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Sunday, 22 June 2008


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Some years ago, Oregon proposed a $0.10/gal fuel tax, all of which was to go to road and bridge maintenance. The various trucking companies went ballistic, claiming that such a tax would put them out of business.

At the time, gasoline was about $1.80/gal. Strangely enough, truck shipping survives in Oregon to this day.

(I don't see the comment feature at the end of the column, so I guess I will comment here)

There was an article yesterday (I think on MSNBC, which has since disappeared), about the oil production meeting being held today by the Saudis, in which the Saudis were expected to push the other countries to also increase production. According to the article, one of the Saudis main concerns is that, if gas prices remain at current levels for very long, people really will adopt a conservation/efficiency lifestyle, resulting in a sustained drop in demand. And Allah knows they don't want that.

Also, wrt the solar energy farms not working during the night time, there are alternate technologies that instead use solar mirrors to heat up salt until it is molten. The heat is then transferred to steam generators. With a large enough reservoir of molten salt, they can average out the heat extraction so that it functions around the clock. One of the drawbacks is that if there is an extended period without sunshine, the salt will resolidify (or require input power to keep it liquid until the weather cooperates), so locations are more climate-limited than photovoltaics.

Mike, Very nice essay. I agree with many of your points. One unfortunate process going on is that we have waited so late to get into the idea of conservation that we are jumping on things well before they are proven. The ongoing biofuel debacle is a great example. The batteries in the prius (and other hybrids) are probably going to be another one as they do not last long, become a waste biohazard and are very expensive to replace. The current solutions seem to allow us to keep our wasteful habits and culture going. The reality is that public transportation as well as two wheeled transportation will be by far the best and most efficient methods for commuting if this country is willing to make the drastic cultural change and quit driving our personal cars to work alone. Just like much of the rest of the planet.

Thank you for that editorial. I really think that hybrids and electric vehicles are the way to go for the future, but they still have some catching up to do here in Europe, both on vehicles and the required infrastructure. The reason for that is fairly simple: most larger European cities have public transport systems that are quite reliable, punctual and cheap.

Which brings me to one point I'd like to make: Moving from fossil fuels to hybrid or renewable energy sources is a crucial step, but it would be even better not to use that energy at all. Of course it is not always possible to avoid going by car, especially if you're shooting on remote locations and need to bring a lot of gear, but often enough there are reasonable alternatives. Car pooling, using public transport, bicycling or walking, or not making the drive at all.

I am not a car hater, in fact I truly love my Audi A6 quattro - but I only use it when I really need to, and I am lucky to live in a place where I can do all my daily activities - getting to the office, shopping, etc. - by walking or cycling. Keeps me in good shape, too. And when the

Sorry for the longish rant, but I also read about the North Pole becoming ice free for the first time in history ( http://tinyurl.com/4sfv4q ), and this has been simmering in my brain ever since...

Mike your idea for increased gas taxes is well meaning and certainly has it's points and merits but do we really need to be handing our polititians more money to waste? If someone could assure me the money would go to a good cause that would be one thing but give an elected official a dollar and he/she will do something silly with it. Trust me on this one. LOL

In Switzerland we currently pay about 2 Swiss Francs per liter (thats 7.30 Dollars per Gallon). 45% of the Price is taxes which must be used for road construction and maintenance. Guess why the roads in Switzerland are so shiny...

Side note: Fossil Fuels of alternative fuels - its still energy. And the price of any energy will rise together with the price of fossil energy as long as fossil fuels make an important part of total energy (which will still be some time in any case).
For me the key question therefore is: will we have to change our way of living, or will we be able to compensate energy prices with technology?

I read somewhere that every increase in fuel efficiency in the last decades was followed by consumer purchase of larger vehicles, so that there was no net benefit, in a miles per gallon sense, although what has been coming out of our tailpipes isn't as toxic as it used to be. People don't modify their behaviour because it's the correct thing to do, or at least not reliably so.

Increases in gasoline prices will of course modify behaviour. The "free marketers" tell us that this will happen as a matter of course, which is probably true, but one of the functions of government is to provide for the public good (the corporations won't) so enacting social policy to modify behaviour before it becomes absolutely necessary to do so is the prudent way to go. The market doesn't like this because they like upheaval; there is good profit in upheaval.

But we have seemingly reached a point where we adopt the views of corporations as if they were automatically deemed to be good for us, while things that governments try to do are deemed to be bad for us. This is quite bizarre. Why would we think that business is on our side?

If our governments increase gasoline taxes to induce a change in behaviour, that will only produce a useful long-term result if the money they collect is spent on things that address those long-term issues. We've stupidly built our cities relying on cheap fuel; if we now induce expensive fuel by taxation, that won't accomplish much unless it's accompanied by spending on mass transit and other infrastructure changes.

Over the next century we are going to change the way we live. Lots of people won't like it. They will stand there, stomp their feet and throw temper tantrums. We were not born with the right to inexpensively drive from NY to Calif, it's just an accident of fate and it may very well be a temporary one.

A revenue neutral (fully rebated) carbon tax is one answer to those who don't trust government to spend taxes wisely. You get the reduced fossil fuel use with no net hit on the consumer. See http://www.carbontax.org/

I think Amory Lovins might be the efficiency guy you're thinking of. If not, he's still someone you should know about 'cause he's right up your alley on energy issues.

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