Rapier Second Response to Miglietta

In Joseph’s second response, he didn’t bring up new material related to ethanol that wasn’t addressed in my first response. He did bring up some other issues that are worth addressing, but this response will be briefer than my initial reply. Joseph’s responses are in block quotes below.

JM: Mass transportation has been around with us even before the advent of personal vehicles. I find mass transportation acceptable as a free choice but not as an imposing substitution to our personal vehicle. If the time came that we no longer have this choice, then I consider we reached a point of regression; we have failed in our ability to make technological advancement. But I consider our resourcefulness inextinguishable.

The problem is that we just don’t have an energy-dense fuel like oil with which to power our society. We are withdrawing deposits that were made over eons of time, and we aren’t replenishing them. From my viewpoint, the post-oil world is going to enforce a drastically reduced energy budget for everyone. Governments can delay the day of reckoning by adopting aggressive policies to encourage conservation.

JM: First of all, there is still a lot of oil underground to sustain our needs for a few more decades. In the meantime, we’re making progress.

There will still be oil in the ground in a few decades. However, we won’t be able to get it out fast enough nor economically enough to sustain our present energy desires, especially given the growth in China and India. After all, oil production in Texas peaked in 1970, and 36 years later there is still oil underground in Texas. But it isn’t nearly enough to sustain Texas. Oil from the tar sands fields of Canada is now flowing south into Texas.

JM: In my opinion I believe, you use a negative approach: we must conserve, you say, “because we simply can’t get the energy we need. No alternatives can meet our current energy desires.” We must conserve, while our efforts in finding alternative fuels are intensifying.

In my opinion, I am using the realistic approach. You hold out hope that fusion will come online and save the day. Or, barring that, some other alternative is out there, and just needs to be discovered. Fusion may some day prove to be viable, but we can’t depend on it to mitigate the liquid fuel shortfall that is happening even now.

I say with confidence that our society will never find an alternative liquid fuel with the economic advantages of petroleum. The solar energy of many years of plant growth was captured, and heat from the earth was added to the mix as it was buried. Nobody had to plant it, and nobody had to harvest it. The earth was the chemical reactor that heated and compressed the plants, turning them into an energy dense mixture. Each year we make withdrawals from the fossil fuel bank that can’t be replenished any time soon. In the past 260 years, we have burned the equivalent of 13,300 years of the entire earth’s plant material. (1)

But in the future, we are going to have to rely on short-term deposits to sustain us. This is going to mean we are going to have to learn to reduce our energy consumption, and probably spend a substantial amount more of the world’s manpower in creating the energy needed to sustain society.

JM: As in the past, when there is a need, we will fill it with better product(s). Liquid fuel is our most immediate and practical approach, even if this alternative fuel has less energy than gasoline.

The critical issue is not how much energy the alternative contains, but how much energy it takes to make it, and where that energy comes from. We could convert our society to run on a fuel with 1/10th the energy density of gasoline, if the energy inputs required to make it were low enough.

JM: There is no need to discuss any further the disadvantage offered by producing ethanol, its energy balance, farm land availability in our country, etc. Ethanol, however, is a starting point.

My argument in discussing all of ethanol’s disadvantages, which you did not address, goes to demonstrate that ethanol is a really poor starting point. As I pointed out, we would be better off just using the natural gas that goes into making ethanol and power vehicles directly from that.

JM: The oil companies are now pressed for ethanol. What we need is to reassure the farmers that importing ethanol will not go against their interests—a quota system should be established to import only the ethanol they cannot produce.

The time has come to stop coddling ALL of these special interests, and start implementing policies that will be benefit our children and grandchildren. We have to take the long view. Failure to do so is why we find ourselves in the present situation.

JM: In my view, this report from Argentina is groundless and serves political purposes, since Argentina is not in the same conditions as Brazil both for oil and for ethanol.

To be clear, that report was a story that was written by David Victor, the director of the Program on Energy and Sustainable Development at Stanford University. It was merely reprinted in an Argentinean newspaper.

With that, I think I will conclude. My objections to ethanol from my previous essay were not addressed, so there is no need to continue reiterating those points. If Joseph would like to offer up a closing statement, I will post it. Otherwise, I appreciate the exchange of ideas.


1. Kruglinski, Susan, “Discover Data: What’s in a Gallon of Gas?”, Discover, April 2004.

5 thoughts on “Rapier Second Response to Miglietta”

  1. Even if you hold the rather immature “don’t take my candy” rejection of the entire notion of consumption reduction on the basis that energy supplies should be developed to meet demand and that the government should be there to hold your hand, you can also question this approach from the global warming perspective; are we really destroying the planet AND depleting its resources for the sake of all this crap that we really don’t NEED and seems to just make us all more anxious?

    It seems to me that simply replacing uncivilized vehicles with civilized vehicles would eliminate the need to hold the ethanol debate at all. It’s completely against the free market to consider this, and to those who see it as some kind of a human right to be a gluttonous pig, it’s a heavy affront, but what would be the cost of simply banning large vehicles and subsidizing their replacement with more civilized vehicles? How would it compare to the costs of the ethanol strategy?

    Also, why are European countries focusing on consumption reduction and taking global warming seriously? They seem to be doing better than Americans in most aspects of life; what evidence is there that our way is better? One major difference is that they HAVE to take that approach. Their timebomb is ticking quite loudly, whereas ours has only just started to sound. So, why not cut to the chase?

  2. Amen to both the original essay, and Matt’s comments. There are other reasons for reducing our fuel consumption.

    By the way, Robert, great E85 essay over at TOD.

  3. Indeed. Nice work, Robert, it is appreciated that you have taken the time to put all this down in writing, and are willing to discuss the matter in a civilized, intelligent, and logical way.

  4. Matt, if you want me to conserve energy, please do not call me a “gluttonous pig” and tell me how to live my life.

    My current lifestyle, which does require a big pickup, is based on energy being cheap and plentiful over the last 10 years. If big vehicles were suddenly banned, it would require an immediate and drastic change in my lifestyle. Since this would be very stressful to me, I would very resistant to any such change being forced on me.

    That said, I’m not stupid. I certainly see that energy is becoming scarce and expensive, and plan to gradually make lifestyle choices that will reduce energy consumption over time (many years).

    In fact, I’ve already made one key change. I no longer use my pickup as a daily driver. It now spends most of its time in the garage and I do most driving using a much more efficient and fun to drive car.

  5. SloStang, you’re only a “gluttonous pig” if you see it as a human right to be given a subsistence based on cheap energy. You don’t seem to be doing that. Or, maybe you are, but it’s irrelevant anyway because what I say doesn’t have any bearing on how you behave; it’s an issue of responsibility.

    I don’t understand this approach of, “oh no, the prices are going up so I’d better change my ways”; where’s the sense of responsibility? Are you just a consumer reacting to market forces? Or, are you something more?

    The argument seems completely lost on a lot of people that if they hadn’t been driving these oversized vehicles to and from work for the past 10+ years, the world might have been given more time to solve the problem it’s faced with, and prices may not be as high as they currently are. Although, I’m not convinced that they’re all that high right now, compared with what they could be.

    Also, re: “lifestyle”. Forget your lifestyle. Your lifestyle was partly to blame for a war in Iraq. Co-operate and adapt. The idea of a fixed lifestyle that requires fixed resource inputs to maintain will be obsolete, eventually. Frankly, I find the idea that a sudden lifestyle change would be stressful to be irrelevant and quite funny! What an emasculated country we have become…

    And, with this issue, forget politeness and “please” and “thank you”. Your appropriate action comes from being an upstanding, responsible, intelligent, and civilized individual, not from being asked nicely and given a lucky star for your actions. Conserving energy is your responsibility and whether or not you’ll get something out of it is irrelevant.

    We also need a big adjustment in self esteem. You’re not a big deal. Nobody is. Nobody should care if you’re not fulfilled as a human being. Live with it. The idea of everyone being entitled to fulfillment is less than 100 years old, and can die just as briefly as it was born.

    I don’t think that algorithms and “tell me what to do!” will work. What we need are heuristics. Go back to the basics and learn what impact your current actions and behaviors have on the world around you and know what to look for. Doing anything else will leave you flapping in the wind and vulnerable to marketing. If you’re not intelligent enough to do that, natural selection will work things out for you, particularly when we no longer have the resources to interfere with it on a broad scale like we currently do.

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