Monday, May 18, 2015
In an article that sound like it's attempting to persuade us that we are doing the right thing by switching to personally owned and operated electric vehicles, once again marrying highly destructive neoliberal policies with equally destructive neoconservative values, a sort of Marriage between Larry Summers and Groveling Norquist, Deborah Lawrence, in a post on resilience.com entitles her article, "US Crude Oil Consumption Peaked a Decade Ago".
The implication of that title is that US energy consumption peaked, and in particular, that used in automotive transportation, both of which may be true without having the least effect whatsoever on the underlying reason why those two facts would be of interest, ie, because if true that would mean the US has reduced the amount of climate-changing gasses it's venting into the atmosphere by human activity, which assumption the title is purposely designed to prompt readers infer is true, but which is patently false.
The manufacturing jobs of US citizens were moved to China in order to take advantage of the repressive labor laws, lack of environmental regulations, and cheap healthcare costs for the inevitable ailments that would result from such unfettered development in a totalitarian country. But those manufacture goodies must then be shipped to the US consumer via horribly polluting, and totally unregulated, bunker fuel (except in the last couple of years, for there are now restrictions on burning this horribly filthy carcinogenic fuel near US port cites. There are no restrictions on its use in the open ocean however). This arrangement resulted in not less, but more CO2 being vented into the atmosphere. Because neither China nor the US have to claim the increase in CO2 generated by the shipping of manufactures as part of their own contribution to global growth in CO2 production, the fact that it produces not only carbon dioxide, but a mixture of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and other pollutants that have been linked to acid rain, increased asthma, lung infections and tens of thousands of premature deaths every year in port communities of both countries, is something neither country needed to account for. The fact that citizen activism got the law changed in the US, whereas China still burns it in port, is testament to the dynamic pointed out in the first line of this paragraph, and further proof that moving such manufactures offshore reduces the carbon footprint of the consuming country while increasing the human costs to the country that actually does the work.
But on the face of it it reduced the carbon footprint of the average US citizen without impacting their energy usage, and increased the carbon footprint of the average Chinese citizen without a commensurate increase in their energy usage, since most of the increase in per capita usage was in the production of goods, not for their own use, but for the use of consumers thousand of miles away. Their carbon footprint is also increased by the transportation costs and energy usage for transporting those good in their own country, in the form of new roads, bridges, port facilities, trucks and rail, container ships, and, of course, the manufacture and shipping of those containers themselves, all of which are made of highly energy-intensive-to-manufacture metal. In fact, the carbon footprint of the US consumer INcreased also, because now they had to drive for miles and miles, burning up more fuel, to get to the big box stores inconveniently located where the taxes were low, land plentiful and more importantly, cheap, so the stores could sprawl like an unfettered amoeba, and the local politicians easily persuaded (bribed) into granting generous tax breaks.
The case is very similar for the peak on US consumption of CRUDE oil. Not energy, not fuel, just CRUDE. Because, well, first of all, the world's consumption of crude peaked a decade ago. because its production did. Also, a decade ago is when the fracking revolution started in the US, and fracked oil is not crude oil. So when Deborah Lawrence says, "Hence we do not need crude oil to the extent that we have in the past", she is right, but, like the situation where the US can say we are not putting as much CO2 into the atmosphere, because we're having our junk made on another continent and shipped here, the reason we are not using as much crude as we were is just as deceptive, because the fact that we're not using as much is because we're using Tar sands and fracked oil instead, which, in terms of CO2 being generated, are worse than crude, and in term of methane being vented into the atmosphere, is nothing short of disastrous.
And that is the reason the title purposely specifies 'crude oil', so that Ms.Lawrence can wax eloquent about how wonderfully we're changing our ways, implying that therefore, less CO2 is being vented (which btw, she never mentions, to her credit, it's as though this were just an exercise, like food for fuel, that is beneficial when it is actually quite the opposite: in terms of CO2 production it is worse), because not only are people able to use electric cars, well, those in the middle class, because the working class can't afford the extra $10-20,000 price tag, but the increase in electricity production now needed means that even more heat is being produced, as well as the blanketing gasses to keep it from escaping into space.
But the reason IS in order to keep carbon, and the other heat-trapping gasses, out of the atmosphere. So there is absolutely no reason to cheer because, "Oh look, we're using less crude oil", when what we are using instead, like the example of ethanol instead of gasoline, (to process that ethanol we built dozens of coal-fired power pants throughout the Midwest), we now likewise use oil, (although not crude!) from even dirtier sources than crude, by using methods that are poorly understood, by corporate design, and therefore unregulated as to their release of other, even worse, heat-trapping gasses, such as methane, into the atmosphere at so prodigious a rate that the US has caught up with the historical flarer of the largest amount of methane, Russia, to become the #1 flarer of methane on the globe.
As in Capitalism itself, where we have completely forgotten that the measure of how well an economic system works is by how well it serves the public weal, not how well it serves the self-aggrandizing zeal of a few private interests, we've forgotten that the entire reason for switching to these new energy-generating technologies and fuel production regimes is to stop the accumulation of heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere. So when you read someone like Ms. Lawrence, try to keep that in mind and realize that, if as she claims, we are using less energy from burning carbon fuels, why then have the reading of CO2 in the atmosphere reached and all-time high of 404ppm at Mauna Loa this month? The two do not jive. We are barely keeping the economies of the globe functioning and yet, even as we bring more and more of those wind farms and solar generators on line, the pace at which we spew CO2 continues to increase unabated. Imagine what that figure would be if the economies of the world were exhibiting healthy growth! (Of course, that's impossible, because there's not the energy available in quantities sufficient enough to accomplish such growth). What she conveniently left out is that the reason consumption peaked is that production, despite our temporary glut, did, not the other way around.
And to comprehend the main reason for that one need only look to Beijing. Whereas once the roads were full of bicycles, they are now clogged with automobiles, all of which are spewing CO2, and all of which were manufactured long after human beings knew the disastrous ramifications of continuing to do so. Despite what we already knew, all those factories were built to manufacture internal combustion engines (ICE's) not electric engines (many of them with US taxpayer dollars, used to bail out GM, which used the funds to build factories to build ICE's in China after the 2009 bailout), not because we didn't know that building ICE's was madness, but because more profits could be wrung out of ICE manufacturing. So now Beijing's air is clogged with pollution, as are the lungs of its children. This is what is thought of as progress. Even more, this is what we insist is progress. Every country where Capitalism is introduced and all other forms of economies are pushed aside if not actively destroyed, such is the case. The more roads, and the more cars, the more modern you are, without those amenities you are a second rate power at best. As long as that is true, and it shows no sign of changing, US usage of crude oil can drop to zero, but the reading at Mauna Loa will only rise inversely, yet we'll pat ourselves on the back for being such good global citizens, as we export our own crude, the ultimate aim of Big Oil, and burn more and more unconventional oil instead.
Posted by Robert Lowrey at 5:34 PM