Democrats & Liberals Archives

Strange Bedfellows and Discipline

Watching the Sierra Club and the United Auto workers crawl into bed together, fully clothed I assure you, we wouldn’t want Michael Powell to investigate us for wardrobe failure, is a study in cautious agreement. The process of defining fuel consumption standards for automobiles is a contentious issue for this nation. We are willing, If the Bush Budget prevails, to discipline the poor by putting them out on the streets by the hundreds of thousands. We are not willing to discipline automobile producers by requiring responsible fuel use standards that may be all that save the US Auto Industry when the oil gets scarcer.

Thankfully the Sierra Club and the UAW have come out against the latest effort to emasculate the current fuel efficiency fantasies of the Federal Government. Scarce oil! What am I, a conspiracy theorist? Well yes I do believe that there is a conspiracy of ignorance now and then in this world that leads every nation to make bad choices about policy. Fuel efficiency matters in the USA, the cost of gasoline is heading above two dollars this year and much higher over the next few years.

If you take the most optimistic projections of the total amount of oil that can be produced at a reasonable cost, oil supply creates no problem until 2044, forty years from today. Then we run out of oil quickly. Those projections are excessively optimistic and neglect to use analytical tools that can define how production of any non-renewable natural resource will proceed. M. King Hubbert, an oil geologist, devised mathematical tools in the 1950’s to project when the US supply of oil would begin to diminish. They turn out to apply equally well to any natural resource which can be used up faster than nature can replace it. The numbers showed Hubbert that oil production in the USA would peak in the 1970’s and it did, it has been declining ever since. Now this feat of forethought did not bring Mr. Hubbert praise from the elders of the oil industry. In fact he was vilified, cursed and laughed at but his analysis was correct. He pointed the way for others who today are telling us that oil production worldwide will peak during this decade. They could even be off by ten years or so. Do you feel lucky enough to buy a new Humvee and test this proposition, do you Cowboy?

The Sierra club and the Auto Workers are going to be sleeping together in a cold bed of coal if these oil geologists are right; and history is on their side. Hubbert’s tools have worked to pick out the peak of production of any natural resource to which they have been applied. They simply require using close to accurate assumptions about the total amount of a given resource available. The mathematical curve that describes how limited resources are produced over time turns out to be shaped like a bell. And we are almost certainly within ten years of the worldwide peak of oil production from cheap sources. We can stretch out that curve a little so that the bell is flat on top if we invest a lot of money into producing oil from shale and tar sands. Canada has a large deposit of tar sands that will help us flatten out the top of that bell shaped curve but it won’t keep going up regardless of what we do. Demand for oil is about to start rising faster than supply. That will keep happening with only very short term interruptions until it is all used up. Little Red Riding Hood, there is a wolf waiting to see you, please hurry to him in your big red SUV subsidized by our nice big bushy government.

The Bush Administration does believe in fiscal discipline though, it is cutting social programs by $4.9 billion to make up for its multi-trillion dollar tax cuts. Of course these spending cuts, if they are applied to the programs designated in the new budget, will put hundreds of thousands of poor families over the edge. Many will fall out of housing subsidy programs and as many as 250,000 could wind up out on the street. It no doubt serves them right for being poor in the first place but it will not affect the deficit projected to be at least $450 billion this year. The deficit is a hundred times the cuts slated for social programs. Those cuts if they are enacted by Congress will cause hardship to hundreds of thousands without helping reduce our deficit by more than 1% of the total. That is Fiscal discipline of the highest order compared to the discipline imposed by our fuel efficiency standards.

Am I saying the Bush Administration is undisciplined, perish the thought. George W has always shown a fine level of discipline as President, he gets to all of his meetings on time. And the whole cabinet no doubt appreciates his stern discipline when it is applied to them. Cheney has probably often said in his private conversations with Rummy, “I wish the kid would let up once in a while, he controls this White House with an iron grip.” Karl Rove probably replies from the closet, “Yeah fellows, I really wish he would let me out of here but his discipline is legendary from his days in College” Rummy probably replies, “give the kid a break, these are desperate times with Osama still on the loose and Iraq resisting our tough love the way they have since we freed them from Saddam.” “You know Karl, it would help if you eased up on the kid’s language tutoring for a while, he’s starting to get nervous when he’s talking about the election.” “I think he might be worried about Osama staying alive long enough to last until October” Karl’s reply, still coming from the closet, “don’t worry fellows he is in safe hands and the portable dialysis machine is working fine.” “He’ll make it to October with room to spare.”

Yeah and I can just hear Condi and Colin trying to find a way to lighten the load for our tough little Wartime President. “Colin, do you suppose if we named a Oil Tanker after the Big Guy he would feel better”? “No Condi, he has the discipline to get him through this election if we just stand by him and keep the public aware of how dangerous those WMD Programs imagined by Saddam really were to us.” “Imagine that guy imagining weapons that could have proved to be an imminent threat if he really could have produced them!” Yeah, they are really disciplined in this White House in a way no one can question. Especially if you listen to Fox and read the Wall Street Journal every morning as all good Patriots do here during the war on Terror. God bless and keep you all safe and sound in these undisciplined times when disciplined leadership can mean so much.

Posted by Henri Reynard at February 19, 2004 10:03 AM