What Ever Happened to Conservation?

June 18, 2008

Did anyone else hear Dubya’s comments today on his “new energy initiatives”?  Did anyone notice that he didn’t say a single word — not one! — about conservation?  Does anyone else find this deeply disturbing?  We could drill every inch of land and coastline in the United States and it wouldn’t change the fact that there is a finite amount of oil in this country, and most of it is gone.  It also wouldn’t change the fact that even if we find new oil reserves tomorrow, we won’t have them for ten years.  It also wouldn’t change the fact that the burning of fossil fuels is killing our planet.  And it wouldn’t change the fact that the big multinational oil companies will always — ALWAYS — find some way to make us pay through the nose for the oil and gas we use.  Oh, and by the way, we have plenty of reserves in accessible places right now.  The oil companies want access to the protected areas, so they’re not drilling where they currently can.  That’s right!  They’re not drilling in some places they’re currently allowed to drill, but they’re demanding that we open up protected waters off the California and Florida shores and protected land in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge.  Why?  Ask them.  Ask the oilman who currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.

On the other hand, energy conservation (more efficient cars, better insulation in houses and buildings, lowering your thermostat 2 degrees in the winter and raising it 2 degrees in the summer, energy efficient light bulbs and appliances, etc.) will make those reserves we have right now last longer.  Conservation will lessen our imports of foreign oil.  Conservation will save you money and it will decrease the damage we do to our environment.  But conservation will also lower the profits that those big oil companies rake in every year.  And, sadly, that’s why you didn’t hear our President utter the word “conservation” even once today.

Expect to see more about this in the BOW Award posting this weekend.  I think we already have a winner….

January 20, 2009 cannot come soon enough.


13 Responses to “What Ever Happened to Conservation?”

  1. Mark Wise said

    Have you seen that company from California that has engineered a bacteria to eat any kind of biomass (woodchips, sugar, grass clippings, or other trash) and it turns it into crude oil.

    It has the potential to make oil a renewable resource.

    As far as the BOW award, I would nominate Obama’s senior staff guy who said the perfect text for US foreign policy is Winnie the Pooh.

    Is this what Obama is going to build US foreign policy on, a children’s book? Come on….

  2. davidbcoe said

    I did see that report about the biomass crude. Interesting and definitely a promising stopgap measure to get us away from foreign oil. But in my opinion our ultimate goal needs to be carbon neutral energy sources.

    As for the Obama advisor, I don’t think that warrants a BOW Award at all. Bush has based his foreign policy on “Rambo”. McCain would base his on “The Hundred Years War: A History.” Given those options, “Winnie-the-Pooh” strikes me as an excellent choice.

  3. Brian said

    Regarding Bacteria –> Oil: I dont see this as any different than what we have now. The equation is still the same in terms of carbon: Plant matter + bacteria –> More bacteria and Oil –> CO2 in the atmosphere. They claim that this whole process will be carbon negative, but I dont buy it.

    “The company claims that this “Oil 2.0” will not only be renewable but also carbon negative – meaning that the carbon it emits will be less than that sucked from the atmosphere by the raw materials from which it is made.”

    The only way to get carbon out of the atomsphere (naturally) is by photosynthesis. Now these bacteria may be eating left over plant life, and incorporating some of the carbon into their own cells and their progeny, but what you have in the end is lots of bacteria and lots of Co2 gas. So maybe a fraction of the carbon is being put into the bacteria- so what? These bacteria dont benefit the planet in any way. Id rather see that carbon sequestered in trees and other oxygen producing plant life.

  4. Jon said

    “These bacteria dont benefit the planet in any way.”

    Wow, what an ignorant statement. There is not a single organism on this planet that does not benefit the planet itself in some way! Bacteria like the ones for the “oil 2.0” are the sorts of bacteria that are at work when you hear the term “bio-degradable”. If these bacteria were gone, then the planet would lose a large fraction of its nutrients. And plants are not the only things that produce oxygen. Many bacteria go through a photosynthesis-like process (the name escapes me at the moment) that produces oxygen. And I don’t know if I need to point out that every living person takes in oxygen and puts out CO2.

    As for the idea of Obama’s “Winnie-the-Pooh” policy–hey, if it works, it works. Don’t knock it til you try it. It can’t be worse that GHWB’s policies.

    As for the BOW, I think that has to go to the people in Obama’s campaign who refused to seat two muslim women behind the podium–in front of the camera–at a rally because they wore their head scarves. RIDICULOUS! As Bill Burton said, it is offensive to Obama’s entire campaign!

  5. Brian said

    Jon -“Wow, what an ignorant statement”??

    Maybe you missed the part about these bacteria being genetically engineered. They are not natural. Nature takes millions of years to turn decaying plant matter into oil. All in all I would rather have natural soil bacteria and fungi break down decaying plant matter. Creating bacteria to jump to the end stage of decaying plant matter robs everything else of those nutrients and gives us – what?? Oil? and oh yeah, more bacteria. If you would rather live with oil and bacteria then go ahead, indulge. I would rather have wood chips and no oil.

    And by the way, I try not to make blanket statements as a rule, and I was careful to use the phrase “these bacteria” since I was referring to the genetically engineered bacteria which was the topic of the article. Yes I do know that some bacteria use photosynthesis, but not these.

    Jon wrote:
    “Bacteria like the ones for the “oil 2.0″ are the sorts of bacteria that are at work when you hear the term “bio-degradable””

    When I think of the term “bio-degradable” I certainly don’t think of oil producing bacteria.
    Oil may be the by-product of millions of years of biochemical action, but its hardly the best option for recycling organic matter in the ecosystem. Imagine your garden producing oily sludge from your mulch. It doesn’t sound very eco-friendly to me.

  6. I recently participated in a focus group consisting of about a dozen adults in Columbus, Ohio. The topic was public perceptions of energy companies and initiatives. I was the only person who expressed a desire to reduce my own (and this country’s) energy consumption as a means of coping with rising oil prices. The other focus group participants basically told the researcher they expected the oil companies and the U.S. government to do whatever it takes to reduce the cost of gasoline in particular and energy in the abstract. It’s sad, and it’s undoubtedly why our elected officials say the things they do. Their job is to represent “us,” which unfortunately means the majority of the population, not necessarily its most rational members. Gone are the days of politicians who were willing to risk doing the right thing.

  7. Mark Wise said

    Conservation is fine, but it is not the ultimate solution. Even if all the cars in the US suddenly turned electric and all the light bulbs went CFL, we would still be huge consumers of oil.

    I think we need to develop alternative sources of energy to make them economically viable. Until then, we should use all of our available resources to our best advantage and drill more wells and build more refineries instead of begging the Saudis to help us.

  8. Michele Conti said

    Wouldn’t it be a fantastic idea to give tax breaks to people who spend the money on energy conscience things, like better insulation for their houses, solar panels, electric/solar vehicle hybrids that only run on gas at night… *Shrug*
    Save your receipt and you send it in with your taxes and you get a tax break….*shrug* Maybe they do that already and I just don’t know about it.

    The problem with building more wells and refineries, is that, aside from the fact that oil patch work can be stupid dangerous if you’re on a sour gas well… what happens when the oil dries up. There’s no more gas, in North America to be had… you’re right back where you were and you’ve got a billion cemented (or is it concrete?) holes in the ground where a forest should be. Even the small rigs are monsterous in size. Then you have the space cleared to make the camp…which is relatively large since it accomodates for a bunch of shacks strung together and parking for 3/4 the employment at any given time. Then you think about the gas that it takes to run these places, and how much gas, time, and money it takes to move the rigs from site to site… not to mention the amount of dough it takes to maintain the logging roads. Yeesh…. Sometimes I wonder if we’d be better off with horses and carriages and growing our own food instead of having it provided to us in a mass market setting.

    Granted, I’d likely go nutty without my laptop. But when you’re raised to need something you need it, if you’re raised without it, you don’t care to have it. (At least when it comes to the extras).

  9. davidbcoe said

    Interesting discussion and I thank all of you for your input. I’m going to stay away from the Brian-Jon discussion on oil producing bacteria lest I betray my ignorance on the subject. Robin, I’m not at all surprised by this, but I agree with you that it’s terribly sad. Michele, there are certain tax provisions that encourage people to buy hybrids (though that one is on the verge of expiring) and use passive solar, etc. I’m not sure of the details and I don’t think they amount to much, but they are in the U.S. tax code. (Don’t know about Canada.) I also agree with you 100% about the impact of oil drilling, and I’d add, in addressing Mark’s last comment, that even the most generous estimates on the impact of more drilling in these protected waters and in ANWR say that a) the gas won’t begin to reach us for 7-10 years, b) that it won’t reach us in amounts sufficient to impact oil and gas prices for closer to 20 years, and c) that the amounts available in these protected areas is negligible when compared to our total consumption. Conservation has no negative environmental impact and, unlike oil drilling, actually increases in its impact each year. New wells yield supply that rises, peaks, then declines (think classic econ 101 bell-curve). Conservation, particularly in the form of more efficient cars, yields savings in a constantly rising slope because we will be replacing older less efficient cars over time and the technology is bound to keep improving.

  10. Jon said

    Genetically engineered or not, the bacteria perform the same basic task as any other bacteria of its type. It’s not the first time science genetically engineers things–cloning, the advances in stem cell research–sometimes we feel the need to circumvent the progress of nature to conserve nature itself. And btw, Brian, the equation, chemically, is completely different. The burning of fossil fuels emits tons of CO2 while the bacteria-produced oil, not using these fossil fuels, will emit a considerably smaller amount.

    And Michele made a good point–what happens when the oil wells dry up? Mark wants to build more–what about the ones we already have that no one is using, like Mr. Coe mentioned? The Republican ideal of late seems to be “just send/make more” even though we’ve got plenty, if used the right way. Same goes for the war. When I was in Iraq there were always, at any given time, nearly 1000 soldiers with no jobs, no duties, because there were way too many over there. Our ultimate goal should always be to come up with what’s best for the planet–and more oil wells is NOT best. We need to develop new fuels, and stop using our fossil fuels–a NONRENEWABLE RESOURCE. The best thing would be a car that runs on WATER and emits WATER VAPOR. Imagine the boost that would be. You put water in your car, use it, and it comes back as rain.

  11. Jon said

    When I think of the term “bio-degradable” I certainly don’t think of oil producing bacteria.
    Oil may be the by-product of millions of years of biochemical action, but its hardly the best option for recycling organic matter in the ecosystem. Imagine your garden producing oily sludge from your mulch. It doesn’t sound very eco-friendly to me.

    Oil is a build-up of certain nutrients. In a controlled environment, Brian, how is it not eco-friendly?

  12. Michele Conti said

    Well, it’s happening all over the place really. We think it’s too expensive to switch over to eco-friendly, or at least more eco-friendly ways of doing things.

    A high school student in British Columbia came up with a way to recycle milk jugs and use them as an even MORE DURABLE way of paving roads. As tried as can be expected for the means of a high school student…and what does the gov’t do? “nope, too expensive to repave the roads with this stuff anyway…”

    Even though it would last longer. Ho Hum. Let’s just chrunch some numbers.

    Next we have to think about the jobs that would be lost if we dwindled the oil and gas industry…. a lot of guys are already going over to being wind turbine techs because they know that unless we have some crazy environmental disaster, the wind will always be where they are putting these turbines.

    Oh…. it’s a lose/lose situation filled with good debatable conversation pieces. But debating only gets us so far…

  13. Brian said

    Jon, you mentioned that the oil produced by these bacteria would emit less Co2 when burned- how so?

    Now as I understand it crude oil is a mixture of hydrocarbons and minerals- the end point of bio-degradability. The oil reserves we have are the result of the biomass accumulated during the dinosaur age being broken down. When you start taking mulch or compost and turning it into oil, you are skipping so many steps, and losing whatever benefit those plant material once had.

    Just to be clear Im not advocating burning more Mid-east oil instead of oil produced by these bacteria. I would prefer to throw out the whole oil problem if it were possible. To me these oil producing bacteria are not a solution to the greenhouse gas emitting gas consuming culture we live in. Maybe it can be useful in a pinch, but why not invest in sustainable technologies instead?

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