Today’s Problems are Yesterday’s Solutions

Since we cannot always be right, we must be flexible and robust. As new information becomes available or conditions change, even the best decisions must be revisited and sometimes overturned. The ethanol debacle is a good example of both this idea and the pernicious effects government intervention in fouling up and calcifying the change and innovation mechanism.

Don’t burn fuel; grow it! What a great bumper sticker and the idea that a renewable, home-grown energy could replace dirty imported fossil fuels undeniably attractive. The devil is in the details, the execution & the fine tuning. Cf. a good article from last year.

First, let's be clear. We do NOT have an energy crisis or even an energy problem. We have a mix of energy choices. As we make different choices, options and consequences change. It is not a problem in the usual sense. Problems can be solved. This one is unsolvable. No breakthrough will save us. If it did, we would just expand our "needs" to encompass the new possibilities, as we did in the past. We can, however, manage the situation and change our energy mix. Nobody knows, because it is currently unknowable, what the optimal energy mix will be ten years from now. Some of the information we need to understand the upcoming situation and make sound decisions must be developed through trial and experimentation. Some sources and technologies that seem very promising today will prove unsuitable. They will need to be altered or abandoned w/o too much heartache or recrimination.

Wisdom lies not in knowing the best future, which is unknowable at current levels of technology & information. The appropriate solutions literally have not yet been developed. The best choices of 2025 are perhaps still not invented. Wisdom lies in having a system that can develop alternatives, smoothly transition from one option to another and easily course correct when appropriate. We need a system that allows people to imagine and innovate and then develop innovations into useful solutions. Fortunately, we have such a system.

This is something only the market can do. Government’s role is to point in the general direction of options that are politically acceptable. Within that broad constraint, however, government has no business picking winners of losers and it has no capacity to manage or micro manage the process. The more detailed instructions that politicians and bureaucrats give to those developing solutions, the less likely they are to succeed. The ethanol debacle is a good example. Government rule and subsidies are locking us into a technology and feed source that is proving a mistake. It is a QWERTY solution. (If you don’t know what a QWERTY solution is, take a look at your keyboard. This keyboard was designed to SLOW typists in the time of mechanical typewriters so they would not jam. Does your computer jam?)

The fundamental strength of the market is NOT its ability to choose the right choice. Rather it is the ability to try many solutions simultaneously, experiment and change course rapidly and smoothly. This is almost exactly the opposite of the skill set government bureaucrats and planners bring to the table and it is usually anathema to politicians trying to win votes. (Why didn’t they dump the ethanol subsidies last year?)

Ethanol from abundant American corn seemed a great idea. It was well worth the experiment and certainly some ethanol will be made profitably from corn in the future. It was NOT a bad decision, but unfolding events, new information and developing technologies over took it. The market can and to some extent is turning away, but the power of politics will prop up this sick horse for years to come. People in developing countries will go to bed hungry because of the good policies of the U.S. and Europe. Sometimes things go wrong BECAUSE of not in spite of our best efforts and every solution has the potential to become a problem. When condition change, we should change our minds too.

After all, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, but in the interestes of smart consistency, let me repeat the two magic words - carbon tax.

Posted by Jack at April 28, 2008 8:47 PM
Comments
Comment #251629

More Taxes?

Hmmmmmm … are taxes the solution to all problems?

Posted by: d.a.n at April 28, 2008 9:10 PM
Comment #251633

We agree on this, Jack. Ethanol was an interesting idea which proved to be a bad idea, in implementation and consequences. The negative consequences are outweighing the benefits, by far and farther.

Posted by: David R. Remer at April 28, 2008 10:10 PM
Comment #251634

But your logic, Jack, doesn’t hold up: because a person errs, they are never to be trusted with responsibility. That is your argument. Because our Congress and President got Ethanol wrong in terms of its negative consequences, government is not be trusted to handle such decisions, just doesn’t hold up logically. To err is human, to err is also government. It is not an argument for eradicating either human or government, or depriving either the opportunity to grow and improve.

Posted by: David R. Remer at April 28, 2008 10:26 PM
Comment #251635

David

No. The government has the right and the duty to set the direction, sort of like Robert E. Lee pointing to those trees yonder, but w/o giving micro direction or picking winners and losers.

Since the future is unknowable, and the best courses of action are revealed only with additional information and developments, flexibility and robustness trumps detailed planning and regulation.

Posted by: jack at April 28, 2008 11:08 PM
Comment #251638

Jack for decades we have watched as the freemarket did relatively little about a cleaner source of energy, higher gas milage vehicles and cleaning up the pollution helping to cause the changing climate and adding to the health care costs. Other than a small handful of companies any progress was due to the government mandating the needed changes and the corporations fighting tooth and nail to avoid the mandated changes.

The question I have is bio fuels has been on the horizon for what a decade now? China and India have been growing for 2 decades, and the population of the world had been growing at least as long. Why havent those that supplied the raw materials geared up to meet the demand?

Another problem with the free market is the total lack of any moral fiber when it comes to profiting off of others wihout justification.

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/04/subsidizing-palm-oil-splash-and-dash.php

http://thehill.com/business—lobby/finance-panel-set-to-close-splash-and-dash-loophole-2007-06-19.html

Posted by: j2t2 at April 28, 2008 11:52 PM
Comment #251639

Jack said: “Since the future is unknowable, and the best courses of action are revealed only with additional information and developments, flexibility and robustness trumps detailed planning and regulation.”

This statement makes no logical sense to me. First, the future is not entirely unknowable, as you postulate. Certain aspects of the future are knowable. People will always need to breathe clean air, eat healthy foods, and receive necessary medical review and treatment to live healthy and long lives. Very knowable.

Whether government or the private sector administers health insurance, for example, experts as in actuarials, managers, and customer representatives will administer health insurance. In government we call these experts civil servants. In private industry we call them professionals. In both cases, they’re folks trained, educated, and experienced in largely the same ways, at the same institutions, by the same professors or instructors.

Your implied claim that career civil servants are somehow less qualified to manage service administration than the private sectors just doesn’t hold up across the board.

Private sector management governs for short term profits and generally cares not a whit about the long term survivability of the nation as a consequence of their profit motive job descriptions. A major problem America is wrestling with today.

On the other hand, public sector management objectives are defined by the politicians we the public elect, who give directional orders and priorities to the largely very capable and competent career civil servants below them.

Hence, I would argue, the problem with government lies not with civil servants or anything intrinsic to government. Rather, the problem lies with the choices the American electorate make in their elected officials and more so, the electorate’s near complete absence of mind when it comes to holding their elected officials responsible for the results the voters elected them to achieve.

If the voters won’t throw incumbents out of office when government is mismanaged, the problem becomes glaringly obvious and those responsible for it, as well. See my article in the Center column, on the pitfalls of universal suffrage, “Suffrage: Not What We Thought.”

You mistake, in my opinion, the source of the problem as government, and not the electorate. Which leads to the logical error that the private sector is universally superior to the government sector, which of course, history demonstrates many times over, it is not.

If your conclusion were valid, surely our wise founding fathers would have erected a United Businesses of America, instead of a United States of America defined as a common wealth, as opposed to a U.B.A. private wealth solely.

There are areas of our society that function best where profit incentive is the primary goal and objective, such as entrepreneurial innovation. Then too, there are areas of our society that function best where our common needs and ideals are the primary goal and objective. To attempt to elevate one as better than the other, is a logically false argument. Doctors are better at repairing the human body, mechanics better at repairing cars. Both are essential to our nation and people’s welfare, one being neither superior to the other, nor better suited to the other.

It must be remembered that any private sector organization shall always represent only a small subset of the nation’s and people’s interests. Whereas from our very beginnings, there has always been a need for an organization that would represent the interests of all the people and the nation’s future.

That organization was and is government. The private sector cannot and will not fulfill the fundamental objective of government. To the extent that it attempts to make government decisions via lobbyists and legalized bribery and blackmail of elected politicians through campaign support, our nation suffers, and our future even moreso.

Posted by: David R. Remer at April 29, 2008 12:15 AM
Comment #251641

Oh, no we don’t have an energy problem. Gas prices are taking up huge amounts of money and driving up the cost of all kinds of goods, but that’s not a problem.

Neither’s the fact that food prices are also being driven up by Bush’s Ethanol Mandate.

We do have an energy problem. Not only is it too expensive, and speculation playing too much of a role in setting prices, the environmental effects are making the infrastructure we all depend upon unsustainable.

Denial should flow through Egypt alone. it’s long past time to admit that the status quo is not in America’s favor anymore. It’s long past time to change that for the better. But if we don’t admit problems, we won’t be able to do that.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at April 29, 2008 1:31 AM
Comment #251642

stephen

“speculation playing too much of a role in setting prices”

we actually agree on something, imagine that. i heard someone suggest making it more expensive to control a futures contract in order to take some of the volitility out of the market. i can’t remember who it was. sounded like a good idea though. to many gamblers causes even more instability in the market.

Posted by: dbs at April 29, 2008 1:51 AM
Comment #251652

So, what are we going to do with the plants that were set up to make the ethanol from corn, now that almost everyone on earth agrees that it was a bad idea?

Posted by: ohrealy at April 29, 2008 7:26 AM
Comment #251656

J2t2
The market is a complex that allows mass collaboration w/o overt management by particular individuals. It allows for innovation and experimentation and does not require premature choices (a in ethanol).

There is not a clear bright line between government, society and the market. Rather they all blend. Most individuals make business decisions based on criteria other than strictly profit/loss. Profit and loss are often more of a constraint than a goal. Government is always involved in the market and the appropriate level of government involvement varies. But there are just some things the government cannot do w/o upsetting other parts of the system.

Government Ethanol subsidies and the related tariff on foreign ethanol in both the U.S. and Europe created significant market distortions. The perverse consequences are greater use of energy and much higher food prices. The market can produce distortions w/o the help of government and commonly does. The major difference is the CONTRAINT of profit/loss. An individual, firm or group of firms just doesn’t have the resources, even if it had the inclination, to continue really stupid policies. Government can use the tools of taxes and coercion.

To paraphrase what you are saying, the market had its chance and now its government’s turn. That fundamentally misunderstands the relationships. The situation we face today is the result of past interaction of government, business and society. Many of government policies produced good results AND consequences. For example, government policies for the last 50 years have encouraged the growth of suburbs, allowing Americans more affordable homes, space for their kids and the freedom of the open road. The consequences are sprawl, less vibrate urban areas and energy use in cars and trucks. It was not a mistake; it was merely a choice. It was appropriate at the time, maybe not anymore.

Some people today are in the position of a garden who planted marigolds and now complains that nature let him down by not producing daffodils.

David

The details of the future are unknowable. We (you, me, government & everybody else) can and should plan for the future, recognizing that the planning is good, but the details of the plan will not actually work as we anticipate.

The analogy I like is a man going down a river in a kayak. He knows there is white water ahead and he is reasonably sure that his skills and planning will allow him to negotiate the rapids, but he cannot tell you exactly what moves he will make or where. He has to see what is around the bend and how the water is moving.

Re career civil servants – in my experience they are BETTER qualified than many counterparts in private industry. What they lack is the mandate to innovate and the system that allows them to do it. Government is rules based. It has to be. That is the rule of law.

That means that decisions are based on rules made some distance away from the front line situations and there is a lag time between the rule change and the need for it. Beyond that, many rules are made to address specific situations and are applied to too broad a category.

A bureaucracy works wonderfully in a situation with not much unpredictable change. The government can probably administer (and the indeed is the proper word) health insurance very well. What it will have trouble doing is innovating if there is a need to change and it will suffer from politics, the equivalent of earmarks. Politically powerful groups will demand more and more things get covered. Eventually the system will either go bust or become more like those in Europe. European health care systems are not bad, but recognize the pluses and minuses. You will get near universal care, but with less innovation and options.

Re energy – that is almost uniquely impossible for government to properly manage. The paradigm is all wrong. People are looking for a breakthrough that will allow them continue with their current lifestyles at a lower price. The problem is that it is the current fuel mix and usage pattern that are the problem. You cannot move one piece of the puzzle w/o upsetting the others.

Re electorate business etc – please see what I wrote above to J2t2. I keep repeating that government plays an essential role is making rules and setting goals. It is a question of detail and micro management. No legislature has been able to repeal the law of supply and demand. Government needs to work within the constraints of the market forces. You are an organic gardener. You understand that you probably CAN grow an exotic plant such as a banana in your garden, but you cannot do it at a reasonable cost and w/o stealing lots of resources from everything else.

Re market representing just part of the society – yes. You are right. But the market aggregates those desires and decisions. I used to be limited to the garden metaphors above, but now I have another example – Internet. Take a look at Wikipedia. It is a type of market. Lots of the particular entries are wrong, but overall it is about as accurate as something like Britannica AND it is much more comprehensive and innovative. If I absolutely positively needed an accurate definition about a settled item one time, I would go with Britannica. However if I needed lots of new information repeatedly I would have to go with wikis.

Stephen

You will probably have to give up Bush bashing soon, so you might start weaning yourself away so that you won’t have to quick cold turkey. It is clearly not Bush’s ethanol mandate. It is a bipartisan and in fact international debacle of government regulation.

For example, Obama said “Corn ethanol is the most successful alternative fuel commercially available in the U.S. today, and we should fight the efforts of big oil and big agri-business to undermine this emerging industry.” I am not sure he is right. He can fight big oil all he wants, but the problems of corn ethanol will remain.

Of course John McCain has more integrity on this matter

Re energy as a problem – please understand how I am using the word “problem” in this context. A problem can be solved. We face a situation that requires management. It will never be solved permanently any more than your hunger is permanently solved by a big meal. We “solved” the energy problem three times in my lifetime. Back in 1998 when gas prices dropped to 85 cents and low oil prices destroyed alternatives, many people did not recognize that as a problem, but it was.

Posted by: Jack at April 29, 2008 8:02 AM
Comment #251664


I am sure that there are people in high places, in this country and others, who have or are coming to the conclusion that ultimately, the final solution will have to be applied. In all probability, this should be done sooner rather than later to avoid the possibility of the solution being applied indiscriminately by the mad man, the terrorist group or even worse, the Russians or Chinese. Cull the herd to 1.5 billion. That will relieve the pressure and give the strong about 100 years to find alternatives and train the new mass consumers.

Posted by: jlw at April 29, 2008 10:24 AM
Comment #251666

jlw:

“Cull the herd to 1.5 billion. That will relieve the pressure and give the strong about 100 years to find alternatives and train the new mass consumers.”

??????? Cull the herd??????
Whose herd? The Russians? The Chinese? Americans?
Surely you jest. If not, I suggest you volunteer to be the first one culled.

Posted by: Beirut Vet at April 29, 2008 10:43 AM
Comment #251667

Jack

The transformation to alternatives is happening. There are various technologies out there which are evolving at a steady rate into viable solutions. It is the innovative nature of industrious people striving to be the first to capitalize that is fueling it. Solar is rapidly evolving. I listened to a segment on NPR a month or so ago about alternatives, and solar it appears will play a major factor in our future. It has been determined that one massive plant, somewhere in desserts of the southwest, of freznel mirrors all collecting heat to turn water into steam and drive turbines can provide enough electricity for every household in the US 24 hours a day 365 days a year. I do not remember the specifics but there is a company making headway towards implementation. Last I knew they were waiting for congress to do some sort of vote on it. It seems that the real big problem is transmission lines which I would think could be easily worked out. Just the other day I watched a show on energy alternatives and there is a company all but ready to put a compressed air vehicle on the market in the very near future. If I remember correctly they have one model designed mostly for city use and another which is gasoline assisted to replenish the air so it can be used on the highway. It has something like a 650 mile range on a few gallons of fuel. The best thing is that it is affordable. Of course the downside is that one will be giving up some comforts that we have grown accustomed to. As I am sure you know these are just a few of the alternatives being worked out.

While ethanol obviously is not the answer, it is one of those small solutions that when combined with others can assist in lessening dependence on fossil fuels until more sensible alternatives can effectively flood the market. I am going to go so far as to say that I believe it is the rush towards alternatives that is playing a large part in driving up the price of fossil fuels. The industry is soaking up all the profits they can before alternatives begin to seriously eat into their share of the coin.

Our government does have a responsibility in all this. I have to believe that a nation of our stature and innovative nature is capable of forming a responsible governmental entity which is able to identify reasonable alternatives and provide assistance in expediting the process. The problem is removing the lobbyist industry and its influences from the process. There are practical and viable solutions out there ready and waiting. We just have to figure out how to encourage the process without allowing the influences of the almighty energy industry to dictate how it is going to take place. Therein lies the biggest obstacle to energy evolution.

Posted by: RickIL at April 29, 2008 11:03 AM
Comment #251668

RickIl

Americans are investing big piles of venture captial in new technolgies. We certainly will develop viable alternatives - as long as the price of fossile fuel remains high enough to permit it.

Government’s role is to set general goals, supply the rule of law and infrastructure to make this possible.

I agree with what you wrote, but I have to point out the solution after the next one. If we transform our energy mix, people will become accustomed to it. Demand for energy will again meet supply. Somebody will be complaining re the energy crisis again. It is an endless race. It will be at a better level. As I wrote other places, I think things get generally better, but the challenge never ends. This is also good. If you are not longer challenged by life, you are probably dead.

Your post also pointed to the MANY alternatives. Which will provide the solution to our problem? NObody knows. That is why nobody can pick winners and loser and nobody should try to force a solution. By nobody, of course, I mean the only institution with the power to try it - government.

Posted by: Jack at April 29, 2008 11:41 AM
Comment #251671

RickIL:

“The transformation to alternatives is happening. There are various technologies out there which are evolving at a steady rate into viable solutions”

This is nothing more than wishful thinking. At this moment there is absolutely NO ALTERNATIVE to fossil fuels. And none even on the horizon that will provide anything meaningful through 2025.

“turn water into steam and drive turbines can provide enough electricity for every household in the US 24 hours a day 365 days a year”

Do yourself a big favor and stop listening to NPR. The general rot infecting their arguments is the rehash of the left wing drivel de jour. You are correct about on thing, though, and that is the transmission of that power from Arizona to Bangor, Maine. It is just not feasible. And what about cloudy days? Yes it does get cloudy sometimes, even in the desert. Do we just do without?

“While ethanol obviously is not the answer, it is one of those small solutions that when combined with others can assist in lessening dependence on fossil fuels until more sensible alternatives can effectively flood the market.”

This would be nice if it didn’t take as much fossil fuel in the first place to make ethanol. It takes anywhere from 1 to 1.3 gallons of gas to produce 1 gallon of ethanol. And this is even before you begin to factor in the amount of fresh water it takes to make ethanol. Corn ethanol is also 30% less efficient than gas so the assist in lessening our dependance is just pie in the sky. Ethanol is having the reverse effect you are wishing for.

“I am going to go so far as to say that I believe it is the rush towards alternatives that is playing a large part in driving up the price of fossil fuels.”

What is your evidence of this? Of course you have none.

“The problem is removing the lobbyist industry and its influences from the process.”

EXACTLY! And the lobby that must be removed is the environmental extremist lobby that has not allowed us to drill for oil on our own soil that would lessen the dependence on foreign oil, allow us to build new refineries (one has not been built in this country in over 3 decades) because gas price problems are just as much production problems as they are supply problems. And allow us to build MANY more nuclear power plants (also none built in the last 30 years). You want alternatives? There you go.

Posted by: Beirut Vet at April 29, 2008 11:50 AM
Comment #251673

jlw-

Okay, I will go along with your “Final Solution”(haven’t we heard that phrase somewhere before?) However, only if I can decide on the 75 per cent that gets “culled”.

Seriously, who will do the picking? What will be the criteria for deciding? And, one of the better questions, what will happen to 4.5 billion bodies that need to be disposed of?

What you are talking about is systematic murder. If I decide to make some space on this planet and decide that suicide is the best way to fulfill my civic duty, that’s one thing. But for some other entity or group to make the decision to terminate me for their concept of “bettering society”, thanks, but no thanks.

I am not a violent person by nature, except vicariously by watching action/adventure movies, but should such a monstrous scheme be put into place,I guatantee you that I will fight to my last drop of blood to stop it!

Posted by: Old Grouch at April 29, 2008 11:54 AM
Comment #251700

Has anyone noticed the correlation between the man-made global warming (mmgw) theory and increases in the cost of energy and food? These two seem to be directly proportional.

As the fear of mmgw increased so have the cost of energy and food. Many scientists who originally signed on to the UN call for mmgw drastic actions have now removed their names from the list of signers. We now know that Algore was just a common fraud lining his own pockets at the expense of others.

This is good news and as more people world-wide are coming to understand the deception, there are fewer calls from politicians for draconian governmental action.

As the fear of mmgw decreases I believe there will be a corresponding decrease in energy and food costs. This, combined with huge new deposits of oil being discovered around the world, will be great news for everyone but those who are eino’s (environmentalist in name only).

The world’s feverish competition for energy and food, resulting from politically caused shortages, will be lowered along with prices.

Just as the folly of burning food for fuel is being cast aside, so will mmgw and we will all benefit.

Posted by: Jim M at April 29, 2008 4:10 PM
Comment #251720

Beirut Vet

Your pessimism is unfounded. Jack and Jim M claim that is a trait of liberals. ; )

I mentioned the vehicle which runs on compressed air. It works and it will be on the market soon. The city model is entirely independent of fossil fuels. The only cost is the energy generated to fill the air tanks. This is a viable alternative that can easily replace fossil fuel generated vehicles within urban areas. Of course it will only satisfy a portion of our transportation needs but it is a start.

The solar plant is feasible. There is currently a scaled down working model, I believe in the Sacramento area, supplying electric to a sizeable population. The process is not reliant on solar panels per say. Freznel mirrors track the sun and direct light onto pipes carrying the heated water to huge uderground holding tanks which retain enough heat to run the turbines thru the night hours. There are areas of dessert in our country which have very few days of cloud cover per year. I will continue to listen to NPR. The solar plant information was part of a show called science Friday which I find very reliable and genuinely concerned with presenting sound viewpoints.

I said that I would suggest that the rush to alternatives is playing a part in driving up fuel costs. You are correct in that I have no credible evidence. But then credible evidence of any sort is near impossible to obtain when dealing with big oil and its myriad of vague and convenient analogies.

I am not totally opposed to nuclear energy. But then it comes with a whole set of complications which could be disastrous in the long term. I would rather we concentrate on renewable safe energies with limited long term problems.

Posted by: RickIL at April 29, 2008 6:51 PM
Comment #251736

Jim M:

“Has anyone noticed the correlation between the man-made global warming (mmgw) theory and increases in the cost of energy and food? These two seem to be directly proportional.”

Interesting idea. I never thought along those lines but you may be right. You are also spot on concerning algore. He is a fraud lining his own pocket as you said, but in all fairness to him, he has a large utility bill to cover each month.

RickIL:

“Your pessimism is unfounded. Jack and Jim M claim that is a trait of liberals. ; )”

You are correct, they are very much liberal traits, to be a liberal is to be miserable. But you are misreading realism for pessimism. I am not pessimistic in the least. I know that global warmongering is a scam and eventually we ALL will see that and as Jim M posted above, once this is realized things will go back to normal. We are not killing the planet with our SUV’s. We could not cause earths temperature to go up even if we wanted to.

Your pipe dreams of alternatives are not realizable in the near future nor are they needed.

“There is currently a scaled down working model, I believe in the Sacramento”

You “believe”? I “believe” that underground storage will not retain enough heat to run a turbine. But then again, I still “believe” that liberals will eventually see the error of their ways. But I am not going to hold my breath.

“But then credible evidence of any sort is near impossible to obtain when dealing with big oil and its myriad of vague and convenient analogies.”

Black helicopters, anyone.

“I am not totally opposed to nuclear energy. But then it comes with a whole set of complications which could be disastrous in the long term.”

I “believe” you are talking about the waste. The French use nuclear for 80% of their energy needs and do not have a waste problem because their brand of environmental stooges do not get in their way. They actually recycle their waste for other uses, something that we are denied in this country. Don’t look for logic here, this is liberal dogma we are dealing with.

Posted by: Beirut Vet at April 29, 2008 8:39 PM
Comment #251743

Beirut Vet

You are quite the cynic. My liberal trait comment was nothing more than an attempt at a little levity. It is clear your hatred of liberals is deep. Such a negative attitude combined with foolish denial, all for the sake of denigrating liberals, is exactly the sort of counter productive attitude which serves no purpose other than creating partisan hatreds.

Almost four dollars a gallon for fuel is a very real problem. That problem has been steadily evolving since the inception of the Bush reign. I was not discussing global warming. I was merely being optimistic about the very real prospects for a future in which oil does not rule our world. You claim to be a realist but I see no realism in your denial of what is so obvious.

I really doubt you are interested, but you may want to take a listen if you have time. The Potential of Solar Power

Comressed Air Car

And no, there are no links to black helicopters here.


Posted by: RickIL at April 29, 2008 10:11 PM
Comment #251744

Beirut Vet

I forgot to mention that it is unlikely that the air car will be available here in the US anytime soon. But if it succeeds in Europe American car companies will surely sit up and take notice.

Posted by: RickIL at April 29, 2008 10:20 PM
Comment #251758

Beirut Vet,

Solar thermal technology should eventually allow you to run 24/365 and produce hydrogen rather than steam. My lab sits next door to one of the leading research groups for this technology. Their newest process requires the thermal decomposition of metal oxides at temperatures in excess of 1800C. The major problem at this point is that the reactor burns up too quickly at these temperatures. Lower temperature, 24/365 versions driven by molten salt have fewer technological hurdles and are under more intense development at NREL and abroad. The major hurdle is economics…15-17 cents/kW-hr vs. 7 cents/kW-hr for conventional electricity. Still, the maps of the Southwestern U.S. on the NREL page show this technology has great potential to meet our energy needs. It’s probably just 5-20 years before we will start to see it.

RickIL,

Frankly, sitting on compressed air @4500 psi scares me. On a more serious note, I question the 106mpg claim. I would like to see how they come to this number. It is not clear to me if they take into account the emissions from the electricity that runs the compressor station. These are emissions. They are simply emitted at the power plant rather than your tail pipe.

Posted by: Mr. Haney at April 30, 2008 2:50 AM
Comment #251763

Mr. Haney

I watched a show on alternatives a few weeks ago and they previewed this vehicle and went into how it is being built. The tanks are made from composites, I believe Kevlar, have been tested and determined to be safe. Of course there is going to be a cost associated with the energy to fill the tanks. But that cost would be much much less than our current system. I read the post in full and see that the vehicle will be available here in the US in 2010. That is not long at all. It should be interesting to see if Americans can manage to migrate away from the luxuries of our current inefficient vehichles.

And thank you for that solar info.

Posted by: RickIL at April 30, 2008 8:16 AM
Comment #251777

RickIL,

I’m skeptical about the actual efficiency because I don’t buy into their calculations. I will be less skeptical when I see that they are accounting for electricity production, electricity transmission, compression efficiencies, etc. I trust thermodynamics before I trust their claims.

Posted by: Mr. Haney at April 30, 2008 1:00 PM
Comment #251783

“Almost four dollars a gallon for fuel is a very real problem. That problem has been steadily evolving since the inception of the Bush reign.”

the problem has been going on longer than that. the environmental lobby bears a large part fo the blame. we aren’t allowed to develop our own new energy supplies whether they be on or offshore. the cost of operating has skyrocketed because of complex, and expensive regulations brought on by the likes of the sierra club, and others. the result is fewer and fewer players can afford to enter the market. we see large oil companies merging only to leave less competition in the market. why would they increase production only to decrease thier profits ? loosening the regulations and allowing more players the ability to enter the market would help to bring down the cost. if your the only widget maker in town the price is going to be whatever you want it to be.

the single largest energy supply we have in this country i believe is coal, but we cant increase it’s use because of the MMGW hoax, produces to much co2. we have plenty of options. i also remember 2001 when oil dropped to an all time low, i was paying $1.03 for deisel, and i heard no complaining from anyone when people were capping wells because it cost more to pull the stuff out of the ground than they could sell it for, now im paying $4.50 a gallon, the majority of the increase has occurred in the last year and a half since the democrats took control of congress, make of it what you will. developing other forms of energy is fine, but will not be a substitute for fossil fuel for quite sometime. in the mean time we need to develop what we have in our own backyard whether the environmental lobby likes it or not.

Posted by: dbs at April 30, 2008 2:06 PM
Comment #251792

dbs, welcome to the wilderness I’ve been living in for some time. We appeal to logic, the mmgw folks appeal to emotional fear. The following interesting read is from EcoWorld.

The Fluid Envelope

A CASE AGAINST CLIMATE ALARMISM

by Richard Lindzen

It’s easy to imagine such an impressive
output of gas could be harming the earth.
(Photo: US EPA)

Editor’s Note: Our charter to report on clean technology and the status of species and ecosystems seems to always bring us back to one overriding distraction - global warming alarm - and small wonder. We are in the midst of one of the most dramatic transformations of political economy in the history of the world - and nobody is watching. “The debate is over on global warming,” goes the consensus, and even if that were a healthy or accurate notion, why has this consensus translated into hardly any vigorous debate over what would be a rational response?

Despite ongoing rhetoric to the contrary from virtually every environmental nonprofit in existance, the United States has been an extraordinarily responsible nation. We listened to our environmental movement; we institutionalized it. On every front there has been huge progress over the past 30-40 years. Our air and water are orders of magnitude cleaner even though our population has doubled. Our landfills our ultra-safe. We have set aside vast tracts of wilderness, rescued countless endangered species. Our food supply is scrupulously monitored. And every year our technology and our prosperity delivers new options to eliminate more pollution and live healthier lives. So what happened?

In the rest of the world there is also reason for great optimism, despite some discouraging challenges that continue to grip humanity. Human population is voluntarily leveling off, so that within 25-30 years the number of people on planet earth will peak at around 8.5 billion - and every time the projection is revisited, that estimate drops. At an even faster pace, humanity is urbanizing - and this voluntary movement is taking people out of the vast and potentially endangered forests and other biomes faster than population increase replaces them. Land is becoming abundant again. So what’s wrong?

Technology promises abundant energy within a few decades, using clean fossil fuel as we systematically replace it with solar, nuclear, run-of-river hydroelectric, enhanced geothermal, wind, possibly biofuel. Technology promises abundant water within a few decades, as we learn how to recycle every drop of water used in the urban environment, convert many crops to drip irrigation, and develop massive desalination capacity. So why don’t we get to work?

The reason is because of global warming alarm. The bells of warning are ringing so loud that CO2 is all that matters anymore. Want to stop using petroleum? Then burn the rainforests for biofuel. Want to stop using coal? Then forget about installing affordable scrubbers to remove the soot that billows from coal fired power plants across burgeoning Asia - why clean up something that needs to be shut down? Want to save allegedly scarce open space? Then cram everyone into ultra-high density “infill” and destroy every semi rural neighborhood in the western world. Make housing unaffordable, then mandate taxpayer-subsidized affordable housing. And do it all in the name of reducing CO2 emissions.

Today, after reading two documents from the website of the Attorney General of California, “Mitigation Measures,” and “Global Warming Contrarians and the Falsehoods they Promote,” I became so alarmed at what we are willingly, blindly bringing upon ourselves because of all this CO2 alarm that I contacted Dr. Richard Lindzen, who has already contributed two lengthy articles to EcoWorld, “Current Behavior of Global Mean Surface Temperature,” and “Is There a Basis for Global Warming Alarm?” I asked Dr. Lindzen if he still held the views he does. He replied emphatically in the affirmative, and sent me the article that follows. Dr. Lindzen, along with Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr., with whom EcoWorld recently published the exclusive “Interview with Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr.,” are both internationally respected atmospheric scientists. And both of them, in somewhat different ways, are quite concerned about the overemphasis on CO2.

Anyone who is championing extreme measures to reduce anthropogenic CO2 should attempt for themselves to understand the science. As Dr. Lindzen wrote me earlier today, policymakers such as Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger “can be excused given the degree to which the environmental movement has taken over the professional societies.”

“Science” has become the trump card that drowns out reason - what great irony. And the scientific establishment itself has become politicized. And if you read the mitigation measures being proposed, just imagine if there was nothing we could do to affect global warming - which even some of the lead authors of the IPCC studies themselves acknowlege - and see if you want to live in the brave new world we are leading ourselves into by our own gullible noses.

Dramatic and positive global economic and technological developments, along with voluntary and irreversible global demographic trends, are about to deliver us a future where we enjoy unprecedented environmental health, abundance and prosperity. But to do this we need to preserve our economic and personal freedoms. Will the measures being proposed - especially in trendsetting California - fruitlessly combat a problem that doesn’t exist, crush economic growth and trample on individual freedom, and rob humanity of this hopeful destiny?
- Ed “Redwood” Ring

The Fluid Envelope - A Case Against Climate Alarmism
by Dr. Richard Lindzen, February 2008

The notion of a static, unchanging climate is foreign to the history of the earth or any other planet with a fluid envelope. The fact that the developed world went into hysterics over changes in global mean temperature of a few tenths of a degree will astound future generations.

Posted by: Jim M at April 30, 2008 4:16 PM
Comment #251793

I often wonder where so many of the people posting here live, to have the parochial misinformed viewpoints that they express. On offshore drilling, I lived in a Rpblcn district in Rplcn FL, when there was a Rpblcn governor, the former mayor of Tampa, and a Rpblcn POTUS, GHWBush proposed offshore drilling off the coast of FL, and the Rpblcn governor told the Rpblcn POTUS to go f*ck himself, there wasn’t going to be any offshore drilling off his coast. The idea that environmentalism only comes from the left is nonsense. People who like the envirmonment where they live, like to keep it that way, they’re not part of a political conspiracy against progress.

Posted by: ohrealy at April 30, 2008 4:58 PM
Comment #251811

ohrealy, you’re absolutely correct, “People who like the envirmonment where they live, like to keep it that way, they’re not part of a political conspiracy against progress.”

It’s the old “not in my backyard bluster” that helps keep America dependent on foreign energy and all the angst that goes with it.

We sure are fortunate that the folks in Houston/Galveston and other big oil refinery areas didn’t use the same selfish reasoning or we would have to import all our refined oil products.

No one wants a nuclear power plant or coal fired electricity generation plant anywhere near them either. And none of of want a waste land-fill within sight or smell as well. Wealthy East and West coast mansion-dwellers won’t allow windmills in the ocean to spoil the view.

So, what are we to do? I am an advocate of a clean environment, unspoiled landscapes, and such, but I do like to eat, travel, and live a modern life with conveniences I have become accustomed to.

Please, someone…tell us how to obtain the energy we need now, without any sacrifice, so we can continue to enjoy life as we know it.

I read an article not long ago that I believe really shows how selfish some folks can be. A town in California passed a local ordinance prohibiting residents from hanging clothes outside on a clothesline to dry. It was consider an eyesore by some. Never mind that it was non-polluting and 100% energy efficient.

Tell us…what are we to do? Please!

Posted by: Jim M at April 30, 2008 6:42 PM
Comment #251814

“It’s the old “not in my backyard bluster” that helps keep America dependent on foreign energy and all the angst that goes with it.”

and thats exactly why jeb bush refused to consider drilling for oil and gas off the coast of florida. we have the same people in california doing the same thing. ya know the funny thing is, from what i understand the chinese will be developing oil and gas right off our southern coast in cuban waters. hell if barbra boxer says we can’t do it who are we to question her superior wisdom. on another note, i was just curios how many replublican candidates have been endorsed by the sierra club as opposed to democrat candidates.

Posted by: dbs at April 30, 2008 7:09 PM
Comment #251829

Part of the problem with global oil supplies stems from the nationalization of oil resources. Two of the more prominent examples are Yukos, which was effectively renationalized by Russia a couple years back, and Venezuela. Nationalization of these resources has dramatically scaled back the development of new fields because the companies with the expertise (BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, etc.) are locked out. If Americans continue to refuse to drill in places where you can barely see the footprint (e.g. 50+ miles off the coast, Alaskan tundra, etc.), we won’t obtain the energy we need now or in the near future.

Interestingly, the Russians have taken this one step further and said GHG emission caps don’t apply to them. Chinese and Indians have made this clear as well. So I wonder why some insist it should apply to us? To reiterate Dr. Lindzen’s core idea, we can solve the real environmental problems if we end the distraction that is the global warming movement.

ohrealy,
To answer your question, I live in the twenty-five square miles surrounded by reality that is Boulder, CO. It’s an interesting place to live and be a conservative, but I don’t see what relevance it has on my environmental views. I want clean air, water, and soil. I also want energy at reasonable prices. Our government can set the terms of the resource development in this country to achieve multiple goals. Heck, the revenue sharing agreements could generate money for R&D into eventual alternatives. Wouldn’t that be a novel idea?

My point is there is reasonable way forward where the sacrifices of land owners can be minimized, environmental impacts can be minimized, oil companies can turn a profit, and the government can fund energy alternatives and environmental initiatives simultaneously. However, we remain in fear that the environmental abuses of the past will be repeated, but this cannot be the case under current environmental laws. If we force our government to set proper terms, we can have the oil and a clean environment too.

Taking this one step further, the global warming movement implies mutual exclusivity between these choices where I think none exists. Yet another reason I reject the idea.

Posted by: Mr. Haney at April 30, 2008 11:33 PM
Comment #251878

If we are doing things that nobody wants in their backyard, then maybe we should stop some of that, since they end up in somebody else’s backyard, who doesn’t want it either, but isn’t powerful enough to prevent it. We have barely even begun to explore energy alternatives. People are just beginning to do what few have done in modern times, which is to figure out a way to provide themselves with their own energy needs, in their own backyards, instead of relying on an international market, some of which is controlled by those naughty socialists.

Posted by: ohrealy at May 1, 2008 4:26 PM
Comment #251894

I have an idea that may appeal to all concerned. As many of you know, the United Kingdom had a 100 year lease on Hong Kong which ended in 1989, I believe. Then, the UK turned it peacefully over to the PRC.

In much the same way, let’s lease land from Mexico for a hundred years or so and build our nuclear power plants, wind farms, oil refineries, coal power plants, etc on the land leased from Mexico. We then hire many of the illegals in the US to work in our plants in Mexico.

Mexicans may not object to the plant being built in their country, it would tremendously improve their economy, and lure many illegals back to their home country. Surely the “eino’s” would have no problem with this as they only care about their backyard and their landscape. During the lease period we could develop our new energy technology and at the end of the lease, let the Mexicans worry about the old, and outdated plants.

Comments please!

Posted by: Jim M at May 1, 2008 7:18 PM
Comment #251896

Currently, providing your own energy needs via solar costs 25-40 cents/kW-hr in sunny locales. The vast majority of people can’t afford this when conventional energy cost 4-7 cents/kW-hr. Most of those people and corporations which do install them do so because of subsidies and/or tax breaks. Until the price difference shrinks, it is unreasonable to ask to make average Americans to make such a change. As usual, the initial consumers will finance the R&D and help bring the price down.

I am simply advocating that conventional energy supplies should be maintained at affordable prices in the interim. It seems abundantly clear at this point that international competition will continue to keep upward pressure on sources of conventional energy. If we do not address our energy needs in the interim, it will be more difficult to develop the technologies to separate ourselves from conventional sources because poor economic conditions don’t favor investment in these technologies.

Note: If all the hype surrounding Nanosolar is true, PV solar technology may soon be competitive with conventional sources.

Posted by: Mr. Haney at May 1, 2008 7:23 PM
Comment #251924

RickIL:

“You are quite the cynic. My liberal trait comment was nothing more than an attempt at a little levity.”

I got the attempt at levity and was just responding in my usual cynical humorist way. Maybe I am too cynical for some people, sorry. I sometimes get carried away and spoken humor with its emphasis is easier to detect than written. We are at a disadvantage here because we can’t detect the nuances.

” It is clear your hatred of liberals is deep. Such a negative attitude combined with foolish denial, all for the sake of denigrating liberals, is exactly the sort of counter productive attitude which serves no purpose other than creating partisan hatreds.”

I do not hate liberals. I hate liberalism. Liberals are just people (misguided) who are acting out of, what I consider, good intentions. They just do not realize that their emotions are ruling their judgement. Good intentions are noble, but if you do not get good results, you need to reevaluate. Love the sinner, hate the sin.

“I was merely being optimistic about the very real prospects for a future in which oil does not rule our world.”

I am optimistic, too but do not think that oil being the driving force of the economy is so bad. Foreign dominance of the oil is bad. Therefore we need to develop everything we can to lessen our need for foreign oil. This will significantly reduce the price WORLD WIDE. There is nothing wrong with oil driving our economy if it is not expensive.

I like the idea of the compressed air car if it is a reality and is not so small and light as to be an empty beer can on wheels. I will not sacrifice safety to save a few gallons of gas. And unlike Mr. Haney, I am not scared of riding on a tank topped off at 4500 PSI, again, as long as it is not a joke of a car.

Do you know why it will not be available in the U.S. soon? I would like to see the reasoning of keeping it out of this market. Any info?

Mr. Haney:

thank you for the info on solar. You seem to know quite a bit about this subject, are you involved in this market somehow? It seems as though it may be viable eventually, but not as you point out until they bring that cost down. Again, too far out to matter now. Drilling for more oil will come on line faster than this.

I also question the claims made by RickIL on mileage but will watch its emergence with excitement if it is for real. Do not be afraid of the pressure. We are close to many things that are more dangerous. RickIL says they are looking at kevlar for the tanks. This sounds good. Do you by any chance know what the PSI is on a scuba tank? I would guess that it is high and you do not hear of them exploding on a regular basis.

“My point is there is reasonable way forward where the sacrifices of land owners can be minimized, environmental impacts can be minimized, oil companies can turn a profit, and the government can fund energy alternatives and environmental initiatives simultaneously. However, we remain in fear that the environmental abuses of the past will be repeated, but this cannot be the case under current environmental laws. If we force our government to set proper terms, we can have the oil and a clean environment too.

Taking this one step further, the global warming movement implies mutual exclusivity between these choices where I think none exists. Yet another reason I reject the idea.”

Could not have said this any better.

dbs and Jim M:

Thank you

“Mexicans may not object to the plant being built in their country, it would tremendously improve their economy, and lure many illegals back to their home country. Surely the “eino’s” would have no problem with this as they only care about their backyard and their landscape. During the lease period we could develop our new energy technology and at the end of the lease, let the Mexicans worry about the old, and outdated plants.”

OUTSTANDING!

Posted by: Beirut Vet at May 2, 2008 9:26 AM
Comment #251931

Beirut Vet

Do you know why it will not be available in the U.S. soon? I would like to see the reasoning of keeping it out of this market. Any info?

I supplied the link to the compressed air car above in post #251743. I was incorrect, it is due on the market here in the US in 2010. It is small but supposedly seats six. And if I remember correctly the driver sits in the middle so that one model can accommodate lane usage in all countries. My original post also stated that it would be assisted by a small gasoline engine. I was incorrect about this also, there are no fossil fuels involved. It supposedly will have a range of 1000 miles, I assume under optimum conditions. I can not believe that it will have the comforts that we are used to here in the US. However I just saw a headline stating that Americans are quickly flocking to small more efficient vehicles. I think it is a given that efficiency will come with less torque, lower speeds, smaller vehicles and probably a rougher ride.

I do not expect or believe that our dependence on oil will magically disappear overnight. However if allowed to progress unencumbered these types of things tend to take off like wild fire once it is determined that they are viable. I believe there is no other motivator better than extremely high fuel prices to drive the surge of innovation necessary to quickly make inroads in alternatives. I am extremely optimistic about the possibilities.

The thought of being able to greatly lessen our dependence on fossil fuels seems very satisfying to me. The process is multi functional in that it can make energy costs cheaper, our air cleaner, and eliminate a major source of world conflict.

Posted by: RickIL at May 2, 2008 11:27 AM
Comment #251935

Beirut Vet,

I worked for ExxonMobil on a rotating internship (5 semesters) during my undergrad at Purdue. It was the debt free five year plan. :-) So, this is why I have an intimate understanding of the energy industry. My fiancée is getting her masters in agricultural engineering with an emphasis on water quality, and my PhD will be tangentially related to alternative energy. So that’s why I have invested some time understanding alternative energy.

Scuba tanks have a pressure of 3000 psi. I have seen a full tank lose its seal. It didn’t explode, but it created a fist sized ice ball (Joule-Thompson effect). With tanks having 40 times the volume, I would think there would be some risk of getting severely frost bitten if your tanks cracked. Crash testing may prove this risk to be nil.

Posted by: Mr. Haney at May 2, 2008 12:19 PM
Comment #251936

An email from Newsmax featured the following lead-in to the story. I went to the website shown below, browsed around, watched the video and was thoroughly impressed.

I am not nearly as well-versed on this topic as many of you writing on this blog and would like your comments. Can it be true that this company has developed technology to produce real oil, not in a few million years, but 8 minutes at $42 per barrel?

Company: Sustainable Power Corporation
Symbol: PK: SSTP
Sector: Bio-fuel Manufacturing and Technology Sales
Website: www.sustainablepower.com/

America’s answer to soaring foreign oil costs…American-made bio-fuel at $42 per barrel!
Texas company, Sustainable Power Corp. (PK: SSTP), perfects bio-fuel breakthrough…creates crude oil equivalent at a fraction the cost of conventional processes.

Posted by: Jim M at May 2, 2008 12:21 PM
Comment #251945

A brief search seems to indicate that the only thing Sustainable Power Corporation is selling is snake oil. A back of the envelope energy balance demonstrates they violate the 1st law of thermodynamics. This company appears to work on the same principle but actually has some science behind it.

Posted by: Mr. Haney at May 2, 2008 4:33 PM
Comment #254038

It’s amazing how poorly informed people are about the compressed air car. Time and time again, I have seen conversations like this online where someone expresses concern about the danger form the air tanks. But it has been clearly stated by the air car inventors that the air tanks are made of carbon fiber and do not exploded in an accident, they only split, making a loud boom. I don’t know how anyone who’s done a decent investigation online into the air car technology can miss that…By continuing to converse like this, people are spreading disinformation about the car…So let’s get this straight, for the umpteenth time:

The air tanks on the air car DO NOT explode.

Posted by: mike at May 31, 2008 12:01 PM
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