# YOU!: Fix the US Energy Crisis

anorlunda
Staff Emeritus
Good point. It would be interesting to see an adjustment for that - I guess we would need to net out the embodied energy of imports - exports?

Its not simple enough to count by money alone or population alone. Think for example of power hungry steel production that has mostly moved to other lands.

In public debates like this one, a frequent error is that some people think only of residential power use, not industrial.

Mentor
Although reading about nuclear here on PF, I'm more incline of accepting it, the only thing I cannot get my head around are the nuclear wastes, even though everybody seems to say it's not a problem. Not an expert on the subject, but I cannot believe that disposing safely of a waste that can be dangerous to life for centuries is easy. I can't imagine that in a few hundred years, everyone will know where are all of those sites.
Why not? Do you foresee civilization collapsing in a way that causes us to lose track of them? I can't see another way that such a thing could happen. It's like losing track of the Liberty Bell; it's important, so we put some effort into paying attention to where we put it.
I can't imagine that we understand fully the long time effect of those sites. Just based on the «regular» dump sites experience, we still find old sites that nobody really knew existed and they are less than a 100 year-old. Or we are building over old sites than we thought safe and we have now health issues in those neighborhoods. 50-100 years ago, it was all figured out that burying our household waste was the appropriate method and that by now, it would all of cleaned up by itself (composting). It did not happen as expected and - surprise, surprise - we are now trying to completely eliminate those sites by recycling. So how are we predicting so easily hundred of years in advance?
Well...
1. Can't you look around and see how we've advanced in the past 100 years? 100 years ago we barely knew how to fly and women painted watch dials with *radium* by hand, with paint brushes they licked to "sharpen".
2. The very fact that we aren't referring to nuclear waste repositories as "regular dump sites" would seem to make your concern moot, wouldn't it?
How I see the energy crisis? I think it is a beast that feeds itself. The more you try to resolve the problem, the more you dig the hole. You create machines that are more fuel efficient and less polluting, yet the fuel consumption and the pollution level increase anyway. A recent study still expects oil consumption to rise by 2040, despite a wider adoption in electric vehicles. I'm pretty sure developing countries are not the only ones to blame for this.

From my experience, you give people a machine that consumes or pollute less and they think: «Hey I can do more with it; It won't be worst than before.» What they don't realize is: 1) It was already too much before and 2) They often use it so much more that they do more damage than they were before....

The problem is over-consumption. You have to consume less, not by using more efficient machines, but by ... consuming less. It has a lot more to do with self-discipline than with a technical difficulty.
That is going to be a really difficult argument to win, for two reasons:

1. In general, consumption is related to technological development. Societies that use more energy have a "better" standard of living than societies that don't, in objectively measurable ways - up until they start seeing quality of life/economic value in conservation/pollution reduction. So it will be very difficult to convince people to go backwards in development. Our only real chance at staving-off global warming is to get the developing countries over that hump sooner rather than later.

2. Why bother? We have essentially infinite energy available, so why bother conserving it, especially if it improves our lives to consume it? Or, rather, what's the real goal? Does conservation have a goal outside of itself? If so, what is it? Global warming abatement? Global warming isn't caused by energy consumption, it is caused by dirty energy consumption.

Full disclosure: The above was partly devil's advocate: I make a living in large part on energy conservation. I see it as first a profit engine and second a stop-gap/limited bridge to a clean energy future.
Let someone drive a US car from the 60's for a week, I can assure you that he begins to think a lot more about the necessity of all his travels once he starts filing that gas tank.
Same question as above: if we drive less because it costs more yet still emit more pollution, have we won or lost the battle?

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Mentor
But it is not always about lowering a standard of living and sometimes I wonder if we really are increasing our quality of life that much. For instance, back in the 70-80's, when I was a kid...
You're looking at the wrong fish....even as you are wrong on this little fish: The West's energy intensity has gone down a little in the past 40 years (per capita: per $of GDP it has dropped by half), and nostalgia aside we've certainly gained a little in standard of living. But that's peanuts. The big fish are China and India where billions of people who have never had electricity before are rapidly getting it. This represents a massive improvement in global average standard of living and massive increase in energy use. In the last 20 years, there is only one person I know I can think of who took the time to describe to me in details - with excitement - his trip to Africa. Agreed. Best trip ever! Again, when I was young, rarely we saw someone driving 30-40 miles to go to work.... It was mostly an "I know someone who knows someone who have a long commute" situation and everybody thought it was odd. Now, nobody is surprised by such practice. It always seems that time-wise and money-wise, it makes sense. The worst story I heard was about someone who's commute was Montreal-Toronto. Every morning he took a flight to Toronto, every evening he took another one back to Montreal! Apparently, the difference in the cost of living and salaries between the two places made up the difference. Still, to me, there is something wrong with that scenario and I don't see how this is increasing our standard of living. De facto, it must be though, right? People are choosing to do it so they have defined it to be "better" by making the choice. jack action Science Advisor Gold Member Why not? Do you foresee civilization collapsing in a way that causes us to lose track of them? I can't see another way that such a thing could happen. It's like losing track of the Liberty Bell; it's important, so we put some effort into paying attention to where we put it. I don't foresee anything, but based on history, civilizations don't last. Power switches sides and old civilizations are forgotten partially or entirely. Based on observation and personal experiences, keeping track of things is not where we shine the most, especially when things become more and more popular and common. I still can't figure out why there are so many oil spills which is something that seems to be very easy to monitor from point of view. All of this despite the fact that there are angry environmentalists watching oil companies like hawks, just waiting to tarnish their reputation. So, yeah, promises of future efforts is not an easy sell to me. Societies that use more energy have a "better" standard of living than societies that don't, in objectively measurable ways We should really need a definition of "better standard of living" before going into an argumentation about it. I doubt we'll find an objectively measurable way. The problem is that most people use wealth as a measuring stick and I don't think it's a representative one. If we assume that our lives are better because we have more than what our ancestors had, we need to note that we are actually working more than them. According to this list, I count 139 holidays per year in the Roman civilization. And there were 'private' holidays in addition to this list according to the article. Everything was a reason to party. And the Romans were working pretty hard compared to others. So when I'm told that technology gives us more, I doubt that. I think it is only an illusion hiding the fact we work so much more. so why bother conserving it, especially if it improves our lives to consume it? My grandfather was getting most of his energy by lighting fires, in a way that - by today standard - was very inefficient and polluted like crazy. Yet, he did not think twice about it and that was done this way for generations before him. Despite the better ways of getting energy today, we are obviously behind in pollution control levels and we're working like crazy to find solutions to problems that my grandfather couldn't even imagine. Is that improvement? From point of view, it's at best exchanging 4 quarters for a dollar. We work less because of automation? But we have to go the gym (often by car!) to get our daily exercise. How is that improvement? We increased the average lifespan and increased the growing rate of the population? How does that improve our lives? The fact you delay the death of individuals doesn't change anything in the greater scheme of things (it might even be worst if that individual is unhappy). Not that long ago, people regularly witness death from infants, having 6 or 7 kids and only 2 or 3 surviving. People were used to this and had nothing special to do. Heck, a survivor was considered a miracle and a reason to party (That is why birthdays were celebrated). Today we still have 2 or 3 kids, but we have to work to NOT have kids and when someone looses a kid - because it is such a rare event - the concerned people are devastated, often for years. Birthdays? Not what it used to be. Most people I know, celebrate birthdays on week-end, such as to not bother people while they are working; You are not that special. And as population increases, contraception will necessarily becomes more important (again, more work for us) or some terrible form of population control is heading our way (sickness, war, famine, infertility?); It cannot increase exponentially indefinitely. Is that an improvement? Again, I think it is at best 4 quarters for a dollar. I really don't think we are working less nor that there is less suffering or more joy in the world today because of all the "improvements" we have. But thinking that way seems to be a good motivation for many. I don't mind what we do as a society in general, but I would prefer doing it only for fun (not because "we have to") and at a slower pace such that we adapt to it far better. Global warming isn't caused by energy consumption, it is caused by dirty energy consumption. At one point, using enough of it, all energy consumption will become dirty. There are no free lunches. if we drive less because it costs more yet still emit more pollution, have we won or lost the battle? That is not a fair argument. The point was that people don't need to drive more. People just don't see what is happening pollution-wise as compared to money-wise because the effects are not visible right away. And once they manifest themselves, they are difficult to relate to the cause. The West's energy intensity has gone down a little in the past 40 years (per capita: per$ of GDP it has dropped by half)
Yes, but the "capita" increases. The Earth is a close system and what counts is the total. Do you prefer having one person stealing 20 $from your wallet or 3 persons stealing 10$ each?
De facto, it must be though, right? People are choosing to do it so they have defined it to be "better" by making the choice.
I'm questioning that definition of "better". There is really nobody in Toronto to do a specific job and a person in Montreal can't really find one in his city? If you own two factories, one in Toronto and one in Montreal, would you consider improving the lives of your employees by offering the ones in Toronto they can commute to Montreal and to the ones in Montreal they can commute to Toronto? That is just pure insanity.

In my opinion, urban sprawl is the wrong solution to a problem caused by an unhealthy way of living. You are either just trying to escape from an unpleasant feeling (that you bring with you anyway) or you are addressing the wealth distribution problem the wrong way.

OmCheeto
Gold Member
Its not simple enough to count by money alone or population alone. Think for example of power hungry steel production that has mostly moved to other lands.

In public debates like this one, a frequent error is that some people think only of residential power use, not industrial.
I think I would now fall into the "residential" power use category.

anorlunda
Staff Emeritus
I think I would now fall into the "residential" power use category.

No problem, but here are some rough numbers we can use in future posts.
https://www.eia.gov/electricity/dat...echart&ltype=pin&rtype=s&pin=&rse=0&maptype=0

US Retail sales of electricity by sector 2016.
Residential 33%
Commercial 33%
Industrial 23%
Transportation 10%

The above is only electric. Below is total energy by sector. Note that the electric fraction of total energy below is further delivered to residential/commercial/industrial/transportation as shown above.

For example, online shopping displacing brick and mortar stores (and personal car trips to stores), can have a bigger influence on total energy consumption than residential LEDs + insulation + conservation.

Imagine conversion of transportation to electric, and its impact on the electric sector.

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russ_watters
gmax137
Thanks @anorlunda. That second chart is interesting. I'm having a little trouble with 4% of transport being provided by "renewable energy." What do you suppose that is? There aren't that many sailors, are there?

Ahh maybe ethanol?

anorlunda
Staff Emeritus
Ahh maybe ethanol?

If ethanol is counted as renewable, you may be right.

Mentor
We increased the average lifespan and increased the growing rate of the population? How does that improve our lives? The fact you delay the death of individuals doesn't change anything in the greater scheme of things (it might even be worst if that individual is unhappy).
Really? Please put more effort into making this a productive discussion: State what your opinion is and why. Don't hedge. If you believe longer lifespans are better, then don't argue about something we agree on - don't bait people into arguing against something you don't believe. If you really think longer lifespans are worse, say so clearly and stand by the position: tell me how you are working to implement a shorter lifespan in your own life and how you would enforce shorter lifespans for the general public (because right now people are choosing to live longer, so you would have to force them to live shorter lives). And if that really is your opinion, then you may be right that agreement and even understanding between us is impossible. But if true, I hope at least you realize just how far of an outlier your vision of quality of life (and, similarly, many other issues discussed here) is.

Either way, my main reaction to most of the rest of your post is "he can't be serious, can he?" I'd like to know you are being serious before responding further.

jack action
Gold Member
If you really think longer lifespans are worse, say so clearly and stand by the position: tell me how you are working to implement a shorter lifespan in your own life and how you would enforce shorter lifespans for the general public (because right now people are choosing to live longer, so you would have to force them to live shorter lives).
My point is that shorter or longer, it doesn't matter. So why should anyone be forced to choose either way? I don't mind people doing researches in the domain, just don't tell me that we have to and that our survival (or happiness or whatever) depends on it. If you do it, it is for the fun of learning how life work, to satisfy your curiosity. Don't force me to pay for your work via government subsides either; Convince me to invest in your project. Hey, I'm curious beast too and I will probably participate in some of these adventures, but I can assure you that I will never think I will improve mankind in anyway doing it. It is just some fun to have during our small journey here on this planet.

To bring the point back to the subject of this thread, the same goes for people that want me to believe that an increase in energy consumption is a necessity; It is not. You used the appropriate verb: We choose to do what we do. We don't need it. And when people start crying about some crisis we are in or heading to, well, the first step is to stop what we are doing or at the very least slow down drastically. If people refuse to do that, sorry, but I'm not going to try putting out the fire on one side of the house while someone is deliberating setting it on the other side, claiming he needs the heat. And it won't be my fault if the house burns down, because I did not help putting out the fire. I blame the people refusing to stop setting the fire in the first place.

So, yes, I'm ready to work to find ways to build more efficient machines, just because machines always fascinated me. But if I'm forced to do it because some people think that commuting Paris-Tokyo would be nicer than working across the street or that it would be better if we could get a more efficient car such that we can add a bread maker to it, well, you lost me and I'm losing motivation to do the work. If the same people think we are destroying the Earth at the present time and are pressuring me to work as fast as possible to achieve these goals with less energy requirement than we are taking today, there is no fun anymore and I don't want to play. It will necessarily mean more work for others but, please, don't blame me for it, they chose to do it this way.

In the mean time, I'm not waiting for the rest of the world to join me to start living by my beliefs. Even if I'm the only one and that it won't make a difference in the end, I do what I think is right. And I'm not forcing anyone to join me either: It is anyone's choice and that is OK, because I might be wrong.

Z0dCHiY8
Mentor
My point is that shorter or longer, it doesn't matter. So why should anyone be forced to choose either way?
That entire post is basically just diversionary noise, so I guess I'm out. But in short, here's the reality:
1. Life expectancy is an accepted academic/governmental benchmark for human development/standard of living. Perhaps the most important metric. See, for example, this metric, where it is top-left on the flow chart: http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/human-development-index-hdi

2. Energy use is highly correlated with common development indeces, including life expectancy: http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2013/02/graph-of-day-life-expectancy-vs-energy.html You're aggressively missing the point by focusing on/arguing about small differences (like commute distance) within a first world country while ignoring the massive difference between first and third world countries. You're focusing on the noise and ignoring the signal.

In the future, I please try harder to promote better discussion or don't post in this thread. That means:
1. State your position clearly and stand by it. Don't play devil's advocate just for the sake of arguing. It's impolite to waste other peoples' time chasing your opinion.

2. Put some work into your posts; don't just post a link and ask "what do you think about it?" That's basically requesting an essay from us, without you being specific about your question or showing you've put any effort into understanding what you read on your own. It's impolite to waste other peoples' time when you could have focused the discussion better.

3. Have self-awareness for where your position stands vs what is typical/accepted standard metrics and positions and why. If your position is not mainstream, make an effort to learn why the mainstream is what it is so you can better decide if you may have erred in your position. If you have trouble understanding, ask specific/focused questions.

NTL2009, mheslep and mfb
OmCheeto
Gold Member
From the same source; "...many reports have been produced with contradicting energy balance estimates."

Therefore, I would let the market decide. Nothing writes a valid energy balance like a balanced checkbook.

jim hardy
jack action
Gold Member
1. Life expectancy is an accepted academic/governmental benchmark for human development/standard of living. Perhaps the most important metric. See, for example, this metric, where it is top-left on the flow chart: http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/human-development-index-hdi
The HDI simplifies and captures only part of what human development entails. It does not reflect on inequalities, poverty, human security, empowerment, etc. The HDRO offers the other composite indices as broader proxy on some of the key issues of human development, inequality, gender disparity and poverty.

A fuller picture of a country's level of human development requires analysis of other indicators and information presented in the statistical annex of the report.
If you think a longer life means automatically a better life, You still haven't showed anything to correlate that statement. Personally, I want to see:
• The suicide rate;
• The antidepressant intake;
• Drug, alcohol and gambling addiction numbers;
• The divorce rate;
• How many children drop out of school;
• Working hours (at work and home);
• ...
These are some indicators of the quality of life and there are not even perfect metrics, and they might be interpreted in so many ways by so many people.

Looking at life expectancy for defining what is a better standard of living is like looking at engine displacement to explain power output. There is a lot more to it.
2. Energy use is highly correlated with common development indeces, including life expectancy: http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2013/02/graph-of-day-life-expectancy-vs-energy.html
So working for lengthening life expectancy requires more energy? And you don't think this is relevant to a question about energy crisis, maybe even about destruction of the ecosystem and climate change? That is easy to say we have a better standard of living when you choose to ignore all the possible downsides.

Again, it doesn't mean I want us to set a goal to reduce life expectancy, just that we shouldn't make such a big deal of that metric and concentrate as much energy as we do on it. I think that our definition of "better standard of living" (which I still don't have any official definition for) might need some revision.

To reassure you, I'm even against euthanasia. It is more about a "live and let live" philosophy. I'm tired of people saying life is imperfect, needs to be corrected and it just so happens that it is the responsibility of human kind to do so. I'm not sure we are changing things that much. At best, we are just moving things around.
1. State your position clearly and stand by it.
I think my position is very clear. You are just in shock and can't accept it.
2. Put some work into your posts;
Now I'm the one who is insulted (don't worry, I forgive easily ). I know you read a lot of my posts and you cannot seriously say that. Don't make this personal, stick to arguments.
If your position is not mainstream, make an effort to learn why the mainstream is what it is so you can better decide if you may have erred in your position. If you have trouble understanding, ask specific/focused questions.
I want to learn. Tell me what is the official definition of "better standard of living" and how life expectancy plays a major role in that. Such a big role, that other metrics can be ignored.

Right now, I feel that living longer means you have a better standard of living and that you know you have a better standard of living if you have a longer life. That is kind of a circular definition.
It's impolite to waste other peoples' time chasing your opinion.
It's impolite to waste other peoples' time when you could have focused the discussion better.
I just express my opinion, you choose to waste time replying to me and are not oblige to do so. Don't blame me.

Therefore, I would let the market decide. Nothing writes a valid energy balance like a balanced checkbook.
Depends on the amount of subsidies involved...

mfb
OmCheeto
Gold Member
Depends on the amount of subsidies involved...
According to the New York Times, they ended in 2012. [ref]
Do you have a more recent reference of new subsidies?

went through 5 pages of link headlines, and couldn't find any reliable sources.
Lots of political finger pointing though, as usual.

mheslep
Gold Member
Not an expert on the subject, but I cannot believe that disposing safely of a waste that can be dangerous to life for centuries is easy.
Many (most?) of the non-organic elements in the periodic table, or compounds thereof, are dangerous to life forever, though they nonetheless have many beneficial uses. Mercury. Lead. Arsenic. Cadmium. A good plan then might be to i) carefully contain the lifecycles of these materials when possible, and ii) avoid industries that manipulate materials in the millions of billions of tons per year when possible, which make careful containment difficult or impossible. Global coal production is on the order multi-billion tons per year, with every ton containing its small share of mercury or arsenic or radioactive isotopes, all thrown up the stack of coal plants. Typical nuclear reactors use a couple hundred tons of uranium per year, with only a couple tons/reactor/year containing dangerous wastes.

jack action
mheslep
Gold Member
My point is that shorter or longer, it doesn't matter
Longer lifespans seen in modern, developed countries are highly correlated with much lower fertility rates, i.e. fewer children per family, thus a lower population growth rate, which eventually is better for the environment. That is, women who are in the modern workplace and not carrying wood, water, and washing clothes by hand all day tend not to have 10 children, nor does the modern family clear 50 acres of forest for energy or use the local stream for raw untreated biowaste.

Deliberately_Troy
jack action
Gold Member
@mheslep , I really appreciate your comments about nuclear and they contribute very well to put the nuclear energy generation into a positive light from the point of view of a neophyte like me (although I never been frightened by it either).

But your last comment about longer life expectancy is way too much for my liking:
Longer lifespans seen in modern, developed countries are highly correlated with much lower fertility rates, i.e. fewer children per family, thus a lower population growth rate, which eventually is better for the environment.
Do you seriously link "longer lifespan" to "good for the environment", through lower fertility? Reading this, one could think you want to convince us that having kids is some sort of "error" of nature that needs to be corrected.

The longer lifespan is closely link to the "better standard of living" which is also what lead to the "bad for the environment" habits we have. I seriously doubt one compensate for the other, unless one day the fertility rate goes down enough to decrease the overall population. Which brings so many questions. Is working to have fewer and fewer people that have a better and better standard of living an ideal goal to achieve? Can people having fewer children, possibly none, be considered having a "better standard of living", or are they missing something?
That is, women who are in the modern workplace and not carrying wood, water, and washing clothes by hand all day tend not to have 10 children
Are you seriously linking washing clothes by hand to high fertility? In this case, high fertility is probably link to two things: Lack of contraception & abortion and high occurrence of sexual activity. Because people don't waste time working for such things as contraception and other "better standard of living" concepts, they also have a lot of leisure time (as demonstrated with the links in my previous post) and that most likely leads to more sex (and pregnancy) for people who have nothing else to do.

Which bring us back to what defines "better standard of living": Why do people have less children? Do they live in fear of having too many? Do they have less sexual intercourse? Are they less fertile? And is any of that a positive or negative side of a "better standard of living"?

Mentor
This thread has run its course and is locked. I've been meaning for a while to reboot/refocus/update it, so hopefully this will motivate me to do so....

In the meantime, certain specific topics may be discussed in other threads.

Deliberately_Troy, Wes Tausend, NTL2009 and 1 other person