Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


April 26, 2006

Will Economics Cure the Problem?

Category: Conservation,Economics,Editorial,Policy – Tom Harrison – 11:54 pm

Here are two statements I believe to be true:

  1. As energy prices rise, the urgency to find solutions will drive rapid technology advances
  2. As energy prices rise, it will become more cost effective to extract oil and gas from increasingly remote sources

Both are simple conclusions I learned in the first few weeks of Economics 101 at college. Not much of economics is actually right in practice, so both may be wrong, both may be right or somewhere in between.

A friend (who also happens to be an actual expert) takes a sanguine view that regardless of how rapidly our technology advances, the increasing demand for energy and reducing supply will make the value of oil justify almost any expense required to extract and burn it. Said another way, it’s kind of pointless to worry about how efficiently we use oil; we’re going to burn it all and put it into the atmosphere, and this will accelerate the destabilizing results of global warming. So instead of worrying about how to save energy, we should be figuring out how to deal with the consequences. They are not good consequences.

Perhaps only because I have an irrational faith in humanity do I feel that somehow we’ll find our way out of our bind. But I am pretty sure a force much stronger than economics will be the dominant player here: we will act decisively only when we are good and scared. What’s good about fear is that, unlike all economic models, it is not a continuous function. You don’t get a little scared and do some stuff, then a little more and do more stuff and then get really scared and do a lot of stuff. Instead, you get a little scare and deny it. Then you get more scared and decide it’s already too late. Then when you get really scared, someone comes up with an idea or set of ideas that solve the problem. The history of the world is littered with examples of how human ingenuity saved our butts. Sadly, the same history often tells of the rise and fall of empires.

A great course I took in college studied the history of technology. Mostly, the guys who had it were able to more effectively kill the ones without it. My favorite example suggested that the invention of spurs and stirrups gave British soldiers the advantage that lead to the subsequent creation of the British empire. Subsequent technology advances from the Americans eventually put the British Empire on the wane.

Is our empire next? Are you scared enough to act?

These happy thoughts brought to you by your ever optimistic reporter. Have a nice day :-)

1 Comment

  1. […] of renewable energy is changing even with the modest (actually) increase in oil prices. The cost of carbon has never been part of these prices. Add that in and the true cost of carbon-based energy begins to […]

    Pingback by Gore’s Challenge: All Electricity from Clean Sources in 10 Years | Five Percent: Conserve a Little Energy — July 30, 2008 @ 4:45 pm

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