Barack Obama on Energy

Courtesy of Kevin Drum, I just read a speech by Barack Obama, the Democratic senator for Illinois.
In this year's State of the Union address, President Bush told us that it was time to get serious about America's addiction to foreign oil. The next day, we found out that his idea didn't sit too well with the Saudi Royal Family. A few hours later, Energy Secretary Bodman backtracked and assured the world that even though the President said he planned to reduce the amount of oil we import from the Middle East, he actually didn't mean that literally.

If there's a single example out there that encapsulates the ability of unstable, undemocratic governments to wield undue influence over America's national security just because of our dependence on oil, this is it.

The centerpiece of his proposal is a trade of helping Detroit with their retirement and health care costs in exchange for a commitment to increase average fuel economy and use of biofuels:

There is now no doubt that fuel-efficient cars represent the future of the auto industry. If American car companies hope to be a part of that future - if they hope to survive - they must start building more of these cars.

But that's not to say we should leave the industry to face these costs on its own. Yes, we should raise fuel economy standards by 3% a year over the next fifteen years, starting in 2008. With the technology they already have, this should be an achievable goal for automakers. But we can help them get there.

Right now, one of the biggest costs facing auto manufacturers isn't the cars they make, it's the health care they provide. Health care costs make up $1,500 of the price of every GM car that's made - more than the cost of steel. Retiree health care alone cost the Big 3 automakers nearly $6.7 billion just last year.

So here's the deal we can make with the auto companies. It's a piece of legislation I introduced called "Health Care for Hybrids," and it would allow the federal government to pick up part of the tab for the auto companies' retiree health care costs. In exchange, the auto companies would then use some of that savings to build and invest in more fuel-efficient cars. It's a win-win proposal for the industry - their retirees will be taken care of, they'll save money on health care, and they'll be free to invest in the kind of fuel-efficient cars that are the key to their competitive future.

Now, building cars that use less oil is only one side of the equation. The other involves replacing the oil we use with home-grown biofuels. The Governors in this room have long known about this potential, and all of you have been leading the way on ethanol in your own states.

This coalition also knows that corn-based ethanol is only the beginning. If we truly want to harness the power of these fuels and the promise of this market, we can and must generate more cellulosic ethanol from agricultural products like corn stocks, switch grass and other crops our farmers grow.

I rather like the speech. It's very politically savvy - helps out a bunch of different interest groups. The rhetoric is uplifting, and yet the proposals have a gradualist, politically achievable, flavor. And at the end of the day, this would actually help the problem somewhat.
There's a lively discussion about this at Gristmill, too. Odograph in particular, is not amused.
What a bad mood I was in ;-)
Who was it that said, "When pigs finally fly, you shouldn't look too closely at how far they get."  At least he has a plan, even if it's doomed in five years.
"You can't make a race horse of a pig," said Adam.
"No," said Samuel, "but you can make a very fast pig."
- John Steinbeck, East of Eden


Ad Astra, per Alia Porci  
'To the stars, on the wings of a pig'

"we should raise fuel economy standards by 3% a year over the next fifteen years, starting in 2008"

How do other people feel about that ... is the timeframe right, is the pace right?

Job 1 is to get the elephant turned around and moving in the right direction. Then we can start worrying about whipping it to go faster.
I'm interested in timeframes right now, principly because the "possible futures" we tell ourselves shape so much of our outlook and strategy.

I'm also not sure what is "turned around" and what is "status quo" in this situation.  The ethanol subsidies, certainly, go back years.  CAFE as an institution goes back years.

I'd also note that the "possible futures" we tell ourselves, Defcon 1..n, are an important part of the learning and acceptance cycle on Peak Oil.
Absolutely correct, Stuart!

We need to rapidly adopt the mindset of 'No Thanks--I like Empty Tanks' in the automotive industry by the building of small one person commuter cars powered by 200cc motors, motorized bicycles, and other measures to instantly jackup the national mpg average providing an energy reserve than can be shifted to build walkable cities and intra-city rail.  I feel our leaders are not sufficiently engaged to assert pro-active changes; just leaving things to the market will be woefuly insufficient to mitigate declining net energy.  Lack of national leadership will result in ERoVI [Violence Invested]> ERoEI [cooperative Powerdown].

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Actually, we would be better off with gas guzzlers, and limiting the personal automobile to the wealthy elite.

That way there would be fewer cars and much more public transportation.

We need to make the personal automobile as common as the private (personal) jet.

Cars are killing America. Cars are killing the Earth. We need to move AWAY from the car, not towards it.

Thxs for responding Umass1993,

I feel America will not have the time and resources for a massive urban transport infrastructure and the build out time is too long.  If the goal is walkable infrastructure with intense local permiculture, the emphasis on bicycling from the city to the railhead to daily labor in the fields is the best way to achieve this.  The logical interrim step is minimize transport weight requirements to save the maximum energy. A sixty pound motorized bicycle or a 400 lb quad ATV will ALWAYS be less than any mass-transit design and offer much greater energy savings, geographic access, and scheduling flexibility.  In short, the ERoEI is much higher.

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?


Just a little more.  I agree with your sentiment that cars are killing us, I would prefer bicycles too, but we have to offer a bridging transport mechanism of motorcycles and Quads for those with a bad sense of balance and/or long commute distances.  The Japanese are already years ahead of Detroit, they have been manufacturing bicycle motors, small motorcycles, and quads for decades.  The quads are currently optimized for off-road activity, but minor engineering changes would quickly enhance street legal usage.  Motorized bicycles get near 300 mpg.

I have ridden motorcycles for years in all kinds of weather conditions, people just need to reset their expectations of what transport should be.  A quad can cover a remarkable distance on very little fuel-- you just dress appropriately for the weather.  People need to give up on the idea of a comfortably heated or AC cocoon because the required poundage is a waste of energy.  Put on a helmet for safety and you are good to go.  Pull a small trailer if you need to haul the kids or a larger load.

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

I lived in Phoenix for 2-3 years. I understand where you are coming from.  There are many bikers in Phoenix.

Bikes are not tenable in Phoenix.  Not for the masses. It gets to be 115 degrees during the day, it's probably hotter on I-17.  Plus the safety issues.  Seatbelts save lives and motorcycles don't even have them.

My preferred mode of transportation is the shoe. They sell for about $50 a pair and are really reliable.  Sometimes a shoelace breaks, and thats a bummer,  but I can usually make it to a local drugstore and get a replacement.


Nothing wrong with walking [it does burn calories], but you are not maximizing your personal thermo-efficiency potential-- this will be a life or death issue in the future when there is very little food and clean water to go around. A good bicycle with baskets will be worth its weight in gold.

When gas prices start spiraling really high, people will not have any choice but to pedal or go for small motorized vehicles.  The heat is uncomfortable, but not a problem if you stay adequately hydrated, slow down your pedal rate, and take frequent breaks.  On the bright side, we never have to shovel the sunshine!  Come crunch time, the obese will slim down-- they will have no other choice.  Pedaling is still much more time and energy efficient than walking.  Lots more fun too.  Here is a good link:

Man, unaided by any tool, gets around quite efficiently. He carries one gram of his weight over a kilometer in ten minutes by expending 0.75 calories. Man on his feet is thermodynamically more efficient than any motorized vehicle and most animals. For his weight, he performs more work in locomotion than rats or oxen, less than horses or sturgeon. At this rate of efficiency man settled the world and made its history. At this rate peasant societies spend less than 5 per cent and nomads less than 8 per cent of their respective social time budgets outside the home or the encampment.

Man on a bicycle can go three or four times faster than the pedestrian, but uses five times less energy in the process. He carries one gram of his weight over a kilometer of flat road at an expense of only 0.15 calories. The bicycle is the perfect transducer to match man's metabolic energy to the impedance of locomotion. Equipped with this tool, man outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well.
Now you understand why I earlier typed why a good bicycle with baskets will be worth its weight in gold.

Unfortunately, the Zimbabweans did not have a Powerdown Plan and are paying heavily for it now.  The lack of planning for transport alternatives has made bicycle demand one of the leading causes of inflation:

Inflation in Zimbabwe soared to 613% in January, the state Central Statistical Office said on Tuesday.  The highest price increases recorded during the year were for postal services, up 3,000%, bicycles, 2,687%, and medicines, 1,367%.
Just imagine what the bicycle theft rate must be-- I bet an owner never lets the bike be out of his sight.  Having a bicycle is now a life or death issue in Zimbabwe--I bet people are killed over bicycles.  Sad.

If a Zimbabwean is desperately scavenging for food by purely walking: he/she might be burning more calories than they harvest-- they are only hastening their starvation.

I understand your safety concern about no seatbelts on bicycles & motorcycles & quads, but in a world of declining net energy we will not be able to afford many 'safety luxuries'.  For example: the simple act of adjusting the house thermostat is much safer than the future swinging of an axe for hours on end to generate the same amount of equivalent heat in firewood.  We just need to mentally adjust to a more dangerous existence.  Such will be postPeak life, better get used to it.

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Interesting posting about bikes. The increased hazards of motorcycle use represents a lowering of living standards due to less available energy. The human + bicycle is surely the most energy-efficient method of travel known or even possible.

Some people have a crappy sense of balance, which makes motorcycle use more hazardous. I took a motorcycle class last year but lack of enough practice meant that I flunked the riding test. :( So, some people will need a non-balancing vehicle to use.

Hey Totoneila,

I found the most powerful electric bike I could buy for $500 last summer. But it just crawled up the steep hills here in Colorado, and the town cop was giving me the evil eye. (He rides a Harley.)

So I bought a Yamaha 125 street cruiser. It gets about 90 mpg, is fun to ride and gets me down to the local coffee shop where I can argue with the cowboys about peak oil. They all drive Dodge Ram pickups.

Good for you Don,

I am no expert, but my guess is that because of the batteries, the embedded energy in an electric scooter is much higher than an equivalent small motorcycle.  The energy losses through the batteries is probably much higher than the energy losses through the gas motor on a pure HP conversion basis,too.  After riding in the cold Colorado temps, a toasty little motor is much better for warming your hands on anyway.  Enjoy your knees in the breeze, and keep the shiny side up!  Thxs for responding.

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Use this 48V Brushless DC bike motor 1000W:

Cars are the big killers?

From the link:
In researching my book about how we might achieve a 90% cut in carbon emissions by 2030, I have been discovering, greatly to my surprise, that every other source of global warming can be reduced or replaced to that degree without a serious reduction in our freedoms.

Good article, Eric, and good Point.  Talk about the elephant in the room.  'course, I'm on a plane tomorrow for CostaRica (but for work that I'm desperately thankful for)  

  I just read the Light-Rail proposal by Alan from big easy (right??).. and was wondering if either of you have the caloric usage numbers for  Walking, Bicycling, Car (compact&SUV) , Bus, Subway/Trolley, Pass Train, JumboJet Pass Flight.  That's a 'Hockey Stick' Graph that I think would make a great poster for People to visualise their energy footprint and get a glimpse of how to really conserve energy.


I think 45 calories per mile is a good rough estimate for commuter biking.  More here:
I think that each long path begins with a small step.

I know what most of us here want and think about improvements measured with some tiny percents per year, but IMO this is just the beginning. I think we need some more patience, the energy awareness movement is just starting to pick up. In just several years imposing real measures will become possible.

I'm old enough to remember other "beginnings." ;-)
You want something which is politically impossible at this very moment. Actually I find the propositions even bolder to what the public is ready to accept now, considering how much the taxpayers will have to pay for them. Yet, nobody will support anything better (at least not before gasoline is 5-6$/gallon).
No, you assume my analysis is perscription.
To pad that out, I think an accurate analysis would not call this the beginning.  The beginning was approx. 1973.  This might be an increase in seriousness, but that's what I want to look at carefully.  I don't believe Senators from Illinois are not new converts to ethanol.
Uh, I guess I should have used "don't" or "not" but not both ;0)
No problem, in my native language double negative is the norm, so it sounded good enough :)

I think you are not fair. In recent years all that has been done regarding efficiency is just talk, talk talk. This is the first concrete proposal that resembles a plan, and that would be definately acceptable for the parties envolved.

It is much better than empty promises like hydrogen economy by 2050 and has all the chances of becoming true. If we face it, the public would never accept a gas tax in any form (esepcially with rising gas prices), but a rising tax for SUVs via CAFE can very well do.

FWIW, it this Governor's Ethanol Coalition to which Sen. Obama's speech was given:

"In September 1991, Nebraska's governor asked other governors interested in creating a group devoted to the promotion and increased use of ethanol to join him in Lincoln, Nebraska. From that meeting, the Governors' Ethanol Coalition emerged. Membership in the Coalition doubled from nine to 19 states during the first year. Membership as of January 2006 stands at 32 states with international representatives from Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Sweden and Thailand."

That's progress, and I totally approve of progress ... but I really need a better feel for how that progress (and focus on ethanol) fits with our possible future(s).

Time flies ;-)

"The US Congress established CAFE standards in 1975, largely in response to the oil embargo of 1973. Gasoline prices skyrocketed and the United States was caught flat on its feet. Cars and light trucks were heavy and inefficient, with cars averaging 13.5 mpg and trucks averaging 11.6 mpg. Congress established a phase-in of new fuel economy standards that brought cars up to 27.5 mpg, but delegated the responsibility of setting standards for light trucks, now set at 20.7 mpg, to the Department of Transportation (DOT)."

- more here

What we should do is raise all fuel taxes by oh, say, 10 cents a year for 10 years, and dedicate every penny to do what Matt Simmons suggests - improve transportation infrastructure that will really help with our oil problem: rails, ports, shipping channels, etc.

What we will do is another matter.  It will probably look an awful lot like nothing - until it's squeeze time.

That's too little, too slow.  We need something like a nickle a month for 5 years.
Though I have some sympathy for Stuart's pragmatism ("Job 1 is to get the elephant turned around and moving in the right direction. Then we can start worrying about whipping it to go faster.") I profoundly disagree.

The elephant is a mere stride from the cliff and if it doesn't f*cking turn round it is doomed.

I find the speech philosophically, morally and practically inadequate. Perhaps Barack doesn't understand yet, perhaps he has perhaps wisely opted for Stuart's pragmatic philosophy. My advice (which is often wrong, LOL): the one who is brave enough to tell the truth before it is widely known will reap the political rewards. Those that have hedged, like Barack in this speech, will be forgotten.

Barack's previous speeches (that I'm aware of) have been relatively impressive for a US politician, even had some decent policy content, LOL, but this one has bottled out.

  1. Pace is too slow. Four percent would still be easily doable; 5 percent is still realistic, in my opinion.

  2. I didn't hear Obama mention whether or not this includes SUVs.

  3. Speaking of that, some states have different licensing for local/farm use vs. non-local/non-farm use pickups, and I believe SUVs as well. Obama should call for the carrot/stick of paid/withheld federal highway funds to get every state to do this. Then, we could accelerate the curve on nonfarm SUVs to eventually make them part of the car CAFE.
"the ability of unstable, undemocratic governments to wield undue influence over America's national security"

LOL.  America is ruled by an unstable undemocratic government in any case.

Yeah, it took me a while until I figured out he meant Middle East. Or did he? :)
Damn, you beat me to it!
Thx. I was going to say that.  In which case I second.
I'm not sure I see it as politically savvy at all. It's certainly not going to please the auto companies who will see it as interference and over regulation. Those retirees will almost certainly lose benefits and the tax-payers foot the bill. So exactly who benefits?

Then there is the more practical issue, is improving EPA mileage standards over such an extended time really going to extend the plateau all that much?

Why should taxpayers bail out automakers by paying part of their contractual obligation to retirees?  Do we get a discount on the more efficient cars they build with our money? It's just more socialism for corporations, but not for people.

When are the Democrats going to take the initiative and call for universal, single payer health care.  That's  the only fiar way to take care of the automakers healthcare problems.

Yeah, I agree.  This is not going to fly.  People who don't have healthcare themselves, or are paying through the nose for it, are not going to be happy about paying for someone else's healthcare.  

A universal healthcare plan probably has a better chance of passing.  Which isn't saying much.

That bites - I am self employed - what about my nice cushy federal medical care? Huh? Oh I forgot - I'm self employed so I get pay the taxes to cover their rear ends. Where is John Galt?
Sometimes I just don't get it.

If the U.S. bites the bullet and starts conserving oil with better cars, doesn't that just allow the developing countries to scarf up all the extra oil? And cover up all their remaining sustainable farmland with new sprawl?

And you know they will ...

Yes, but....

The sooner we start mitigation the better.  Today would be fine.  1970 would've been better.  Putting the Hirsch report and the last few discussion threads together tells me that we're way behind the curve.  Let's at least stop getting behinder.

Don, you are correct.  See my posts below.

Barak is either a fool or a fraud, because what he says just isn't so.

I kinda' think that you will get to have gasoline longer, because all those developing countries are having a hard time paying for their gasoline right now, unless they happen to own it.

I'm working (free) on a drawings for the design of a water supply system for a village in Gambia right now (OK earlier today).  Their old pump broke.  It was 25 years old.  Guess what?  Their existing system is solar powered.  Has been solar powered for 25 years.  Know why?  Because they don't have electricity and nobody could afford it if they did.  They also can not afford either a gasoline or diesel engine or the gasoline or diesel to keep it running.  This is the only water system that is keeping the village alive with drinking and irrigation water for their meager crops.  Believe me, these guys will never be able to make a sprall on any of this "farmland".  You got nothing to worry about, so just keep on using those 4X4 WMDs, close your eyes and dream of all the future gasoline you want.
check out the photo gallery

P.S.  If you would like to contribute to this charitable cause, instead of guzzling the gasoline they don't have, please call me, country code 34 952-930-603.  I will put you in touch with the project manager attending Havard Business School (class 2007).  I trust you will do the right thing.

See, that's the kind of technology I think we should be investing in.  Not just in Africa, but here.  Stuff that lasts, that isn't dependent on a bunch of other pricey infrastructure.  Stuff that will survive peak oil, at least for a few decades.
Thanks Leanan.  King Idris was right.  Striking water is better than oil.  I'm changing my drilling rig.  

Did you see the collectors?  Generate 200 VDC for pumping  13.5 m3/h (63 gpm) of water from 120 ft.  Solenoid switch is broken.  I think it was under-rated and the 200 VDC welded it closed. I'm want a quality solid state relay.  

Offer's open to all, but no pressure (pun intended).  I used to think I couldn't do anything.  Too many overwhelming problems, but then I realized if a lot of people only did just one tiny tiny thing... then we §   If I can, I'm driving down to help install it May, Dakar style.

A solid state relay for that pump will be a hard to find item! I know where you can get some 200VDC 25A solid state relays. I bought a pair to experiment with, and cost like $50 a pop. They are the biggest ones Grainger (an industrial supply place) stocks or lists in the catalogue.

I'm sure they could be found, but will be REALLY upscale in price. Your pump probably has a 75 HP motor on it, judging from the application (town water and depth) and the 65 gallons/minute. At 200VDC, it must drain a couple hundred amps. Massively paralleled HV MOSFETs, anyone? Try parts salvaged from BIG computer battery backup systems. (think 100KVA UPSes or better)

An alternative is to use big contactors meant for extreme voltage high current AC motors. By "extreme" I mean 2,000VAC or better. And make sure the contactor can handle the amps. Switching DC is trickier than AC becuse it's non-stop while AC goes to zero, helping to put out arcs twice a cycle. Typical small relays may be rated for 10A but 240VAC or 24VDC, recognising the arcing problem. Where I work, we have a pair of A/C units (3.6 MBTUs) with 4,000VAC 30A motors. The contactors are big, to have enough separation of contacts to switch the extreme voltage. Note that the coils take a goodly amount of house current to close. Note that extreme contactors will be fairly hard to find too, but not as hard as those extreme solid state relays.

No, its only 3.7 HP input to the pump, 60 gpm to 120 ft pump pump eff = 0.50+/- (worst case after it gets old, they're not much on maintenance). I've got the pump ID'd.  But I'm not much of an EE, so if you can spare the time, do you have a suggestion for a relay mfg & model for say a 5 HP: 200 VDC 1775 rpm motor?  Control: 25 VDC  Probably starting current x2, no?  

I thought I found one today, but when I looked closely, I noticed control was 3-32 VDC and load was 24-280 VAC 10 A.  I need VDC both sides.

Lots of thanks in advance.

Perhaps I'm missing the obvious, but why do you need to switch this at all?  If the solar array runs nothing but the pump, you just let the pump run.  Overflow from the storage tank goes back down the well.

That aside, there are MOSFETs suitable for switching upwards of 300 VDC; they're used in 120/240 power supplies.  Parallel enough of those and add some snubber diodes to handle any inductive kick, and you should be able to switch this load electronically.

FWIW, the snubber network (freewheeling diode) is probably a good idea even if you use a mechanical relay.  No sense giving the arc any more energy than you have to.

Running something that doesn't need to run, even though expending free energy, eventually costs you in maintenance time.  Plus, it just runs contrary to my instinct.  Besides, some day, they may want to be running something else off the panel bank, so why not teach conservation from the beginning?  You yourself imply the same, so I know its the right thing to do; "No sense giving the arc any more energy than you have to."; same for the pump.
The DC solid state relays I have will fill the bill. They are rated 200VDC and 40 amps. They are made by Dayton Electric, model number 5Z960 in the Grainger catalogue. Control voltage is 3.5 to 32 volts DC. Add a snubber diode, and away you go.

These can be interfaced to a computer's printer fitting (5 volt signal) and the control side takes very little current to control the big current. They are about $60 from Grainger. Order 2, and keep a spare. does require you have a company's account like most industrial supply places. We postal workers have a "Grainger perk" with a separate account number so we can buy stuff, which is how I got my relays.

I think that handling 200 VDC is tough with solid state.  For AC there are lots of options that use SCRs and TRIACs, which all depend on the voltage going through zero at some point. The circuit is interrupted at a low current in the AC cycle, which is good since it reduces inductive voltage spikes.

Switching 200 volts of DC would probably require a high voltage MOSFET, probably at least a 400 volt rating.  Something like this:
For switching 20 amps ( 3000 Watts/200 Volts + margin) you would need at least two of these in parallel.

Note that switching an inductive load means lots of voltage spikes.  You will probably needs to surround your MOSFET with substantial bypass capacitors, and a couple hefty diodes for good measure.  Also, since solid state is more likely to fail as a short, make sure that you have some sort of fuse wired in series with it.

It might be easier just to install a replacement mechanical relay and bring along some spares to leave at the installation. In the Third World, the simple, sturdy, and inelegant usually wins out over sophisticated and fragile.

I had begun to think I was on the wrong track when I realized what I found was VAC and I hit the wall.

I cannot disagree (not that I'd want to).  This should be mechanical.  2 in parallel and the accompanying capacitors sound like extra reliability troubles too, so its certainly much better to revert to conventional solutions, especially when working in remote areas.  

THANK YOU for your excellent recommendation.  

If the original one lasted 25 years then I'd buy 2 more of the same type, install one and leave the other as a spare.

Sometimes the "low tech" solution is just more appropriate and cost-effective.

I'm off to Fiji again on Friday for my own solar-home-lighting project, see here:


Don't know if this story came to your attention..  it's a couple years back, now, but I think about it from time to time..

SOUTH AFRICA - Children's roundabout solves the water problem in remote areas.
A group in South Africa has come up with The Play Pump. It is a playground roundabout (to see a picture, visit the site!) that drives conventional borehole pumps, keeping costs and maintenance to an absolute minimum, while entertaining the children. These play pumps have signs carrying HIV/AIDS messages. The pump can make children happy, reduce the workload for women, make a visible step forward in rural water development, and slow down the spread of HIV/AIDS.
[For more information, contact]


Thanks for the link.  I like that.

In this case, the water's down a bit too far for kiddy power.  How many kids = 1 HP??   ©:

Looks like once its up to the surface, they'll be able to move it around though.

Sorry, the head output is fine, but my flow needs kids x 10 or they'll have to turn it at 160 rpm, 2.67 rps

Actually I found the links to it at,

Thx again.

Good for you.  You are working on a noble cause.

I have one concern about projects such as this.  sometimes the "solution" fosters more problems.

If you build one pump, then more people will show up and put a strain on the system.  I hope your project has a plan to keep the local population to a sustainable level.

It can be done, but it has to be part of the plan.

Id be happy if GM stopped making cars and started replacing all the inner city trolley cars and light rail systems that they systematically helped destroy over the years.  That should employ some people.
I'd say GM is floating the image of an E85 SUV as a counter to the image of a small hybrid.  Someone says "why don't you make a hybird" and they say "look at this E85 Avalanche".

Now, how productive or distructive you think that strategy is totally depends on your timeline.  With a 30-40 year transition maybe that's no problem.  If your concern is in the 10-20 year range, then the cars you put into the fleet in the very short term matters a great deal.

Exactly - the automobile is a dead end for urban areas - we need to move on to more efficient transportation modes.
Commendable!  I am pleased someone here mentioned this.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if General Motors was made to undo what I consider among the great diabolical schemes of the previous  century: engaging in a criminal conspiracy to acquire, dismantle and abolish countless private urban transit and trolley systems all across America, which in the end they paid a $5,000 fine.   How can any of us adequately express the enormous long term ramification of this?  We had a wonderful network of urban rail systems, and it was all thrown away.  And the country has paid dearly for it ever since.

With what money?  GM is inches from bankruptcy; all the money went to lavish pay and benefits for the union.
Actually, compared to Toyota, it's the managers that are bankrupting GM.
Per this, Toyota builds a car with 30.38 hours of labor at $35 each ($1063.30), while GM needs 45.6 hours at $45 ($2052).

It's not the managers.

That's not what your cite says. I may be wrong, you may be right, but your cite does not support you.
What's the union labor component for GM and Toyota vs the management? Look at the breakdown of costs for cars. This includes the parts, union labor, supervisory staff, plant operating costs like utilities and phones, and the plant interest costs.
Toyota has how much union labor vs how much supervisory staff? GM? Ford? Honda? Nissan?
They have the Harbour Report at Jackson library at Stanford. I'll see if I can get there tonight. You may be right and if you are I'll post, or otherwise. I got other stuff to do there tonight, so we'll see if I can get around to it.
Hey, even I can be wrong. But I won't be wrong after I read the report. The secret to never being wrong is to promptly change your opinion on receipt of contrary information. A rule to live by.
Obama is one shrewd politician! That I will grant him.

The automotive industry has a major presence in Illinois, and Illinois is one of the important corn-producing states.

Pander to the UAW labor vote by reassuring them that the federal government will pick up the tab for their threatened pension funds if one or more of the Big Three goes belly up. Then pander to the powerful agricultural lobby by pushing ethanol. See, he conveniently kills two birds with one stone.

Perhaps I am being overly cynical, but I think this whole thing stinks.

First, why should the US auto industry need an incentive (such as relieving them of their pension obligations) to produce more high-mileage cars?  They already have an incentive: produce the right cars for the times or go out of business. That seems like a pretty powerful incentive to me. So why should the federal government need to bribe them with my tax dollars to do the right thing?

The Japanese auto industry has been eating Detroit's lunch for years by being one jump ahead of them in technology and quality.  Quite apropos, I just read in the paper today that in the 2006 Consumer Reports listing of the highest reliability autos in its 10 vehicle classes, this is the first year that not one car from Detroit made it to first in its class.

As someone who has been self-employed since 1987, and who has been without any pension whatsoever and who  had to pay exhorbitant  medical premiums, it really galls me that I have may now have to pay even more taxes to support a pension fund that the Auto Industry would just love to renage on.

I used to think it was mildly patriotic to buy an American car, but those days are now over. Detroit has continually shot itself in the foot and now deserves what it gets. We should NOT be propping it up with money taken from citizens.

I think Detroit shot itself in it's procreative member, if you follow my meaning.
You're wrong: they never had one to begin with!
They've certainly had their share of dicks.
Obama is a politician and this is a political "solution". It will be popular because it encourages belief in the view that the problem can be fixed without any real change in the way we  (in the rich West) behave.

It will fail of course because it isn't a solution to the problem. The actual problem is that the planet is way beyound its carrying capacity based on renewable energy sources. We're currently enjoying a short (few hundred year) party because Nature has provided a stock of massively concentrated, stored ancient sunlight that we call fossil fuel. Unfortunately, it took Nature 20 million years to do it and we're currently using 400 year's worth of "production" every year.

So, the problem is, how do we substitute fossil fuel sunlight with just-in-time sunlight? Ho do we squeeze out a 40,000% increase in productivity?

Sorry, Abama, your solution isn't even close.

Glad I read through this thread before posting. Your post says everything I wanted to say. 'Nuff said.
We want to diminish our reliance on oil so we subsidize an industry that demands the use of oil?  

Stuart,  you just went down a peg in my book.

There is no reason to believe that hybrids would reduce American dependence on oil since it could (and in my opinion would) result in more miles being driven in more cars.

Moreover, it would benefit other countries as well because it would take some of the price pressure off of oil and therefore more people could afford cars in other places.

We've always been subsidizing the automotive industry with trillions by building roads and highway with tax dollars. People that don't drive subsidize people that do, because mass transit receives a tiny fraction of what DOT gets for roads.

I predict that after they go down deep enough, the car industry will start pressing the government with those several hundred thousand jobs they provide. Then of course the government will think of some other way to siphon tax dollars to save their asses. I say if they are going to do it anyway, at least receive something beneficial in return.

We wouldn't get anything in return. It would be throwing good money after bad.  

If Toyota or Honda wanted to buy GM or Ford, they could do so at the drop of a hat.  Just compare GM's market valuation to the MONTHLY trade deficit in automobiles.

My guess is that GM and Ford will go the way of IBM PC and get purchased by some company out of Shanghai.

Roads are built with fuel taxes paid by motorists. The feds do not spend all the money they get from this tax, so after paying for all the roads, motorists then subsidize non-motorists, first for all mass transit programs, then by supporting other gov programs. Note that in spite of the subisidies, mass transit is on the whole grossly under-utilized, from bus to light rail to rail.
People love their cars, and pay enormously already for them. Of course, they don't love the inefficient turkeys detroit is turning out as much as those designed by the Japanese, and for which they already pay a premium. One of the worst effects of the proposal is that it might prop up our dinosaurs a bit longer when what we want is for their production to be taken over by the Japanese transplants, the sooner the better.
SOme tod readers might live in the few us vertical cities where mass transit makes sense. Most probably drive a car, and have not the slightest interest in switching to mass transit or bicycles. What we need are higher fuel prices, which may well drive gm and ford out of business but will encourage others to move quickly to prius level efficiency plus carpooling, saving both fuel and lives.
Then, breeders to generate electricity, displacing coal (which is the real environmental nightmare), plus ctl, and the us will be in reasonable shape for an extended period, meeting kyoto to boot. (Actually, our large and wasteful consumption usefully means that it will be easier for the us to meet kyoto than any other nation. When us fuel costs approach europe's, we will quickly become the world leader in cutting co2 emissions.)
Roads are inadequately maintained with fuel tax dollars.  They were built with other money.  Recent governments have been mining the infrastructure rather than improving it. There is an infrastructure debt we are eventually going to have to repay, or else we will start seeing bridges collapse.

I agree, breeders reactors, especially ones like the Integral Fast Reactor, need to be a big piece of our future energy outlook.

Agreed.  This is why I doubt the car has a future, even for the wealthy.  It's expensive to maintain our infrastructure.  It requires a lot of petroleum.  As fewer people drive, support for the highway system will decline. A few wealthy people may be able to buy and fuel cars, but they can't maintain the interstate system.
For the same reason, I wonder if my thin-tire bicycles will become obsolete.  Someone once told me that roads were first paved for bicycle use.  In any case, with poor paving, or no paving, we'll need heavier, stronger rims and tires.
Bianchi Vople, man ;-).  36 spokes, 700x32C
Serotta Classique, 32 spokes, 700 x 25

I guess I should get some photos of the Xootr up there now, since that's what I usually ride.

That is a beautiful bike (I'd actually, coincidently, had been back to your bike page earlier this morning).
The fuel tax (hardly) covers the federal federal aid for highway construction and maintainance:

US ground road fuel usage (gasoline + diesel) ~ 12 mln.bpd. = 184 bln.gallons per year.

Fuel tax: $0.18/gallon = $33.1 bln./year

Federal-Aid Highways (FY2005):
33.6 bln.

However these are just part of the costs related to road transport. Total costs are hard to estimate but according to the report here:

Two case studies point to huge road transport subsidies in the USA. MacKenzie et al. (1992) of the World Resources Institute (WRI) have calculated that $89 billion of annual costs were not borne by drivers in 1989, equal to about 1.6 per cent of the GDP. Roughly three-quarters of this unpaid bill related to complementary highway services like highway patrols, traffic management, paramedics and so on. Only 15 per cent of the costs were covered by user fees and taxes. For direct government expenses such as highway construction, repair and maintenance only 40 per cent was covered by user fees and taxes. Based on an average value for a parking space of $1000 per year, another $85 billion was added for parking subsidies. The authors argued that parking should be considered part of the normal costs of operating and owning a car and that the free supply of parking is effectively subsidizing the use of cars and trucks. In particular, free parking space provided by employers should be regarded as a heavy subsidy, offering strong incentives to commute by car. In sum, WRI calculates road transport subsidies in the USA at $174 billion in 1989 or 3 per cent of GDP with road users covering only about 20 per cent of public expenditures and costs.

This is happening in the distant 1989. Unfortunately I did not find anything fresher, but I can assume that the figures now are much higher.

Given this, the claim that drivers are subsidizing mass transit needs a lot more support, IMO.

Well, the government is collecting taxes on all those parking spaces on private land. And the gasoline taxes more than paid for the roads. We could charge a bus and a truck one hundred times as much per gallon in fuel costs because a truck or a bus does one hundred times as much damage as a car, and that would pay for repairing the roads. Any other ideas?
Well, the government is collecting taxes on all those parking spaces on private land.

Of course, like on everything else. These taxes though are not collected specificly for infrastructure development, but go into the federal budget. So are the taxes on cars, buses, bicycles etc.

I agree that there must be a tax proportional to the weight of a vehicle and the miles driven, that finances road maintainance.  This should increase the competitiveness of railroad as much more efficient way of transporting goods.

IMO the fuel tax should go for solving problems caused by cars like trafic congestions, pollution, maintaining military presence in Middle East, forcing our kids to search solutions for the impending oil crisis, wasting public energy on debates in TOD, etc. etc. When you sum them up the real costs would be impressive and the tax - significantly higher.

Lots of Jevon's Paradox and the Tragedy of the Commons going on in this thread as it applies to the world oil markets but nobody is discussing it. The greatest demand increases (by far) in recent years are from non-OECD countries (China, India, many others). But they will be squeezed by the inability to increase world-wide oil production in the future too.

What it amounts to is basically this:

  1. Is reducing oil dependence on imports a good thing? Yes, especially as regards security among other things.
  2. Are conservation and efficiency good things? Yes, again. This is the Hirsch mitigation gap again.
I am sometimes totally amazed how people can argue against #1 and #2. This is just perverse. What are we going to do? Follow exponential growth patterns until our civilization just collapses?
What are we going to do? Follow exponential growth patterns until our civilization just collapses?

I suspect the answer to that is yes.  It seems to be the usual fate of societies.

But those who are actively wishing for that's perverse.  I mean, I understand where they're coming from.  It may actually be better for the earth if the collapse is fast. But it's not something I'd want to live through.  Assuming I lived through it.

Well, that's certainly been the great tradition thus far...
Is there any way to continue exponential growth patterns?  Seems to me that when exponential patterns hit limits they reflect at equal angles of incidence, in the best of scenarios.  
In "A Thousand Barrels A Second" Peter Tertzakian suggests there will be a race to efficiency as countries (and companies and individuals) discover that prices are not going to fall (as they would in the classic Jevon's Paradox).  He suggests (perhaps hopefully, trying to start a trend) that the most efficient folks will become the strongest competitors.
Actually, I am now reviewing that book for Matt Savinar (also known as the Alpha MaleProphetOfDoom). And you're right, that seems to be the way Tertzakian's going. I was pleasantly surprised that he's not making fantastic proposals that will get us out of our current mess. He seems realistic about the problems we face and has an interesting chapter on Technology in which--contrary to Daniel Yergin--he completely dismisses the idea that rapid progress in personal computers, ipods, cell phones and the rest bear any relationship whatsover to the technological innovations required for changing over the world energy system given the firmly entrenched supply changes firmly in place now.
Sorry, that should have read "supply chains", not "supply changes". Typing fast without thinking and getting ahead of myself--Freudian slip?
Now that does sound interesting.  I think I'll move this one up on my "to read" list.
You can probably see why the book left me thinking about timelines.  I think his idea that it will take 10-20 years for an "energy rebalancing" fits with what I've read.

But having read "Fooled by Randomness" as the book following "A Thousand Barrels" I'm not going to trust any projection too far ;-)

There's no reason the projection that makes sense now (based on current knowledge and past history) is going to be the right one.

Tertzakian's best work is that on break points leading to a rebalancing of the factor to which societies are tied to oil consumption. He pays special attention to the examples of Japan and Britain de-coupling their GDP growth from their petroleum consumption. Both these countries basically use the same amount of oil as in the mid-nineteen-eighties.
So perhaps Americans should drive drive drive their SUVs as much as possible, continuing to drive drive drive the price of oil up as much as possible, before other (poorer) nations can with the race to efficiency.  Eliminate their means of growth to prosperity, so the US can remain dominant.
Are you Swedish or are you Japanese? ;-)
Every dollar we spend on transportation has to be paid out of income or borrowings.  Those dollars increasingly leave the country as our oil reserves dwindle.  Efforts to increase fleet mileage have direct and beneficial effect for all of us here and elsewhere - more dollars stay in our economy and more oil becomes available to the rest of the world at lower prices.

According to your "logic" we should immediately start pumping all our gasoline onto the ground so we can keep those Chinese and Indians and Africans from enjoying the cheap energy we have taken for granted as a "non-negotiable" life-style.  Why should those beggars have cars, eh?  Hell, let's use 40% of the world's oil.  That will make it run out all the faster and we can enjoy the apocalypse you no doubt secretly desire.

There is no reason to believe that hybrids would reduce American dependence on oil since it could (and in my opinion would) result in more miles being driven in more cars.

Paraphrased - There is no reason to believe anything that, IN MY OPINION, MIGHT NOT HELP.

No, this was not my point.  If we were smart, we would emulate Europe.  We would jack up the price via taxes, and use the money to invest in energy efficient habitats (a.k.a. cities and towns).  

The US produces something like 9 million barrels per day of petroleum.  In order to be "energy independent" all we have to do is raise the price of petroleum to the point where 9 million barrels are being consumed each day.  There is NO other way to effect this other than through the price mechanism. That is life.  

Barak Obama is kidding himself and the American people by saying that we can achieve energy independence by other means.  In fact, he is acting irresponsibly as a leader to say so.

I think you're hallucinating if you believe US citizens - as a whole - will support large tax increases on an essential commodity we all must use and which has already doubled in price over the last ten years.  Dream on.  You can lambast us all for being short-sighted but that's the way we are.

Don't misunderstand me.  I'm not supporting Obama's plan.  Subsidizing Detroit is probably the stupid investment of the era given that the Japanese and Chinese will beat us anyway - investing tax money in Detroit is pouring money down a dry hole.

However, given the incompetence of our government I shudder to think how many boondoggle energy projects will be funded by the increased taxes you propose - after all, the tax would have to decrease our vehicle miles travelled by 50%!  That's something over ten cents.  Or even a pair 'o dimes.

It's hard to imagine people spending twice as much for gas also being able or willing to buy new cars even if they will pay off in savings over ten years.

One idea that might work is to permit people to use part of what they individually spend on increased gas taxes to pay for a more fuel-efficient car.  Think of it as a forced savings account.

Cultures are not noted for that vision thing.  It's really not their modus operandi.  Cultures and civilizations arise organically to provide rules of conduct for stable social interaction in a given context.  When the context is violently disrupted the culture usually collapses.  That's life.

Maybe even an economist would agree with me (eventually) on this: increased gasoline taxation will probably not significantly increase the net cost of gasoline to US consumers in a global market when oil supply is constrained.

Restated: increase gasoline taxation => reduced demand => lower oil prices => lower gasoline prices.

I would spend that revenue on reducing US dependence on fossil fuels by investing in renewable energy.

Succinctly: tax gas and reinvest or don't and give the money to your enemies.

The Europeans managed to envision a future with less oil.
The Japanese managed to figure it out.
The Cubans figured it out.

Historically, the US has been the "land of plenty." From this point of view, it should be no surprise that we have difficulty understanding scarcity.

But other cultures managed to figure it out.

Good points.

From what I have read, the Cubans have done a remarkable job of adjusting to the sudden loss of oil and I admire them for that.  However I would like to point out that they responded after the fact, not through premonition.  The USSR withdrew support and they simply didn't have money to buy oil.  Cold turkey.  Hats off to them.

Japan is an island nation with few natural resources and a long history of strife and hardship.  I would argue that what you are calling vision is a cultural tendency to be conservative coupled with being a very small country.  Getting around by high-speed rail in Japan is very practical.

European nations have had different growth responses to oil because for the most part the countryside was too developed to allow for the eruption of suburbs and exurbs.  Unlike in the US, land at the perimeter of cities was never cheap.  Furthermore, the cities were built long before the automobile and I suspect the high fuel taxes were levied as a means to save them from being overrun.

The point is that none of these countries sat around saying, "You know, energy's going to be really dear in twenty years so we'd better do something about it now."  They were simply responding to the problems of the day in a manner consistent with their cultural biases.  In hindsight it appears they were acting with an eye to the future.

In other words, Europe and Japan didn't "figure it out" if, by that expression, one means to develop an intentional policy of growth based on the belief that energy would become much more expensive in the future.

I think personifying cultures is misguided.  You and I can't hold a conversation with our "culture" and "wise it up."  Doesn't work that way.  Whatever we, as individuals, can do to help is accomplished through one on one conversations, such as this one, coupled with local community action.

The US culture is childish without being childlike.  Collectively we want instant gratification and relief from boredom.  We have come to think the world owes us a living and that our way of life is "non-negotiable."  Ours is not a culture that will "wise up" until a stern reality forces itself upon us.  And perhaps not then either.  "You're doing a helluva job, Brownie."

Sad times I'm afraid.

I think you're hallucinating if you believe US citizens - as a whole - will support large tax increases on an essential commodity we all must use and which has already doubled in price over the last ten years....

... given the incompetence of our government I shudder to think how many boondoggle energy projects will be funded by the increased taxes you propose....

It's hard to imagine people spending twice as much for gas also being able or willing to buy new cars even if they will pay off in savings over ten years.

There's a simple solution to all of that, which keeps the money from being spent on boondoggles and gives people the money to invest in efficiency:

Pay it back to ourselves.

This is simply done with deductibles on payroll taxes.  The US burned about 200 billion gallons of gasoline and distillate in 2004; if we jacked prices up another $3/gallon, the taxes would come to about $600 billion/year (before consumption decreases, of course).  That's about $3000/year/capita over 200 million workers and pensioners.  If you just forgive the 15.3% FICA/Medicare tax on the first $20,000 or so of income, that's just about $3000.

People could choose to spend that $3000 on fuel again... or they could choose not to.  $3000 a year would pay a $2500 cost premium for a hybrid mighty quick.  It would pay for a lot of insulation for the house, or extra mortgage money on a house closer to work.  It would make a lot of fuel-saving investments very attractive and very obvious.

If you want to change behavior, making it a wallet decision is the simplest and easiest way.

Emulate Europe? Last time they increased the gasoline tax here in Germany, at least part of it went to bolstering their social security program (which is nearly bankrupt even after adding in this new source of euros, but that's another story). I'm not sure we can call that an investment "in energy efficient habitats."

(I'm not sure where the rest of the gas taxes go; they make up at least 75% of the price at the tank.)

And I'm also not sure that particular tax (called the "eco-tax") has affected driving habits much. Germans do have a different attitude toward driving and mass transit than Americans, but not that different. My feeling is that the only reason a lot of people here drive less than Americans do is because the distances are so much smaller. When I see the traffic crawling by my house on a weekend afternoon, I can only conclude that the price of gas here is still too low.

A subjective observation: SUVs are becoming increasingly popular here.

I understand what you're getting at with your post, but we need to look at the bigger picture too.

"There is NO other way to effect this other than through the price mechanism. That is life."

We could, of course, take the 500 billion dollars/year we spend on defense and, say

buy 25 million prius type vehicles/year to give to people.

build 100 nuclear power plants/year

build 30,000 miles/year of light rail

install 1 billion watts/year of solar power.

That sounds like it would make big changes, real quick.  And of course, if we declare it for national security purposes, we could require most of the manufacturing be done in the united states.

But of course, this is just a stupid idea, right?

Yes, your comments were "stupid."(your words)  There is no reason to believe that your suggestions would reduce demand for petroleum.  Only raising the price can reduce demand.  That's how markets work.

In fact, if our consumption was equal to our production, I believe it would be about 3 billion barrels a year. If this balance could be achieved with a $200 tax per barrel (around $4.75 a gallon), that would equal $600 billion. All that money could be used to balance the federal budget and maybe pay off a little debt.

"balance could be achieved with a $200 tax per barrel (around $4.75 a gallon), that would equal $600 billion. "

To use your snotty tone, that is a "stupid" idea.  It would destroy the economy and do absolutely nothing for changing over from a petroleum-based economy (other than stopping people from driving because the no longer have jobs).

The defense budget is the biggest waste of resources imaginable.  A portion of it's budget could go a long way to building a infrastructure that does not need petroleum, put people to work in good paying jobs and create new export industries.

I wasn't suggesting that we SHOULD put $200 tax on a barrel of oil.  I was just saying that if we DID, it would only restore our fiscal position.  It's remarkable that it would require that kind of tax just to restore fiscal fitness.

The defense budget is the biggest waste of resources imaginable.  A portion of it's budget could go a long way to building a infrastructure that does not need petroleum, put people to work in good paying jobs and create new export industries.

I agree.  But the suggestions you gave before wouldn't help make us more petroleum independent. That was my original point.

One last comment.

I am amazed by America's devotion to the automobile.  Even on this site.   This inability to imagine a different paradigm is quite striking.  

The lesson of history is very clear.  When a culture is unable to move to a different way of life when the environmental conditions change, it is doomed.

What I see here, is a changing global environment, and a culture unable to imagine a different way of life.

Well I am going for a bike ride.  Then I am going to barbecue a pork loin.  I turns out these two things together lower my cholesterol.  What a wonderful world ;-)  Later.
You got it wrong. We are not devoted. We are trapped in those nasty machines.
Cars are cars all over the world

If more of my homes had been more like my cars
I probably wouldn't have travelled this far --

Paul Simon

USA is the only country I know that if hypothetically some city is left without gasoline, thousands of people may die from hunger because they can not get to work or go to the nearest store.

I find this a trap - we've made ourselves dependant on cars and we've built our life around them. I can easily imagine an European city without personal vehicles but it is hard to me to imagine it here.

Yeah, I know what you mean.  We're like fish, trying to imagine the desert.
LOL, Umass, you must have a higher opinion of typical US wisdom than I, since you are amazed. Your points are accurate and perceptive.

The US economy is doomed to a massive slide regardless of peak oil. That will just trigger a substantial US kill off and, if the rest of the world is unlucky, a massive non-US kill off.

The lesson of history is clear, the US 'free lunch' tab is imminent, it can't pay it, its lifestyle will change soon by hook or by crook. And then it will face peak oil and gas. Soft life will soon become tough life. Now and again perceived reality has to resynch with actual reality.

I agree with you Agric that the US economy is due for a massive slide regardless of peak oil. All that debt cannot be sustained indefinitely, and when the bill finally comes due it will cripple many, if not most, Americans financially (affecting housing, employment, investments, savings, pensions etc simultaneously). The North American attitude toward debt is incredibly complacent - witness somone here recently recommending as a life strategy deliberately getting into debt up to the hilt and then declaring bankruptcy. That may have worked for a lucky few, but those days will be over relatively soon. That kind of strategy is suicidal IMO. Think of what debtors have faced in the past - debtor's prison, indentured servitude, forced military service etc. The tightening of bankruptcy laws in the US is just the beginning.

I firmly believe we are facing a deflationary depression. That will involve most asset classes falling in value relative to cash as desperate people sell everything they own in order to get hold of the cash they need to live on. As Leanan described somewhere recently (in reference to the Great Depression), rich people will pick up incredible bargains at pennies on the dollar while most are unable to take advantage of falling prices as their purchasing power will be falling even more quickly. A few people make a killing while the majority are beggared in a few short years. They are unlikely to take this lying down, which means social unrest and political extremism. Add the effects of peak oil (supply interruptions, price volatility etc) to that scenario and it becomes difficult to be optimistic.

Ultimately I think it will become a deflationary depression, but first it will go through a hyperinflationary period as the powers that be do all they can (and that is a lot) to stave the deflation off and monetize debt - the only solution to US imbalances.

The practical implications are: money in any form is no refuge, if you can't largely feed, water and environmentally protect yourself and family from own or reliable local resources then you have a problem.

If societal breakdown occurs, or does not occur and we do go through a hyperinflation (it would be of a 'stagflationary' kind) followed by deflation, then personal debt may not be a significant problem. In the non-breakdown case it would be desirable to time one's debt reduction to coincide with the inflationary peak.

I have read that if every American drove 7 miles less per day that the US wouldn't need any oil from the Persian Gulf. But since it's fungible, it doesn't really matter.

I too was shocked that Saudi Arabia had such control over the US and Bush's Saudi connections via Michael Moore. But what do you expect I guess. I feel a lot less angry at Republicans it seems since I learned about peak oil. They are corrupt as all politicians but I kind of see the point of that politician in Syriana saying "Corruption is why we win" whereas I previously scoffed at it. I still think we could have been led differently that was sustainable but it seems that is not the nature of government or corporations.

I have read that if every American drove 7 miles less per day that the US wouldn't need any oil from the Persian Gulf.

I suspect that statistic counts a lot of Americans who don't drive, or don't drive even 7 miles a day.  Babes in arms, people in cities who don't own cars, folks like me who drive two miles to work only when the weather is really bad.  We can't cut back 7 miles per day, which means others are going to have to cut back a lot more than that.

I drive about 7 miles every other day--and I could probably cut that back with a a bit more planning.  ButI'm retired and live in a small town.
I did -7 today.  Does that count?
Seems absolutely rediculous.  How many people in the US don't even have any health care?  This guy just wants to slop more down into the food trough for the irresponsible automakers, the health insurance companies and the American Medical Association all at the same time.  Where is the incentive for auto makers to keep any costs down?  The rest of America, those that try to do the right thing, and are paying extra for hybreds and extra fuel efficiency now, get screwed on their tax bill.  

The ONLY way to finance this hog trough is to raise the gas tax and get things correcting themselves now.  Anything else is just irresponsible delay tactics.  Then, if the auto makers need technology and retooling money because they screwed up AGAIN, let them admit it and give it to them from the increased fuel tax.  They will be ready to build the fuel efficient cars when the public finally tosses the SUVs.  Then, all these people that can afford the SUVs can pay the 1500 extra it will take to buy cars that they can afford  to operate WTSHTF.  Otherwise, they can get down outta' those 4X4WMDs and put one foot after the other ON THE SIDEWALKS.  No need for all the rest of America (and world) to get it in the backside. IMO  Almost makes me want to go out and capture a SSN and start knocking down VLCCs heading ONLY to the USA.  That'll take care of this situation.  (just kidding NSA guys)

You're absolutely right, but not to worry. PO has already approximately doubled fuel taxes paid to government, and further increases are coming faster than congress could pass a bill honoring apple pie. Sadly, the taxes aren't being paid to our government, they are going to Mexico's, Venezuela's, Saudi's and other mostly corrupt dictatorships. Luckily, the effect will be the same. We will soon understand just why it is that japanese and european cars are mostly small and wimpy.
(shush)  Its so we can fit them in the itsy bitsy parking garages.  

SUV parking! ->  When they can get in, they take up 2 spaces and pretty much scrape the roof.  I'm going to start letting the air out of the tires when they're parked in these tiny garages.  The head clearance is soooooo low, they won't be able to jack em up high enough to change the tires.  Forever trapped where the sun don't shine.  Fitting end.  Perfectly stored for future canibalization.

... and pretty much scrape the roof.

Also, drivers of noncommercial vehicles are generally blisfully unaware of "clearance" signs.  I remember seeing the results of one instance, where the clearance was sufficient at first, but partway through there was a pipe run across the ceiling...

Ya and they're usually not the clean water pipes either!
I say: let Detroit succeed or fail all on its own.

Detroit has had over a hundred years to get it right, but instead it has continually f@#ked up.  Why should they be given a second chance when, sure as hell, you and I do not get one!

Obama is merely sucking up to the labor vote and the ag vote. He wants to be the first Afro-American to run for President. That's the only reason he's doing this.

When are we going to stand up and say, "We're mad as hell, and we're not gonna take it anymore!" (Albert Finney, 'Network')

Making more cars would not help the problem. We are going to have to make less stuff if we are making stuff at all that is. It will take too long for the automobile industry to change. Even on the West Wing, it has those episodes where the candidates campaign the Iowa Corn Growers and all of them know ethanol sucks, but all of them except Alan Alda, the Republican candidate, says so to them.

I remember that speech at the convention that made Obama famous. But it's all bull. He would have done a better favor for the world to herd goats with his father and not have used it as an example how the American Dream is possible for everyone and the future is just so great and bright because I came up from so lowly a background to become a false hope spewing politician, and maybe encouraged that goat herding isn't so bad a fate that you need to escape from it because goats are a lot more reliable than your government or your oil-dependent economy.

i have little hope for this country at least.
The coal can look and burn like regular coal. The IRS rule for transforming coal into synfuel--and getting the tax credit--requires only that the substance be chemically altered in some way. The alchemy that satisfies the IRS is a simple process: some plants spray newly mined coal with diesel fuel, pine-tar resin, limestone, acid or other substances--a practice that industry critics call "spray and pray." Other operators mix coal-mining waste with chemicals, coat it with latex and blend it with untreated coal to form briquettes. (For an earlier story on the scheme, see "The Great Energy Scam," TIME, Oct. 13, 2003.),9171,1167738-1,00.html
First time commenting (what a post to pick for that!), and I truly dig this site, thanks.

I don't mind the idea of Obama's proposal.  First, it seems that CAFÉ standards have been in stasis for quite some time (at least 6 yrs, perhaps over 10?), particularly for the light truck class.  The mechanism of reducing the retiree health care / pension load (ala GM and whichever airline company that was [during the summer]) seems (to me) to reduce resistance of the Big3 (and their lobbying campaigns) toward higher CAFÉ standards (including light trucks).  Innovation in hybrid tech. across various vehicle classes / designs should help increase fleet fuel efficiency more so, and perhaps more rapidly, than simply altering structural components (eg. lighter materials).

Second, the ethanol thing.  I've sure learned a lot about EtOH production from biomass and now switchgrass from this site and Engineer-poet's site.  Seems to me that working on the idea of biomass produced fuel would help fund the work to show that other plant types and/or production processes are better than high-fertilizer use corn.  I'd like to see greater effort (via funding and experimentation) in this area.

I skipped a whole bunch of other stuff, but I forgot as I was trying to correct typos.  By the way, I'm trying to finish up my dissertation in soil biogeochemistry, so my opinions are biased.  Thanks again for the killer site.

Dirt First!

First student I've ever heard that said he could afford to pay for something.
Welcome Calcixeroll, I'm no expert on US CAFE standards but I doubt they have changed significantly in 20 years.

What arcane aspects of soil biogeochemistry are you into? I am no expert on it but always interested to know someone who knows things I don't.

BTW, the things Barack espouses and those you mention would all be fine 20 years ago but more drastic action is required now.

Are you doing any study of terra preta?
So many comments, so much to read.

Agric, perhaps all biogeochemistry is arcane?  Mainly working on how the quantity and quality of plant OM inputs to soil affects microbial C and N cycling, particularly after a shift in vegetation type (say from shrubs to invasive annual grasses) in semiarid lands.  Moving towards trace gas fluxes.

Engineer-Poet, no anthrosols for me these days.  But I would like to dig some holes in Chaco canyon, to see how they did it 'old-school'.

Have the number of comments per post been increasing substantially of late?  I'm going to have to start getting up earlier to try to keep up.

Thanks. I'm less interested in semi-arid and deforested land (from a personal, practical perspective) and more in temperate climate, optimal OM use for different soil types and crops. If you have any links resources or advice on such I'd be most grateful.

Yes, posts seem to have doubled here in the last couple of months, it's near impossible to keep up, if one wants to join in, on less than a couple of hours a day. there are over 400 new posts since I last stopped by 2 days ago.

Herewith some thoughts from a casual birder. Go where the most variety of bird species is to be found. Yesterday, not forty yards from my east window I identified the first Bald Eagle of spring--truly a stirring sight. And in this area I have NEVER seen an eagle before the Ides of March before. Something to think about.

I am fortunate to live where forest, grassland, marsh, various kinds of wetlands, crop land, lakes and rivers are all in close proximity. The variety of birds (and other wildlife) is astonishing, and IMO a good indicator of environmental health. Last fall I made my first certain identification of a timber wolf at the south edge of my maple grove, and let me tell you, that got the old ticker pumping. My big back yard provides a home to a large community of prairie dogs, and should push come to shove, I'd make sausages out of them, along with lard from an opportunistic bear that strolls by (when he is awake). Along with everyone else around here I have a large freezer filled with venison, fish, elk, open-range home-butchered beef, etc. I am puzzled as to how you city folk can eat the glop that is at the meat and fish departments of supermarkets; few of us would.

Well, this whole thread brings back memories - somewhat painful ones. When Clinton first got elected, I was pretty sure we were going to have some form of universal health care. My wife will never let me live it down. Then began the compromises, one little compromise after another, then one bigger compromise after another. Finally it started becoming so complicated, no one could even tell what the compromises were. Finally, one day, the whole thing crashed. Now we are moving closer and closer to universal lack of health care.

The compromises were NOT steps in the direction of health, but steps away from it. Talk of improved gas mileage is not a step in the right direction -- but a major step in the wrong direction. Because when you talk about gas mileage, you are talking about cars and keeping cars on the roads. You already given up on the main thing: moving away from a car based economy and culture. This means public transportation, bikes, walking, living where you work, living in 3-4 story buildings that don't sprawl, community, nearby agriculture.

Are there things that are better or worse on the way there? Yes, of course. But these are side issues, and can at no point can they allowed to become the main issue - else all is lost. We're hemorhaging - and we are looking around for a bandaids. It seems perverse, unrealistic, impractical to oppose this kind of political maneuvering. But I don't think so.

Reforms should be a byproduct of laying out and attempting to achieve the full scope of what needs to be done -- uncompromised. This may not work either, but it is our only chance.


I think of all the special interests who will fight like badgers to keep the car and cargo truck at the center of the American economy. It makes me believe universal health care would be a walk in the park compared to this transition.

Think about all the Big Boxes, the strip malls, the asphalt contractors, the convenience-store industry. Jeez, just about everything ...

"Big darkness come soon." -- Hunter S. Thompson

Since the full scope of what needs to be done will be acceptable to about 0.863% of Americans at the present time, it's not realistic to expect politicians to be advocating it. A bad politician will be pretending there's no problem, or advocating something directly counterproductive, and a good politician will be out trying to take something that might start out acceptable to 30% of the electorate and the vested interests and get it up to 50% and into practice. One step at a time...
Would it be unfair to expect an justification and explanation of that 0.863%, lol. I suppose that acceptable probability will increase once half of US americans eliminate themselves.

But seriously, we are reaching the point at which reality cannot negotiate further. It's like: make a big effort from choice now or chance your (species) luck with chaos soon.

As I noted above, the Governor's Ethanol Coalition has been around for a while (1991).  I'm not sure when the first government subsidies were granted ... but I think we are beyond the start on that as well.

I am actually somewhat sympathetic to the ethanol lobby, and don't mind Obama pushing his state's interests.  To note specifically where I diverge though, I think we should be funding research, and possibly pilot plants, in these alternative solutions ... but never subsidize production.  I think subsidized production is a dangerous market distortion.  A mediocre subsidized solution might (right now) drive a better unsubsidized one from the scene.

Anyway I don't fault Obama, but I'm rueful about the entire process and the focus.  You picked above the health care angle ... when I read it I picked up on this section, and this five point plan, as the focus:

First, we should ramp up the renewable fuel standard and create an alternative diesel standard in this country so that by 2025, 65 billion gallons of alternative fuels per year will be blended into the petroleum supply.

Second, Washington should lead the way on energy independency by making sure that every single automobile the government purchases is a flexible-fuel vehicle - starting today. When it becomes possible in the coming years, we should make sure that every government car is a plug-in hybrid as well.

Third, I'm supporting legislation that would make sure every single new car in America is a flexible-fuel vehicle within a decade. Currently it costs manufacturers just $100 to add these tanks to each car. But we can do them one better. If they install flexible-fuel tanks in their cars before the decade's up, the government should provide them a $100 tax credit to do it - so there's no excuse for delay.

Fourth, there are already millions of people driving flexible-fuel vehicles who don't know it. The auto companies shouldn't get CAF'E credit for making these cars if they don't let buyers know about them, so I'd like to ask the industry to follow GM's lead and put a yellow gas cap on all flexible fuel vehicles starting today. Also, they should send a letter to those people who already have flexible-fuel vehicles so they can start filling up their tank at the closest E85 station.

Finally, since there are only around 500 fueling stations that pump E85 in the country, we recently passed legislation that would provide tax credits of up to $30,000 for those who want to install E85 pumps at their station. But we should do even more - we should make sure that in the coming years, E85 stations are as easy to find as your gas station is now.

Of those five points, I see four of them pushing ethanol (with one biodiesel and one hybrid mention along the way).  And most dangerously I see an alliance with the GM yellow gas cap campaign.

If the Ethanol Governors indeed align with GM on yellow gas cap, I think the man on the street is going to see another (false) solution.  It will be another reason to trust the SUV future.  Far from being a start, that will be a drag on progress.

Actually why am I saying "if" they align?  They are already aligned, as the politicians push subsidized ethanol, and GM positions themselves with yellow gas-cap SUVs as their solution.
Please give some examples of where it has worked this way with really critical issues. I'll try to think of some more of where it hasn't.
The Japanese import 98% of their oil.  Now they
lead automotive inovation.  By having to conserve
fuel, by being forced to, they lead in automotive technology.  That could just as well have been
the U.S..  Obama's on the path.  He realizes that
we have to change. He thinks we should work with
Detroit instead of waiting for a new startup.  That may not be bad thinking, although I'd tone down the rhetoric of taxpayer bailouts.  Performance based
subsidies might fly.  What happened to the money
that went to PNGV?
Please work on your arguments. Hone down this approach. It is correct and called-for. I want to see this logic posted on the next open thread.
Performance based
subsidies might fly.

I agree with this.  Why not a 3% buyout of healthcare costs for every 3% increase in MPG?  Or just match the percentages?

I am guessing most of the auto makers could acheive a 3% gain every year for the next 5 by just downsizing the standard engines offered in their vehicles.  Instead of a V-8 hemi in the 300-M only sell it with a V-6.  Take the F-150 and go back to a straight 6 instead of the triton V-8 or that V-10 in the F250.  There is no technology advances required for the first several years.  I could see the auto makers getting the big bail out, be lazy for 3-4 years and just reduce engine sizes to gain mileage, lining their pockets with cash at the same time.  Then when they actually need to make technology improvements go back to the government and say "we can't compete with Japan," or "its just not practicle for us to do this in this time frame" and look for consessions to the set standards.

It just seems like Detroit cannot get by without big federal aid.

But, to be fair, who pays for healthcare in Japan?  (I honestly don't know.)

The financial problems facing GM and Ford have precedent in the Chrysler situation of the late 70s. The solution was two-fold. First put engineers in charge and fire the lawyers and beancounters so truly competitive products can come to market. The second was a loan guarantee to finance the transition. The plan succeeded and cost the taxpayers nothing. The minivan innovation saved Chrysler at that time and by pegging GM and Ford's loan gaurantees to the production of plug-ins for cars and hydraulic hybrids for trucks these companies could out compete the Japanese and Europeans.