. I do applaud any effort to get people at least aware of the oil-rooted crisis of our time, but after two years of reading about peak oil and the more dire and extended problems that surround oil, I have come repeatedly to a conclusion that our energy issue is broader than just the fuels we use. I think we have this idea that another machine messiah will save us, when in fact, our industrial-produced machine messiahs of the past have been the things that have driven us to the outlandish and unsustainable demands that push us up against the upper ceilings of world oil production.

For example, while there are lots of compelling reasons to kick the oil habit, I am not convinced that the best way to do it is create more "solutions" that are based in heavy industrial production. Sure, a few gallons might be saved on this hybrid or that E85 blend, but really we need to make those cars using the industry of today, and the massive industry of today is really our enemy. I've heard that 90 barrels of oil energy go into making just one car, and it won't matter if its a combustion engine that runs on gasoline, E85, or chocolate milk, if those numbers don't change. The industrial process is still going to be tied to either the nastiness of coal-fed plants, or the equally unsustainable natural gas fed plants.

With the fickle and changing nature of industry and either planned obsolescence or the obsolescence that comes from progress, the lure will be for people to continually buy more cars just the same as they do now, maybe every couple years, whether they need to or not! If those cars are each being made with 90 barrels of oil energy, and being shipped and trucked to points of sale in the states or abroad, then we are still using massive amounts of oil energy, or coal, or natural gas, each of which is poised either to decline permanently, or is harmful to the world. Also, the roads which allow cars to drive are tremendously expensive to maintain, and require more trucks and tractors and other machines which continue to use oil and gas.

So then, why do we insist on the machine messiah, and not do the things that actually cost less and do more to conserve fuel? Why not rebuild railroads? Their cost-per-mile construction costs are far less than freeways and other roads. With a few powerful engines, a train can tow a mile-long load.

Or, why can't we finally get down to enacting conservation laws? CAFE standards for our age? This was proven to work before. Why not a progressive tax on gross vehicle weight for consumer vehicles instead of tax incentives on Hummers? Why can't we strip such excessive vehicles of their charm through awareness campaigns and tax disincentives?

Why can we invest almost a half-trillion dollars into the infrastructure of war each year, but can't use that to rebuild railroads, invest in mass transit, or other things which consolidate wasteful practices into less wasteful ones? Why can't people be challenged to combine trips, and to be offered a tax break for reduced mileage per annum? Why can't schools eliminate bussing, and return to just teaching the kids who surround their campuses?

Why can't NASCAR be banned as the wasteful, utterly stupid use of motor fuel that it is? It glorifies recreational use of fuel in a way that surely gives people an idea that doing so is somehow good, even in the age of depletion and war.

I don't subscribe to ethanol being our savior because its own production requires extensive use of industrial machinery, and lots of energy that goes into the production of the fuel. I  think ethanol is a joke because it hasn't proven as lucrative as oil in terms of energy returned on energy invested. It might be a stepping stone, and that is within reason, but I don't think we should bank on it, or any hydrogen, or anything else that remains tied to the existing oil/gas/coal fired industrial processes we now use. There are many ways consumers can shape their lives around conservation. These are ways that don't require them to buy one more car, or require them to go into debt more. They are however, ways that I don't think will be brought to their attention by any top-down campaign simply BECAUSE they do not somehow keep industry in on the action. I don't think the solution to a problem of an industrial process is to add more industrial processes. I think your site would be more useful if it encouraged people away from their daily habits of redundant driving, useless driving, and by leading a charge against such habits on the level of commerce and industry. I think that is the real solution to kicking the oil habit, at least as it relates to consumers. Forget politicians. They don't care enough. Forget industry, it just wants to sell us more stuff that will be "outdated" in three years, so that we might buy again.

I also believe we have a cultural dilemma that surrounds car use. A car running on E85 is just as dangerous as a car running on regular gasoline when it is piloted by a drunk. It is also equally useless to a driver who spends an hour or more in his commute each day. It doesn't matter what the fuel is. I think America needs to break the car habit, not just the oil habit. In post communist Cuba, the cars were not just scrapped in favor of new technology. No, they were used, still on gasoline and diesel, but used smarter. Laws were made that governed their use. People turned any vehicle into ultra efficient work machines—any vehicle serves as many uses as possible in order to justify its existence on the road. No one-person-one-car commutes were allowed. I really don't think America will be ready for peak oil, but I don't think that people will all be able to run to new cars and new fuels. The old stand by is to drive less, put more people in cars, and make any vehicle do more efficient work.

I'd like to get behind your cause, but right now, it has too many holes in its philosophy for me to take it seriously. I don't think you have a complete enough solution to our crisis. Thinking about how to actually change our lives is a solution.

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