By displaying how much gasoline I used on the year in the left column of this page, I'm helping myself reduce gas use by measuring my consumption, whereas also crowing about my accomplishment. I'd say I've reduced my gasoline consumption by about 175 or more gallons per year, compared with previous years.
But is 225 gallons of consumed gasoline in a year really a lofty goal? Not really. Let's do the math.
A lot of people in China want to realize the American dream and drive like Americans.
According to Lester Brown's book Plan B 3.0, if China reached the car-ownership rate of Americans (three cars for every four people) by 2030 China will have more cars than exist on earth right now (heading for 2009).
And to provide the space on which to drive them, they would have to pave over a lot of the acreage that they require to grow rice and feed their teeming throngs.
Now to my supposed reduced consumption. 1.1 billion cars is the projected number of cars owned in China given an average eight-percent economic growth rate from now until 2030. What if all of these cars driven by people in China used as much gas as I did in 2008?
1.1 billion X 225 divided by 365 equals 678,082,191 gallons of gas used per day. Since one barrel of oil produces about 20 gallons of gas (plus other products like heating oil), then China's 2030 consumption equates to about 33,904,109 barrels of oil per day.
This number exceeds present U.S. consumption by more than 10 million barrels per day, and would probably represent more than one-third of all the daily available oil in the world.
Therefore, not even my reduced consumption is impressive or sustainable, and I haven't even mentioned the associated carbon emissions, which is probably the most important aspect of reducing gasoline consumption.
One more word about global cooling and I'll clam up about it. Until the Royal Society and the National Academy of Sciences come forward and say, "cool it folks (no pun intended), global warming is over, and actually, you better get your long underwear on," I'm not going to budge my position on global warming one iota (that manmade greenhouse gases pose a threat to trigger feedback mechanisms, such as vast methane releases, which will endanger civilization).
I listen to scientists, not Fox News bloggers.
Here are a few more points about "global cooling" and whether global heating has "stopped," some anecdotal and another involving a reference to a more technical climactic discussion.
The take-away point is that weather is "noisy," it jumps around from one extreme to another in different regions of the world, and that you cannot make long-term climate predictions based on local regional observations.
It seems like the global-cooling advocates are cherry picking their data, and making the common mistake suggested by the latter paragraph.
For example, it is very cold in New England right now given the time of year. A hike on Mt. Washington right now is only for highly experienced and equipped winter explorers; it's killer cold!
However, just last week, I looked out my window and mosquitoes were swarming around my (uncleaned) gutters where water had pooled. It is unheard of in this region to still have mosquitoes in the winter (I grew up in this area), as we have the last several years. It was also 70 degrees Fahrenheit at night just a week ago, and I am 35 miles north of Boston, Massachusetts.
The point is that these weather extremes are caused by dominant air masses originating from Canada (when it's cold) and the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico otherwise, which are in turn affected by the position of the jet stream.
You cannot come to global cooling or heating conclusions based on these short-term differences. However, the long-term changes I have observed in New England, along with all of the other accumulated evidence (e.g., the melting in Greenland and of the North Pole sea ice; the substantial glacier melting in the Alps), have lead me to strongly embrace the theory of a global aggregate temperature increase.
The site realclimate.org says it better than me here:
"The climate system has enormous amounts of variability on day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year and decade-to-decade periods. Much of this variability (once you account for the diurnal cycle and the seasons) is apparently chaotic and unrelated to any external factor - it is the weather."
I have heard a few arguments for global cooling of late.
This is a huge issue because, for example, President Obama may propose a far-reaching cap-and-trade system for CO2. While any opposing theory deserves consideration, "global cooling" discussions should not become another excuse for inertia unless the evidence is extremely strong and a scientific consensus forms around it, because the stakes are too high for future generations.
First, all short-term anecdotal evidence, such as glaciation in Alaska, should be thrown out, because one or two years is just a nanosecond in geological time.
You can just as easily find anecdotal evidence for continued warming in other regions.
Tell the Australians that their continent is "cooling off," or the people in southern California or Arizona, whose forested regions are often on fire. There are a lot of villages in Alaska where the permafrost is melting, causing their abandonment.
I've visited a glacier in Switzerland for the last 15 years (it has lost 30 percent of its mass since the 1970s), and it added snow last year, but that doesn't mean that "phew, global warming must be over."
"Global weirding" I've heard is a much better term for what's happening.
In addition, weather patterns are heavily affected by the growth of algae in the seas (algae is an important CO2 sink, and is critical for the formation of reflective clouds because it generates the cloud-seeding precursor chemical dimethyl sulfide).
The upper layer of the oceans has warmed over the decades, creating vast "deserts" where algae plumes used to flourish. Some scientists have concluded that runaway global heating can occur partly because of this massive algae destruction. See James Lovelock's "The Revenge Of Gaia."
Now that the historically estimable Barack Obama will be the 44th U.S. President, what kind of energy decisions would he make?
We can draw some conclusions from the energy plan posted on his web site. Here is a sampling of their plan (with any of my comments in parentheses):
Help "create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next ten years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future." (An "Energy New Deal" is not out of the realm of possibility, as it accomplishes two goals at once; puts Americans back to productive work, and helps the U.S. become an energy superpower again.)
Get one million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015, partly by providing a $7,000 tax credit for the people who buy them.
"Ensure 10 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025." (This is a fairly lofty goal, as we get far less than one percent of our energy from solar photovoltaic or thermal energy, for instance.)
Help "develop five commercial scale coal-fired plants with clean carbon capture and sequestration technology." (This is highly unlikely as carbon sequestration is very problematical and has not been implemented, as far as I can tell, with a commercial-scale coal plant in the U.S. I always thought of "clean coal" as a contradiction in terms.)
Implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. (It is possible that President Obama, with his electoral mandate, will be able pass through this cap-and-trade system.)
Some doubt President Obama's ability to fund any of these programs in an era of extreme scarcity (although we found money to bail out failed investment bankers!). Given this man's intelligence and ability to energize people, I do not doubt his capability to grapple with one of the country's toughest problems.
Chanting "drill baby drill" at a political rally is about as intelligent as yelling "kill baby kill," then again I'm no longer surprised at what some people are willing to yell out at Presidential political rallies.
We cannot drill our way to energy independence, so goes the mantra. What the U.S. should be focusing its energy on, no pun intended, is becoming an alternative or renewable energy superpower, instead of ceding this status to countries like Saudi Arabia, Dubai, or China.
Here are the facts to ponder as the U.S. is at a critical cross-roads of its history.
"Total U.S. proved oil reserves are estimated at 21 billion barrels -- less than a three year supply at the current rate of consumption."
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that "opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) [to drilling] would lower gasoline prices at the pump by a mere two cents per gallon." The impact of OPEC's changes in its own production levels on gas prices would dwarf the effect of increased drilling in the U.S.
The "technically recoverable" oil in ANWR is 10.4 billion barrels, or about a year and half's consumption total.
Besides, the DOE estimates that lifting the moratorium on drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) would not make oil available before 2017, and that by 2030, the newly produced oil would amount to 200,000 barrels per day, less than one percent of U.S. consumption. Right now, the U.S. consumes about 21 million barrels of oil per day.
The "drill baby drill" nonsense has become a distraction. It's a very short-lived panacea. We need to reduce our use of oil via conservation (e.g., driving less), as well as by electrifying transportation with a greater use of renewable energy, like solar, wind, and wave- or tide-generated techniques.
A couple of good things have emerged from the "Christmas tree" financial-rescue bill that was enacted by the U.S. government on October 3, 2008. Renewable energy sources like solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind have retained their tax incentives, which had been scheduled to expire.
Under the new law, a homeowner can take an uncapped federal tax credit for 30 percent of the cost of a solar system. The old law capped the tax credit at $2,000; the revision of the law, which is in force for eight years, does not cap the credit.
Therefore, a residence could finance a decent array of solar modules for $18,000 (roughly a 2.5 kilowatt system), then take $5,400 off of their taxable income for the first year. It is important to provide upfront subsidies for solar systems if we are to make any progress in phasing out oil and other imported, non-renewable fossil fuels for the generation of electricity.
In addition, the law also contains incentives for bicycle commuters to recoup some of the costs of maintaining their bikes. Of course, bike commuting and telecommuting should be vastly expanded to deal with both oil depletion and global heating.
Solar is clean, locally generated energy that is not dependent on Middle Eastern or Latin American despots. And as I've written before, we have had an excellent experience with our solar PV and hot-water systems in New England.
We took part in a solar open house over the weekend, and among many interesting discussions was one about grid-tied systems selling kilowatt hours back to the utility.
How does this work? For example, a house whose solar system is connected to the electric grid generates 400 kilowatt hours (kWh) in a month, but uses only 200 kWh. Therefore, their electricity meter cycles backwards and they "sell" 200 kWh back to the utility.
Apparently, National Grid, the utility company here in Massachusetts, offers to pay only four cents per kilowatt hour for the homes whose solar or wind systems generate more electricity than the home uses.
This is what someone told me whose planned grid-tied solar system will generate a lot more energy than they use. This is patently stingy, a disincentive for expanding local clean energy systems, and flies in the face of what's happening in other parts of the world.
Why? Residential customers pay about 18 cents per kWh, so it it only makes sense that a residence that generates instead of uses electricity should receive the same rate of return.
Second, in the aggregate, local energy producers save utility companies millions of dollars by helping eliminate the need to expand plants to meet electricity demand, because hundreds of solar producers constitute satellite utility plants feeding energy into the overall system.
Third, solar and wind energy are value-added because the electricity is not associated with any greenhouse gas emissions or corrosive dependencies on imported fossil fuels. This certainly makes each kilowatt hour worth more than four to 18 cents.
I've already written about the incentives in Europe, where renewable energy sources get a boost, not just oil drillers as in the U.S.
Send me an email if you are aware of any legislation in the works in New England to rectify this problem.