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HUFFPOST SUPER USER
montemalone
oenophile, aquarist, francophone, radical moderate
08:59 AM on 03/11/2011
You left out the only important fact that matters: a few rich people will get even richer as all this occurs.
For the rest of us, oh well.
08:56 AM on 03/11/2011
Day of rage? HA HA HAAAA!!! I wonder if Canada will have a national day of rage? What most Americans don't know is that Canada exports TWICE as much oil to the USA than Saudi Arabia - and so does Mexico (see US gov't link below). Why are your closest neighbors getting screwed, while SA gets rich?
http://1.usa.gov/g192Zz
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09:30 AM on 03/11/2011
Most people automatically assume that the majority of US fossil fuels come from the middle east and you're spot on Pauliskus. We get more oil from Canada and Mexico than the middle east. Most Middle Eastern oil actually gets distributed in Europe.

The problem, however is that Canada and Mexico do not independently control oil prices. If they did / could, we would have much cheaper oil than those being supplied from the Middle East.
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Chris Salmon
Geologist and Computer Scientist
08:54 AM on 03/11/2011
good, though obvious, article, but imagining "Petroleum Anonymous" to help us kick the habit is an unfortunate analogy to use, sine "Alcoholics Anonymous" has at least a 90% failure rate.

That aside, it seems to me you're wishing for a dream that can never happen. No, I don't mean wind, water, solar, I mean people asking for cheaper energy. The majority of people will always ask for cheaper energy, and any politician who campaigns on promises to make energy more expensive will lose. That's just the way it is. Human nature - we might wish it were different but it never can be.

A corollary to this "don't ask for cheap gas" thought is: shouldn't we put some blame on the wind, water, and solar guys for not coming up with ways for them to produce their energy product that are price-competitive with others in the market? Everyone else in business has to match or beat their competitor's product in price, especially in a commodity like energy. Why should alternative energy businesses be any different?
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montemalone
oenophile, aquarist, francophone, radical moderate
09:14 AM on 03/11/2011
USA spends billions a year to subsidize oil production and exploration worldwide (military).
If that was spent on wind, water, and solar, we wouldn't be having this discussion.
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Chris Salmon
Geologist and Computer Scientist
09:48 AM on 03/11/2011
I've heard this before and I have to say I'm skeptical that our military would spend any less or be any less involved in action throughout the world without oil & gas. Just my personal opinion but I believe the ego of our politicians is so out of control, they feel they must be "world leaders" and solving problems here doesn't really get them off. And of course when you ask those in charge of defending the country's interests and projecting military power, "What do you need to accomplish your mission?" They'll always say "more."
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unionave
Old Codger
08:31 AM on 03/11/2011
The Indianapolis race vehicles use 100% ethanol .
08:56 AM on 03/11/2011
great, though hemp would be even better..
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unionave
Old Codger
11:35 PM on 03/11/2011
F&F ! True . But the rope and paper gang won that fight more than a century ago . Switch grass has a better ethanol yield/acre and no industry has figured out a reason to outlaw that , yet .
ByAndForThePeople
and corporations aren't people!
02:18 PM on 03/11/2011
Not so great, actually. Sure, it's better than using fossil fuels, particularly in terms of net atmospheric carbon release, but ethanol production is heavily subsidized, takes up enormous tracts of arable land that could better be used for healthier food crops, and seriously promotes corn over any other crop in spite of corn's ubiquity in our food chain already. I think that we should view ethanol as little more than a stop-gap on the way to better renewable fuel sources.

One more thing: The feds are on the brink of requiring that some percentage of gasoline in the USA be sold with 15% ethanol content. Anybody who puts that gasoline into a vehicle made before (I believe I've got the year correct) 2006 will instantly invalidate whatever warranty exists on the vehicle and its drive train. Ethanol introduces a few severe problems that have no theoretical solutions, much less practical ones.
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unionave
Old Codger
12:08 AM on 03/12/2011
The American auto makers sell Flex Fuel vehicles that can use an 85% ethanol blend . The power and mileage specs are the same as the popular models . Brazil has for years been using a 25% ethanol blend with American made autos . The petroleum industry is the most subsidized of all industries . The ethanol yield/acre of switch grass is much higher than corn or sugar beets or sugar cane . But with a corporate controlled government the one that arrives with the most money gets all the favors . The auto industries are also against the use of ethanol mainly because it extends the life of the vehicle . Ethanol is much less toxic than gasoline and does less damage to the working parts , and it also requires a fraction of the energy to produce and is less harmful to the environment while producing . Vehicles made before 2006 (six years ago) normally do not have warranties . The petro corporations sicked the revenuers on the moon shiners because the moon shiners were also using what they made as fuel . And outran the revenuers . The petroleum corporations have designed every argument and obstacle in their fight against ethanol and with their media ownership the thinking by many will be in their favor . Adding up the deaths from wars , spillage , and pollution the use of crude oil products is giving us a dying planet .
03:54 AM on 03/12/2011
Don't forget that making food into fuel causes competition between fueling our cars and feeding our people. Ethanol production has caused prices of staple goods to rise and exacerbates starvation among the world's poorest people. I find that Frontline did a very enlightening piece on this topic:
08:10 AM on 03/11/2011
Thanks for another great article. "I am an addict." I love the creative approach. Hari has got to be one of the very best writers of our time.
08:03 AM on 03/11/2011
re-post
eva07 Commented 7 hours ago

"We could lift the ban on hemp, which didn't make sense in the
first place..it would help with jobs too.. "Hemp produces the
most biomass of any crop, which is why it is the natural choice
for an energy crop. Hemp converts the sun's energy into
cellulose faster than any other plant, through photosynthesis.
Hemp can produce 10 tons of biomass per acre every four months.
Enough energy could be produced on 6% of the land in the U.S.
to provide enough energy for our entire country (cars, heat
homes, electricity, industry) -- and we use 25% of the world's
energy. To put which in perspective, right now we pay farmers
not to grow on 6% (around 90 million acres) of the farming
land, while another 500 million acres of marginal farmland lies
fallow. This land could be used to grow hemp as an energy
crop."
http://www.hemphasis.net/Fuel-Energy/fuel.htm
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HUFFPOST COMMUNITY MODERATOR
MrBadExample
Friends call me ‘exampleicious’
08:17 AM on 03/11/2011
The problem with all biomass-based energy solutions (corn, cellulose, hemp) is that the energy packed in the crop is marginal compared to the effort needed to get it out. You have to harvest and ship tons of hemp to a refinery to get the product.  Once this (plus the labor in growing the crop and the capital costs of the refinery) are all thrown in, ethanol is returning at best 1.5x1 on energy investment and may be a net energy loss.

Absent a game-changer in terms of the technology, ethanol isn't a real option regardless of the crop it's converted from.

There's more on this subject at theoildrum.com, a site that does hard reporting on post-carbon solutions for energy.
09:41 AM on 03/11/2011
Hemp's biomass is a lot more than corn's , it should be cheaper and according to
http://oilprice.com/Alternative-Energy/Biofuels/USDA-Publishes-New-Papers-on-the-Energy-Return-of-Corn-Ethanol.html
even corn has a positive return.
09:45 AM on 03/11/2011
Then there's the fact that biofuel producing plants require constant feeding with nitrogen to maintain high yields (and petroleum is the only cheap energy source of it) and the fact that these crops necessarily occupy land that otherwise would be used for food production ( food being another source of energy that we must have). Biofuels, regardless of what plant used, are no solution at all.
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HUFFPOST SUPER USER
raker
07:43 AM on 03/11/2011
Sorry, but I loathe the addiction metaphor for gasoline, as well as NPR's "America's love affair with the automobile." I drive a car when I need to go somewhere and in the winter I heat my house. I am neither addicted nor in love; I am living my life, and until work, the grocery store, school and the soccer field start coming to my house, I have to go to them. As for oil policy, I've exercised all the power I have: I vote Democratic. And when I'm offered a a practical alternative energy source, I will use it.
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Decipherer
Objects may be closer than they appear
08:15 AM on 03/11/2011
Good points, and I share your views, but for Gawd's sake, I certainly hope you don't heat your house with gasoline!

And as a country, we are addicted to oil and have been for over 100 years, because our "dealers" (we're the "junkies," see?) have given us the cheap stuff and as much as we've needed of it to get hooked or "addicted" (meaning we willfully ignored readily-available alternatives that existed at the time in favor of the dealer's goods).

So, I think that term is appropriate.

And maybe not you, but Americans in general have a "love affair" with the petroleum-fueled automobile we've built our cities and lives around. Why else would they spend so much of their incomes on a depreciating asset that is killing us just for the comfort of a cushy ride to the grocery store or wherever?

Oh, I know! It's that "addiction" thing! So, it's either "addiction" or "love." Choose your poison.
05:09 PM on 04/27/2011
I think you just proved their point.
07:33 AM on 03/11/2011
How about proposing a transaction tax on all Wall Street trades. This transaction tax may help curb wild speculation on commodity trades and all stock/bond/dirivative trades and the result would be money to help bring down the deficit. Why is it that we ordinary, middle class (not rich) Americans have to pay all the time while the millionaires/billionaires walk away with their gain?
07:57 AM on 03/11/2011
It definitely would help, but good luck getting it through..probably it wouldn't curb the speculation, but would lower the deficit..
08:04 AM on 03/11/2011
Yeah that makes since, lets tax all of those middle class 401k transactions. Oh, dont forget about all the older people that now trying to live on their retirement investments, lets tax all of those too.
08:59 AM on 03/11/2011
Not necessarily that bad, if they taxed ten cents on every trade it would not be a big deal for anyone, but it would add up..how many transactions do you do on your 401K? you probably wouldn't even notice it..
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montemalone
oenophile, aquarist, francophone, radical moderate
09:04 AM on 03/11/2011
Those "401k transactions" are the reason for the problem. Investments for retirement shouldn't be active. Buy and hold, that's how the stock market is supposed to work. The churn is what created a Wall St Billionaire class that now dictates policy. This is what causes the volatility in commodity prices. This is why companies continue to layoff Americans and hire people on the other side of the world.
07:21 AM on 03/11/2011
Good column but most folks do not realize that approx. 50% of the oil we use is used by the military.
Also, follow the money. The oil speculators and Wall Street traders are pushing up the price of oil on the backs of ordinary Americans just as they did in 2008. The people in Europe get benefits from the high taxes on gasoline like health care, etc. I heard it costs approx. $10 to produce a barrel of oil so anything more than that is profit.
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Decipherer
Objects may be closer than they appear
07:17 AM on 03/11/2011
Where is the "news" in this article?

We have known about these issues for the better part of 40 years and yet our response has been to ignore them, vilify proponents of change, and keep on with business as usual or ever worse.

As a far more cynical colleague often asks me, "what is so different this time?" Well, the only difference is that the problems we face due to fossil fuel dependency are infinitely worse than they were during the first oil price shocks starting in the early '70s.

If we had taken Jimmy Carter seriously in the 1970s and Al Gore seriously in the 1990s, we would have adopted and maintained a far more aggressive strategy to lessen our dependence at least on petroleum and probably by now coal as well. Sadly, stick-your-head-in-the-sand politics, fueled by powerful industries blunted most of that.

Read it and weep, people.
07:00 AM on 03/11/2011
solid article but your taking 2 issues and making it one. When Americans complain about the prices of gas its not cause they don't believe there's a better alternative as far as an energy source goes. Thats 2 different things. I can scream til my lungs give out about using different energy sources but fact is that isn't happening anytime soon. In the meantime most middle class americans who are getting their work hours cut, struggling to pay mortgage, or jobless .... are only voicing for their oil to be cheaper because they need extra cash to put more food on the table for their family. I agree with every single thing you said in this article and bringing up Jimmy Carter's speech back in 77 was golden. I read his book and he was a man way beyond his time. Still I understand fully why americans will demand their gas be cheaper. There's wars going down right here as well as people are surviving to get by.
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marijam
Independent
06:48 AM on 03/11/2011
If really rich people wanted to, they could pool their money and invest in building bio-diesel plants. Why don't they? It would solve so many problems on so many levels. Maybe the www.ted.com people will do that eventually. Every major metropolitan area should have a bio-diesel plant to turn their garbage into energy instead of putting it into landfills or barging it off to China, or where ever. Just think of it, no more stinky mess in landfills, and the energy would not cost that much once the plant had returned the original investment.
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Hokierama
Correct 98.6% of the time
06:58 AM on 03/11/2011
I think Labor Unions, with the hundreds of millions of dollars that they have, should invest in building bio-diesel plants so that they can provide union jobs at union wages!
08:00 AM on 03/11/2011
Labor unions don't have enough money for it..
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LouGots
05:49 AM on 03/11/2011
"Cannot be grown." False. Cannot be manufactured." False.

Plenty of technologies for both, also for using alternative energy sources for those processes. We aren't doing it, because we don't need to, and because the cost of replacing our existing infrastructure is higher than the cost of maintaining it.
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Decipherer
Objects may be closer than they appear
07:20 AM on 03/11/2011
And what makes you think we're even maintaining it?
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pirx
Memoirs Found in a Bathtub
07:31 AM on 03/11/2011
George Bernard Shaw claimed that "England and America are two countries divided by a common language."

Common usage (outside of the United States) defines petrol as fuels derived from crude oil, which is a fossil fuel. Retranslate that single word petrol as fossil fuel, and the statement is correct. Furthermore, the technologies that "grow" hydrocarbons are in fact using the power of the sun.

BTW: Nothing can be manufactured without raw materials, and those raw materials are either fossil derived or solar grown. On the whole, Mr. Hari gets it right more often than you.

As far as cost, I offer an analogy. It is a lot cheaper to stop paying your mortgage today, you have all that extra cash each month to spend as you wish. Long term, it is a bad idea, and you end up sleeping under a bridge.
05:24 AM on 03/11/2011
We brought some of this upon ourselves by killing the nuclear power industry 30 years ago and now were about to do it again to the large gas discoveries here in the US. This will make us all the more dependent on oil.

Easiest thing to do is conserve- if our national fleet averaged 40 mpg we'd import no foreign oil. Research into solar is showing promising results, hopefully more to come.
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Decipherer
Objects may be closer than they appear
07:23 AM on 03/11/2011
Nuclear power and oil (petroleum) have little to do with each other. Nuclear energy is used to generate electricity, and petroleum is almost entirely used to produce transportation fuels.

Nuclear makes sense from the standpoint of reducing coal use and cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Cutting petroleum means lower GHGs, less dependence on offshore sources, and higher use of domestic renewables instead.
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PCMartin
Bullish on cat food and refrigerator boxes
05:12 AM on 03/11/2011
I think part of the problem, in the US at least, is that -- staying with Johann's addiction metaphor -- the dealers and paraphernalia vendors are calling the shots in terms of national energy strategy. When I compare America's paltry investment in sustainable energy infrastructure to those of countries as disparate as Denmark and China, I can only shake my head in disbelief. I suspect the next generation of Americans is in for even harder times than we might imagine.
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Decipherer
Objects may be closer than they appear
07:26 AM on 03/11/2011
Denmark is a small country and knows the effects of extreme hardship and the merits of conservation, whereas China is a command economy -- there is no public policy debate to speak of because it is a plutocracy.

In China, the elites decide, you do. They're talking big about sustainable energy while laying waste to their environment. Nobody can question, much less stop it. Look it up.