How the world has changed

The argument today is whether or not the U.S. should export oil. I continue to marvel at energy developments of the last ten years. The U.S. will soon be the world’s largest energy producer, an energy superpower. All the experience of the past forty years has been overtaken by events. It is the energy equivalent of the fall of the Berlin Wall and will have consequences as far reaching.

I should not be so surprised. I have been an optimist all my life, trusting that human imagination, intelligence and innovation can overcome all obstacles. But I came to maturity during the dark and cold days of the late 1970s, when President Carter told us that we would have to recognize limits, when books and movies emphasized the end of our resources. It is hard for me to believe that it is all so different.

When I was young, people around me made stuff out of raw materials. It seems perfectly intuitive that you could - would - run out of raw materials if you kept on making stuff. I remember hearing stories about the great range Mesabi range in Minnesota just running out of iron ore. I pictured it just as empty. It seemed to make sense to see the world as a bunch of boxed filled with resources. Our ancestors had emptied lots of these boxes and we were emptying them even faster. Soon there would be no more full boxes and we would be out stuff and out of luck. This formulation is easy for child to understand, maybe because it is childish.

In real life, we have constantly developing technologies and techniques. We do indeed "run out" of some stuff, but by the time we do we have transitioned into something else, usually something that works better for our needs.

I recall my first class is business policy. We were assigned a well-known business and told to ask what business they were in. I was assigned McDonald's and it seemed an easy answer. McDonald's was in the hamburger business. This was the wrong answer. I expanded to fast-food. Still not right. I finally ended up with a vague "customer satisfaction" explanation. This was almost right, but still not broad enough. McDonald's is in the customer satisfaction business, using mostly a fast and integrated process to do that. It is also in the logistics business, the technology business and the real estate business, among others. If people stopped eating hamburgers, McDonald's would face challenges, but it would not necessarily go out of business, especially if the changes took place over some years. In fact, we have seen McDonald's diversify its offerings since that time many years ago when I first gave my incorrect answer.

McDonald's is just one firm. How much more adaptive is the great diversity of our society? I could have been asked a similar question about energy. Back in the 1970s, I might have talked about the need to secure foreign energy sources and to cut way back on energy consumption, maybe put on a sweater, turn down the lights and sit in the cold as President Carter implied. But things don't really work like that.

So today we talk about how much energy we should export. The big energy producers in the world worry about the U.S. as a competitor. They can no longer ration our energy or use it against us. If they embargo oil to us, we don't really care. In fact, the big geopolitical talk of today is whether or not we will ALLOW Iran to sell more oil. How the world has changed.

Posted by Christine & John at December 16, 2013 7:07 AM
Comments
Comment #375063

C/J write; ” It is the energy equivalent of the fall of the Berlin Wall and will have consequences as far reaching.”

True indeed, nearly every aspect of American business and each individual American benefits greatly from our energy revolution.

http://blogs.marketwatch.com/energy-ticker/2013/09/04/u-s-energy-boom-boosts-family-income-u-s-trade-ihs-study-says/

“The U.S. energy boom will trickle down as a windfall for families, boost trade, and contribute to increased U.S. competitiveness, consultancy IHS said in a report released Wednesday.

The “revolution” in unconventional oil and gas exploration in the U.S. will increase disposable income by more than $2,700 per household and boost U.S. trade by more than $164 billion in 2020, the report said.

Oil and gas production will support more than 3.3 million jobs by 2020 and nearly 3.9 million jobs by 2025, IHS estimated. The boom currently supports more than 2.1 million jobs, it said.

Unconventional oil and gas activity increased disposable income by an average $1,200 per U.S. family in 2012 as savings from lower energy costs were passed along to consumers as lower energy bills as well as lower costs for goods and services, the consultancy said.”

Posted by: Royal Flush at December 16, 2013 3:58 PM
Comment #375067

While I agree that the oil production of the United States increasing is a good thing, excuse me if I don’t break out into a chorus of “Happy Days Are Here Again”. There are a couple of concerns that I have that will need to be played out. First and foremost are the implications that fracking may have adverse affects on our day to day lives, it will be a while before we see if this is the case. Secondly increased savings from lower energy costs is a little bit like my wife telling me she saved me $20 by going shopping with a coupon card from the store for that amount so I only spent $80 on something that costs $100. I always say look I spent $80, I didn’t save anything. Sure getting my potatoes or my big screen can cost me less because the energy cost required to deliver those commodities was reduced but did that savings really get passed on to me? And last but not least oil consumption is a global problem. Sure we may have a surplus in the US but what about China or India. If they have problems getting oil and start getting ideas about having to use military force to insure that their oil supply is available, what does it mean for the rest of the world. I would hope that with this influx of additional revenue that energy producing companies will invest in alternative resources for energy that are not limited to one commodity that is finite however infinite it might seem today. OK altogether now “Happy Days Are Here Again Look up Look up the Skies are Clear Again……..” (song made famous by the 1932 FDR campaign). But I do appreciate the up tone of this posting as opposed to the Obama lied, Obama bad, postings down thread. Now I wonder who could be posting that stuff?

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