Some observers of the American culture are expressing their concerns about the economy, the energy crunch and people’s reactions to it. While every reader here is getting the problem and viewing and learning about what can and needs done the cultural observers have a valid point – can we expect that the disinterested and purposefully ignorant will adapt and allow the economy and culture to evolve to a better state?

The worry is based in the financial elasticity that is available to most of the American population to pay the increased costs for energy and fuel supplies. While just off the cuff we’re thinking “sure,” but overlooking the portion that can not and the services we pay for supporting them through government programs that are sure to increase in cost. One such in the halls of Congress right now proposes to give back some money already “collected” and returned by the gracious attention of the government or more truthfully just money that will be borrowed from the future.

One theme is that the impacts from the volatile market of oil have had a shocking effect on a larger part of the population than a slow and gradual move. The gyrations up and down over the top 1/3 of the price of gasoline are a distinct alarm that has gone off more than once. The professional expectation is the effect will make an incentive to reduce energy and fuel consumption, however the confidence is low that the lesson will stick. Some believe the participants in the economy will need two or more years of shocks and higher spikes.

For some that chose to consume transport fuels by ever increasingly fuel efficient vehicles are very hard to impress, and justifiably so. In another view, that light truck SUV owner that has the money for big fuel bills may still see the vehicle and the fuel consumption as a way to prove that living large is satisfying their ego. Another view based in the results of counted traffic shows that many have just reduced the travel, much to the concern of the authorities that collect tolls, as the revenues have started to fall. Still another is the drop in sales and the consequences to manufacturers and the union members and stockholders who hooked their futures to the big SUV and pickup market to make the profits.

With only the experience of the Arab oil embargoes during the 1970s for a guide, when the shortages were forced and quickly followed by abundance, there really isn’t any guide to anticipate what might happen to the people’s behavior in the economy. One expectation remains solid in the analysts minds, Americans are not simply going to drive less, even the face of reduced car counts across the toll way booths. My . . . Is there a dichotomy in such thinking?

The problem isn’t that there isn’t enough oil or coal. The problem is its used up faster than it can be found and produced. As the world economy improves more people will be able to afford some ancient solar energy saved in oil or coal in their economic diet and the pace at which ancient fuel is used can only be by the price mechanism as organizing a world wide rationing system is a true fool’s idea.

More alarming yet is the prolific oil explorers and producers are almost out of the business of discovery. The worlds free and most innovative organizations, with firm roots in an economy of markets and innovation are excluded from most of the resources. They are replaced by oil organizations that answer not to markets but to policy demands of a wide range of unsavory governments whose charge is not to respond to markets but rather to maximize cash income for social peacekeeping and personal wealth. In a situation where the supply is not meeting demand, the rising price spiral is just getting going. Man burns through about 1,000 barrels of oil a second and the market pressure hasn’t noticeably lessened.

As the buyer pressure increases and if supply cannot meet the demand prices rise leaving some at the bottom rungs of the world economy without. The thought that “price mechanism” isn’t fair will become more widespread endangering the market itself. The fact isn’t about fairness driving the anger, its that the wealthy end of the market continues to waste prodigiously. The choice to share change is the only path that can introduce adaptation at low emotional levels, not to do so can lead to breakups of society and civil controls. It may be quite dangerous to be a profligate user of fuels soon.

The obvious answers are to displace the fossil fuels with other sources and to increase the efficiency of the tools using fuels.

The gorilla in the room is transport fuels. Oil for transport such as personal vehicles, commercial transport and air transport use about half of world oil production and is about 2/3s of U.S. oil use. Over the coming months, the summer oil use pattern will likely push prices higher again, so its important to grasp what are the parts of the problem and the solutions to affect the personal choices, commercial decisions and government policies to answer the coming changes.

Energy, what we want when we buy fuels and what get when we use fuels only comes from four base sources. Solar radiation is available both from the past as with oil, gas and coal, and currently as with thermal and photovoltaic collectors. Geothermal from radioactive decay and gravitational pressure is available many places on the planet. Man can make Einstein’s E=MC2 release energy from fission atomic reactions and from fusion of the nucleus. This fact leads to one goal, the most efficient and lowest cost ways to gather, harvest and collect these sources and save the energy efficiently into storage such as fuels or electrical potential in a battery or a compressed air spring deep in the earth or any good efficient or economically viable idea that can be invented. That’s when there is something to sell, the front half of getting abundant and low cost energy for people to use.

The other half is in the use of the stored energy. At this juncture, there are two recognized and readily exploitable ways to use fuels and stored energy potential. They are making heat, turning it into work, and turn electrical potential into work. Some of today’s tools are just appallingly inefficient. A modern automobile at maybe up to 20% efficient is still dumping 80% of the energy into the atmosphere. The internal combustion engine compared to a furnace that can be 95% efficient or better, or a heat pump that can be far more that 100% efficient, should have condemned the internal combustion engine to history decades ago. This observation illustrates the goal that more efficient working tools are this half’s primary goal.

While seemingly a gross simplification of “two halves” the facts are clear. There are steps in the paths of each and the unknowns are a wealth of discoveries to be made and untold opportunities for those who find and exploit them.

In the course of your conversations, teaching and guidance, or when you consider the purchase or investment of fuels, energy and the tools to use them, or listen to the commentary of reporters, writers, pundits and politicians, you have the fundamentals in mind – you can say “I get it!”

The other point is “Can You Keep It?” Well, literally, of course. More on point is to say “Will we be able to get to the next stage of an economy where the abundance of energy is exploited efficiently and cheaply” That depends on all of us helping others to “get it” and enable them to pay it forward, too.

In a more aggressive stance, one could say, “I mean to get it.” For that most people have to grasp the stages of gathering energy -> on to storage -> sales and then -> use. For the investor-producer the product to market is the key question. For the buyer-consumer the tools to choose are the keys to getting the maximum work for the money invested and spent for an energy product. It is very simple after all. But when you read some of the pontifications, or listen to the wild solutions offered by politicians its easy to get very lost. Your job, if you care to accept it, is to help others get the basics and apply them to their choices, votes and purchase decisions. The more that takes place the faster we’ll get to a higher and more affordable standard of living for all of humankind.

It is one of the most exciting times possible to be alive. The roles of coal, oil and electrification have had on developing humankind’s potential has been astonishing. The winding up of the fossil fuel age is a welcome event. It will be changed out, and to do that with the maximum of opportunity for everyone possible is the guiding principle I hope we all can adopt.


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