Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

21 November 2008

Am I Happy?

To quote an spunky politician who recently garnered 14:59 of fame, "You betcha!"

In my previous post, I noted how low gas prices have gone. I suggested that one way of spurring the economy would be to find a way to keep those prices low. It has certainly cut my commuting costs, which puts real money in my pocket...money I can spend on other things besides gasoline.

As I predicted, gas prices have continued to fall. This is what I saw today. Even premium is under $2.00 per gallon!

So Matthew commented:
"...Striving for cheap gas prices is horribly short-sighted -- ignoring issues and challenges like environmental damage, community health, urban planning, technological innovation and alternative energy, and the long-term prospects of our reliance on what really is a horrible source of energy."

For starters, I do not agree that petroleum is a horrible source of energy. Of all the things that cars, buses and aeroplanes could have been powered by (e.g. coal, wood, hydrogen, etc.) petroleum is a wonderfully efficient source of energy. In over 100 years, we have not found anything as good. Now, if Matthew wants to take the Al Gore view that the internal-combustion engine and everything it powers (including our personal vehicles and how we use them) is "evil" or something, well, he is entitled to his opinion. It is one I do not share.

Cars of today are amazingly "clean" in terms of the amount of pollution they produce. But yes, of course we need to find an alternative - if you believe we are "running out" of oil, that is.

I flew an "oil guy" recently. Admittedly, he is no more of an expert on oil than anyone else on the planet, but he is in the business (president of a small oil company), which is more than I can say. I asked him about this peak oil theory. He waved his hand dismissively. "Oh, there may very well be more peaks in the future."

This was news to me. Like a lot of people, I thought that oil was the byproduct of dead dinosaurs or something, and that all the oil that's ever been made is all the oil that's ever going to be made. Finite resource, in other words.


Turns out that oil has been discovered in places that were thought to be nearly depleted, like certain Gulf of Mexico oil fields (see this article). The theory is that the planet is continuing to make oil.

Also, as seismic technology improves, we'll be able to find more oil that was heretofore undetected. Finally, as drilling and production technology improves, we'll be able to extract oil from areas that were previously thought to be uneconomically feasible.

So. Do I think that oil is going to "run out?" No.

But more than that, technology will advance; it does not stand still. I do not believe that everything that's going to be invented already has been invented. In time, some other power source for personal transportation devices will be found and developed. Or maybe we'll find a way of burning salt water like inventor John Kanzius is trying to do.

In the meantime, we're stuck with cars and airplanes (and helicopters) powered by fossil fueled, internal-combustion engines. There in no mass-transit in Smalltown, America. My job is such that I cannot car-pool to work. This is not our fault - meaning you and me, the general public. I don't think it's fair that we should be penalized for it. This is what we've been given to work with. Having said that, I'd like gasoline to be as cheap as possible for as long as possible. I don't care about other nations where consumers pay exhorbitant gasoline prices. Apples to apples, please.

Short-term, getting the U.S. economy to recover will depend a lot on those of us who still have jobs spending and investing the money we earn. My boss asked the other day if I felt confident enough to buy a new car right now? I said, "Sure! It just wouldn't be a Chrysler, Ford or GM vehicle...and even if it were I sure wouldn't spring for the factory extended warranty."

But I'm not in the market for a new car; the old Grand Cherokee soldiers on acceptably well, carrying everything I need either inside or on the roof or behind in a trailer. (Try that in your Prius or Yarus or Honda Fit!) And the VW Camper will soon get its new engine. And next summer, if gasoline is still under $2.00 per gallon, I may take off and do some of those trips I've been planning since I was a kid.

Am I happy? Oh hell yeah!


Redlefty said...

For me it's not really the cleanliness or abundance of the energy that bothers me -- it's the source.

Back in the 60s we imported less than 20% of our oil. Today we import more than 70%. We could really use those dollars here, and alternatives like natural gas (also clean and abundant, but with the advantage of being within our borders) would do that.

I will admit it bothers me that our consumption economy is driven by energy purchases from countries we're at war with! Al Gore's trifecta plan of improving energy/security/economy by alternative fuels may be idealistic, especially give his timeframe goals, but I think his points are valid.

In the meantime, I sincerely hope your enjoy every minute of your travels!

Hal Johnson said...

So, do ya have peace signs and flowers on that VW van?

Bob Koford said...



Bob Barbanes said...

I agree with you Michael, but what are we average Americans supposed to do? Every president since Nixon has said that we should reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But look how far we haven't come!

This tells me that: a) It's not as easy as it might sound in theory; and/or b) maybe we (as a country) don't really want* to do it.

Troubling for us citizens is the fact that we don't know what our personal energy costs are going to be; we cannot plan. Gasoline might be $1.00/gallon by the end of the year, and in 2009 it might spike up to $4.00 again. It is this instability and uncertainty that makes us all nervous. In the meantime, I'll unapologetically take advantage of the low prices. Maybe even the president after Obama will pledge to end our dependence on foreign oil too.

Hal, my bus is a watercooled '85. It's really a generation beyond the decrepit hippie buses of the '60s, and is only related to them in spirit. Not to mention that *I* was only a baby helicopter pilot in the '60s. So while it may actually have peace signs on it (a noble and worthy goal), I don't think there'll be any flowers. No girly-van, this.

Bob said...

Glad you're happy, Bob B. The energy situation is complicated but I know I am HAPPY like you when I fill up my tank these days!

Matthew said...

It's not that oil as a fuel source is "evil," which I never said, but that it's a horrible idea:

"We have this amazing fuel to power all your vehicles! All we have to do is suck it out of the ground -- the more we suck out, however, the more we'll have to drill in deeper or awkward places. Oh, and we have to transport all the oil we extract to refineries so it can be processed into gasoline -- doing that ironically requires the use of gasoline. Convenient! Oh yeah, and when you drive your cars with it it creates a gaseous waste that we can't breathe, but it floats up into the air and shouldn't bother anybody."

You said, "In over 100 years, we have not found anything as good." But I look at it at a slightly different angle, in that in over 100 years we were unable to find anything better. That disappoints me.

It's not that me or Al Gore think that petroleum or the internal combustion engine are evil -- it's contributed greatly to the advancement of us humans -- but that we won't be able to continue the way we have forever.

Oil may indeed never run out, but that doesn't mean it's renewable. If we suck oil out of the ground faster than the Earth can produce more of it (it's a slow process), then for all intents and purposes oil is finite.

In 2 consecutive paragraphs you go from claiming that "technology will advance" to admitting that "we're stuck with cars and airplanes." This kind of status quo thinking is precisely what keeps the technology from advancing, because there is no demand for something else. We keep paying for gasoline and thinking, "Oh, someone will come up with something better sometime soon," but where is the incentive if we're all at the gas station pumping away with smiles on our faces?

It seems you actually enjoy using petroleum, and by your own admission you're happy filling up your tank. I, personally, am not.

Bob Barbanes said...

That's great, Matthew. What's your alternative? I mean right now, today. You know, for those of us who don't happen to be automotive engineers and have to buy gasoline to get to work.

It's wonderful that you can be so angry at petroleum and those who use it. I'd be happy to buy an electric car to replace the Jeep - *if* it had the same capabilities in range and load-carrying. Oh wait, ONE DOESN'T EXIST. (Then again, even with an electric car, there's a smokestack somewhere!)

And yes, I do enjoy using petroleum products. They make my life easy and fun, and I suffer no shame or guilt as evidently you do. Please don't lecture me about how terrible the use of fossil fuels is. Here in the U.S. we work with what we've got. What do you guys use to power your vehicles up there in Canadia? Where do you guys get your gasoline from?

I do believe that technology will advance eventually - that man, with our God-given brains and intellect will come through with a viable solution to the "petroleum problem."

But if the various governments and companies with the best/brightest of the world have not come up with a replacement for the internal combustion engine by now (it's not for lack of trying!), then I'd say yeah, we're "stuck" with it for the time being.

And by the way Matthew, oil is not trucked *to* the refineries. It is pumped there in pipelines. Pipelines also then take most of the refined oil (e.g. gasoline) to distribution centers, where trucks powered by diesel engines (not gasoline) take it the rest of the way.

It'll all work out for the best, Matthew. Just have a little faith in those scientists.

Matthew said...

I'm not "angry" at oil or the people who use it. Frustrated, sure, but not angry.

I'm frustrated because there are great technological innovations in the works (bio-diesel, hybrid engines, electric cars, hydrogen fuel cells, etc.) as well as feasible societal changes (smarter urban planning, better mass transit, etc.) and nobody is seemingly interested in adopting them.

It's the same old refrain: governments and corporations will come up with something. Well, what a sudden and convenient trust we're placing in the institutions we normally talk about through clenched teeth! We don't tend to think that government or big business is competent at very much, but on this one thing they'll somehow come through for us. It's passing the buck.

The common response is, "Why should we (the people) have to do anything about this? It's not our fault!" Well, no, it's nobody's fault per se. But just because something is not your fault, doesn't mean there's nothing you can do about it, and it doesn't mean you share no personal responsibility.

If you were walking down the street and came across a house going up in flames and you heard a baby crying from inside, would you go in and rescue the child? Or would you shrug and say, "Well, I didn't start the fire, now did I?"

At some point we need to suck it up, move beyond the hang-up that we are not solely responsible for the problem, and realize that we can be partly responsible for the solution.

What do I do, personally? I walk, ride my bike, and take public transit whenever possible. If I do take a car, I try to avoid riding alone. I don't own a car. I live close to where I work and avoid ridiculous commutes. I avoid the suburbs. I tailor my lifestyle to what I believe is tenable.

Granted, not everybody can take the same measures I do. Some people live in rural areas, and others, like you, fly helicopters. But even little things can help: don't idle your engine, check your tire pressure, experiment with hypermiling, make your own bio-diesel, and so on. It all helps.

I'm obviously not going to stop anybody from driving their car if that's what they want (or need) to do. And that's fine by me.

Just please don't tell me that "technology will advance eventually," when it's obvious (by your exuberantly happy post on low gas prices and your use of the term "petroleum problem" in quotes) that you neither care if, nor expect, it will happen.

Enjoy your Jeep!

Matthew said...

Sorry that last comment got so long -- I just love a good discussion!