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Billions and Trillions Revisited


On July 29 I published an article in The Huffington Post entitled, Billions and Trillions. Let us today re-visit this subject in light of all the mega dollars being tossed around by pundits.

If gasoline costs $2.57/gallon (we used 142 billion gallons in 2007), we spend $1 billion a day on this fuel. Up to $4/gallon, the daily cost is a bit more than $1.5 billion/day. The current average national gas price is $3.16/gallon. Of course, crude is now back down to the $80/barrel range (or $1.90/gallon). Note the profit margin from what you are paying for gasoline. In Hawaii we are closer to $4/gallon.

The average annual U.S. Department of Energy renewable energy budget over the past decade has been less than $1 billion a year (Remember, we now spend $500 billion/year on gasoline). In comparison:

a. We pass on to Pakistan $1 billion/year for counter-terrorism activities, and they are not even helping much with finding Osama bin Laden.

b. Each Space Shuttle flight costs $1 billion.

c. Each new Nimitz class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier costs $4.5 billion. We will have 10 when the H.W. Bush is commissioned early next year. We have no naval threat into the foreseeable future.

d. Is it true that farm subsidies this year will be $25 billion? And farmers are now doing really well. Does the Farm Lobby spend $80 million/year on lobbying? In these good times for them and bad times for energy, why don't we shift just half of this $25 billion sum into renewable energy R&D?

e. The U.S. military is planning to move from Okinawa to Guam by 2014 at a cost of $15 billion. Why not just sell everything we can to Japan and send the troops to Afghanistan? By the way, it is reported that our military personnel have been involved in more than 200,000 accidents and crimes in Japan.

f. The top four oil companies made more than $100 billion in profits in 2007. General Motors lost $39 billion. Toyota sold more cars in the first half of 2008.

g. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 will cost $850 billion, or $0.85 trillion. That calculates out to be $2783/person.

h. Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz estimates the true cost of the middle east war to be $3 trillion, six times more than reported by the Department of Defense. Over a seven year period, that would be about $1 billion/day.

i. The International Energy Agency reported that it will take $45 trillion dollars to cut emissions by half to prevent global warming.

Are the above numbers too large to comprehend? Well, if you add the cost of the Manhattan Project, Marshall Plan and Apollo Project, then bring them up to actual 2008 dollars, the combined cost was $266 billion, or $0.266 trillion. This total is less than a third of the Wall Street bailout package.

Of course, we're comparing apples and oranges because these atomic bomb / Europe saving / moon project funds were actually spent, while the fiscal rescue budget is sort of a loan. It is possible that we will gain a return over time for our personal $2783 investment. Sure.

Then, too, $0.266 trillion is about one half of one percent the sum needed to remediate global climate change. You will need 180 Manhattan/Marshall/Apollo equivalents to meet that challenge. What are we doing? Well, our Congress refused to pass the carbon cap and trade legislation and the G8 Nations merely begged Saudi Arabia to produce more oil. What about the general public? They seem content now that gasoline prices might soon drop below $3/gallon. What a world! What priorities.

Peter Finch screamed in the movie Network, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore." Any chance you HuffPo readers can help get something going?