Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


March 6, 2012

Will Oil Prices Be a Factor in the 2012 Election?

Category: Climate Change,Economics,Energy Independence,Political – Tom Harrison – 2:10 pm

Hmm, what was it again that happened in late 2008?

Once again, the price of oil may be a factor in the outcome of the 2012 US presidential and congressional elections.

Energy security. That’s what we are allowed to say we want. Today, oil prices are well over $100/bbl and are predicted to keep rising. Instability with Iran is the cause, right?

Perhaps, but it’s also possible that gasoline prices are rising because employment rates and other economic factors are improving. The decimation of our economy in 2008 was the best thing to happen to gasoline prices. It’s pretty clear that economic growth and demand for energy, and oil in particular are strongly correlated: (more…)

March 5, 2011

Democracy and Oil Do Not Mix

Category: Climate Change,Economics,Energy Independence,Policy,Political – Tom Harrison – 8:32 pm

Oil and Democracy

Oil & Democracy: A Costly Mix

We are torn here in the US.

We need the oil, and we need to support democratizing movements in the world. And these days, for the right reasons, these two goals are once again at odds.

The precarious balance between the two is getting more so. It won’t get better.

In the last Presidential election the alarmingly high price of oil was framed as energy security, but it’s not about energy. We have plenty of energy in gas and coal. And nuclear and solar and wind. Plenty or energy.

Oil is special because we don’t have easy substitutes at the moment. Liquid fuel is what we run on today. It is technically possible to convert most transportation to alternates, notably natural gas, then electric. But that is happening glacially. (more…)

December 24, 2010

A Merry Christmas for Exxon: Crude over $91/bbl

Category: Climate Change,Economics – Tom Harrison – 3:29 pm

Light Sweet Crude Over $91 at End of 2010

Where She Stops Nobody Knows

Crude Oil prices have been on the rise this month, and most are projecting they’ll continue to increase.

There are two groups of people who say things like “Oh, yeah!” when passing a gas station selling unleaded for $3.09/gallon, or fist-pump when they hear that light sweet crude is selling for $91.41/bbl.

Rex Tillerson and his cronies in the oil business (e.g. Republican Party)…

and

Me (and my family and some others).

Our reasons are different.

Rex wants money. And he’ll get it.

I want climate change and related legislation. And I’ll get it … eventually.

Am I A Bad Person For Wanting Oil Prices To Rise?

No, I am not a bad person.

The bad person is all those in our Senate who failed to recognize the importance of climate change, and deniers, and all the others who are foolishly preventing a rational response to climate change.

Most of these people know they mainly want to retain power, or remove people from power. They know what they are doing, and that it is wrong. These are bad people.

To be sure, rising oil prices tend to hurt many people, mostly the ones with less money (a recurring theme these days). Here in the northeast, many people heat their houses with oil. People use gasoline to drive to work. It’s real.

It’s so real that one could argue in the last big oil price spike, it set the national agenda and was a factor in electing our President. Some would even argue that high oil prices were the straw that broke the camel’s back, sending us into the Great Recession. High oil prices hurt.

How High Oil Prices Help

However, high oil prices also do a few other things:

  1. High prices help remind us that we’re dependent on oil (and other energy)
  2. High prices help demonstrate that relatively small price increase signals can result in significant reductions in consumption
  3. High prices also demonstrate that change is temporary; when prices fall again, so will our memory
  4. High prices let us know that putting a price on carbon would help us finally get off this roller-coaster

Because the US Senate failed to act on climate change in 2010 (blame whoever you want, it doesn’t matter: we failed) the world will take even longer to start dealing with the issues of climate change in a real way.

(I recognize that oil is a relatively small contributor to GHG emissions compared to coal and natural gas. Price isn’t the point. As we have seen lots of things change when oil prices increase. It’s not just increased fuel efficiency — everything about energy is affected. It hits people in their wallets, and, whether for the right reasons or not, they react.)

So all we can do now is hope for oil prices to rise. Because of the reasons cited, high oil prices seems to be the only thing that will awaken us as a nation sufficiently to result in longer-term legislative response to climate issues.

November 1, 2010

Climate Change: Science vs. Ignorance, Fear and Power

Category: 5%'s Top 10 List,Climate Change – Tom Harrison – 5:29 pm

Climate change is a technical subject and few of us are true experts. I am not an expert, so I am faced with a choice of accepting the findings of science or denying it. Denial is common in history, even though science has usually been right. The Earth is not the center of the universe, but this view threatened a great power of the time, and Galileo was locked up for heresy. Today we know science was on the right track, but it shook the foundations of belief, and power.

Today we have a similar situation. The implications of climate change are far more than simply “inconvenient” — they are a fundamental threat to the current world order. The response by those under threat has been to couch it in vague terms involving liberty, freedom — enrolling and manipulating an army of foot soldiers who are kept ignorant of the facts and fighting a righteous battle for truth, justice and the American way.

But the truth is, the energy companies are holding the purse strings — energy is money is power. The company and people who own energy are now powerful beyond our ability to understand. They control part of the media, they elect our officials, and they are getting more and more powerful. Just like the cigarette companies, they know that their product is harmful — those in power know that climate change is real.

Eventually the cigarette companies were neutralized … when their CEOs’ faces were lined up in front of Congress. Eventually the energy companies will get theirs. Millions of people died early deaths because of the delay tactics of the cigarette companies — we’re faced with an even greater threat from climate change. Recent reporting has begun to reveal the lies and motives, and the faces behind them. But it’s not enough, and we’re losing through inaction and delay. (more…)

June 26, 2010

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, XBox by BP

Category: Observations – Tom Harrison – 6:10 pm

Andrew Revkin linked this video on his DotEarth blog, today. I had a moment when I realized that this was the low end estimate for one day.

It occurs to me that we need more of the kinds of visual displays of quantitative information as promoted by the famous Edward Tufte book of the same name.

So, keepin’ it real, there is very little scale here, very little magnitude, and a lot more fun than much else.

But it worked for me.

June 24, 2010

Why the Jevons Paradox Does Not Apply Today

Category: Climate Change,Conservation,Economics – Tom Harrison – 11:02 am

In a couple cases recently, I have heard people talking about how the Jevons Paradox will undermine efforts to use energy more efficiently — and it certainly seems like it would fit, but it doesn’t apply to our current energy problems for several reasons: conservation, and improved efficiency are still our best options.

Or, so started a post that I began writing a couple weeks ago. Then, in some sort of karmic mind-meld, Peter Troast at EnergyCircle.com wrote a post about Jevons, with almost the same conclusion as I was going to draw. Yeah, right, I hear you say.

So anyhoo, I think this topic is important to the larger discussion of energy, especially renewable energy, so here’s a link to Peter’s post on energy efficiency, which already has a nice thread of comments and observations — take a look, it’s a good read — and, add your thoughts!

June 7, 2010

Do We Need An Oil Spill for Climate Change Action?

Category: Climate Change,Policy – Tom Harrison – 6:18 pm

(I wrote this on May 28th, but never published. I am publishing now because I think things might have changed enough).

I have an opinion about just about everything, including opinions. Daniel Weiss did a nice post on the Climate Progress blog showing how dramatically public opinion has shifted in the month or so since the oil spill started.

In short, people don’t think offshore drilling is such a good idea any more, and they’re willing to trade off economic development for environmental protection.

In my opinion, this shows how little value there is in the opinions of people. I am not trying to be negative, or get attention by being contrarian, smug, or elitist.

Instead, I think we’re at some rather great risk of self-destruction if we keep making policy opportunistically, and avoiding discourse and action until the time is right. (more…)

May 3, 2010

Reconnecting To Nature Through Disasters: Bombs, Water, Oil Edition

Category: Climate Change,Save Water – Tom Harrison – 9:41 am

Yesterday, a massive failure of a water pipe serving my home, and two million of my neighbors, threw Boston into disarray. Some sort of car bomb in Times Square (that didn’t go off) has disrupted many and alarmed many more. I have been writing about the BP Oil Spill this week. All are connected — they are more than “catastrophes”: they all help remind us how connected and dependent upon technology we are … and I hope perhaps makes people think for a moment (or longer) about what that means.

Connecting With Nature

I have been a hiker and camped in the wilderness since I was a boy — when you’re climbing a mountain you know how precious water is, but also learn how little of our technology we actually need to survive. This said, I prefer my modern tent, clothing, water purifier, backpack and clothing to what I had forty years ago. But stepping into real, pristine wilderness almost instantly connects me to the systems of the source. I think my strong environmental bent is mainly linked to this life experience.

Millions of us living in the Boston area are using backup water now. It’s far from a catastrophe — the water we’re able to use from other reservoirs is untreated, so we have to boil it to kill the bacteria that might make us ill. I found it remarkable and somewhat heartening to see how quickly we came together to deal with the problem. But for a few days at least, we’ll all have to develop some new habits, put up with some inconvenience, and suffer some economic loss. Will we also stop to think, if only for a moment, that two million of us could have our water supplies and lives affected due to the failure of one pipe? I can imagine much worse scenarios.

The attempted car bomb in Times Square was disruptive in a different way. Little will change, but one can only think the residents of Manhattan had a little chill run up their spine, recalling the impact of terror from 9/11.

In the Gulf of Mexico, a single failure has created a widespread environmental disaster. It will affect the livelihoods of many, and disrupt a sensitive eco-system, likely for many years to come.

Climate Change

We have been talking about climate change for decades now. In the first phase in the 1980’s we began to realize that our domination of nature, through technology and energy was causing a problem. In the second phase by the 2000’s, we realized we had to act immediately to deal with it. Now in the third phase, we are realizing that we have missed our chance to solve the problem and we now also need to take steps to deal with the inevitable consequences.

So let’s consider these current disasters. Needless to say, the events in Boston and New York were trivial compared to the BP Oil Spill. But each stemmed from a single failure of technology that supports our complex infrastructure. Each resulted in a near immediate change in the way we live our lives, whether just for a moment, or perhaps far longer, but change our lives we did. Conveniences and necessities are affected — the impact is greater and longer depending on the scale. Now in 2010, five years after Katerina tore apart New Orleans, the city is beginning to come alive again. It could take years to reverse the impact of the oil spill.

But compared to impacts of climate change that scientists predict, all of these events will be forgotten as blips.

We’re Not Just Surface-dwelling Resource Extractors, We’re People

Take a moment to realize that we survive only when we live as a part of the earth, not just as surface dwelling resource extractors. Our dependence on the proper function of the earth is largely in our hands, and absolutely a matter of life and death. We must take significant action now. Yet we’re dithering on even the most trivial changes.

We can and do come together in times of crisis, and we accept change because we have no other alternative.

The magnitude of the crisis of climate change is vastly larger and longer than any of these current disasters. Yet of course each of these events will cause us to ask, “What could we have done to prevent…” the oil spill, the car bomb, and Boston’s water problem. Committees will investigate. We’ll make changes. These problems are concrete, current, and real.

Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

The problem with climate change is that it hasn’t really “happened” yet, and never will, in any single event. It is abstract, difficult to measure, and hard to tie to any given event. It’s only in the aggregate … after we start seeing patterns (or see something more dramatic and visual), that climate change will become real to most people.

I fear that as we try to figure out how to prevent oil spills, bombs, and water failure, we are missing the much bigger opportunity to take action. If we reconnect with nature, and look around, perhaps it would be evident that the way to stop oil spills is to find a different form of energy. I fully recognize that this will not happen overnight. But I think we under-estimate ourselves if we say that we can make change happen overnight, or even in 10 years.

We’re pretty good at responding to problems. But we’re terrible at doing what it takes to prevent them. Take a moment to think how powerful nature is, on this lovely spring day, and join in the movement of people who are willing to take action and understand that we need to deal with climate change.

April 29, 2010

“Spill Baby, Spill” – Oil Leak “May Be Five Times Initial Estimate”

Category: Climate Change,Companies,Energy Independence,Political – Tom Harrison – 8:26 am

Credit: New York Times

I think I should claim a scoop on this story, as when I wrote my post the other day, I had beat the New York Times and most other media to identifying the BP Oil Spill as a rather major disaster. I am sad to say “I told you so”.

The news media seem to be coming around to my way of thinking. The New York Times is now reporting as the lead story that, um, those 42,000 gallons of oil per day leaking into the sea may be more like, um 210,000 gallons (this is all converted to “barrels” now — an oil barrel holds 42 US gallons, so the initial estimate was 1,000 barrels/day is now 5,000).

Holy hole, Batman!

And it appears that BP’s public relations operation has also gotten bigger.

Fortunately, the problem isn’t that bad. No, really. (more…)

April 27, 2010

Oil Spill: A Great News Day for British Petroleum

Category: Companies,News,Technology – Tom Harrison – 7:41 pm

oil rig explosion

Not As Important as...

I was surprised to hear (for the first time today) that there was an oil drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico that, um, exploded last week (a couple days before Earth Day), and is currently pumping 42,000 barrels of oil a day into the water, and attempts to shut down the leak (1 mile down) have failed repeatedly since the leak was discovered on Saturday — I happened to be in my car and heard a report on NPR.

After dinner, I went to the New York Times to read more.

But I didn’t find anything without a search. Granted, lots of news today:

  • Goldman Sachs CEO questioned on possible fraud
  • Republicans blocking attempt to reform our financial regulations
  • Stock market down 2% because Greek credit rating cut to “junk”
  • Strict abortion measures enacted in Oklahoma
  • Impacts from Arizona’s immigration laws

So I started trolling around the sections. World: nada. Business: nope, all front page stuff, plus Ford makes a big profit. Technology: Apple iPad related story. Science? Nope. Green? Nope. (Really!) Health? Nope. US: fifth story, something about Robots (turns out to be about the oil disaster).

Good thing for British Petroleum, apparently a lot of other big news pushed their little disaster to the back of the book. (more…)