Archive for July, 2008

Oil makes you stupid. . . news at 11

I knew that there were a lot of chemicals that when ingested could make you stupid.  Drugs, sure.  Lead and mercury, definitely.  But apparently even thinking about oil makes people stupid.  Consider the following:

For weeks, republicans have been pushing the idea that either a) the Cubans are drilling in Cuban waters off the coast of Florida; or b) that the Chinese are drilling for oil in Cuban waters off the coast of Florida.  The only problem of course is that this is demonstrably false.

More recently, republicans have started talking up the idea that off shore drilling is much safer than it used to be, and that during hurricanes Rita and Katrina, there were no oil spills.  Except, um, that’s not really true either.

And then yesterday, Bush lifted the executive coastal drilling ban put in place by his father.  According to the NY Times, he said:

“With this action, the executive branch’s restrictions on this exploration have been cleared away,” he said Monday. “This means that the only thing standing between the American people and these vast oil resources is action from the U.S. Congress.”

And, yeah, in case you were wondering, this is also not true:

  1. Oil companies already have drilling rights and leases on large amounts of land that they are not currently drilling under.  Allowing them to drill off shore does not mean that they necessarily will
  2. Development of the drilling sites is 10 years away.  So the soonest the oil would have an effect on supply is 2018.
  3. The amount of oil that we are talking about is relatively small.  While there are a lot of estimates about the totals, the key is the daily amount.  Putting this into perspective, the world uses about 74 million barrels a day of oil (about 84 million barrels of oil plus oil equivalents).  The US uses a quarter of that – around 21 million barrels per day.  At it’s peak, most estimates I’ve seen are that off shore drilling plus drilling in the ANWR would generate about 250,000 barrels per day – a mere drop in the bucket.  If you consider the amount the US and the world are projected to use by 2018 (assuming unrestricted supply), you find that all of that drilling is estimated to reduce the price of oil by a few dollars per barrel.
  4. Finally, over the next 20 to 40 years, the US is (or more to the point, should be) committed to using less oil.  The current G8 targets are to cut CO2 emissions by 50% over the next 40 years.  That seems to imply that we need to be using much less oil than we are now – starting very soon.  Far be it from me to suggest that the selection of CO2 targets was disingenuous, so taking these folks at their word, we should skip the drilling and start working on the alternatives.

I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised that discussing oil brings out the stupid.  It’s a very touchy subject in the US.  I came across one good reason for this in Kevin Phillips’s two recent books: “American Theocracy” and “Bad Money.”  Phillips notes that in the same way that knowledge and use of coal was the key to the British empire and knowledge and use of wind was the key to the Dutch empire before that,  the key to US power is the knowledge and use of oil.  So any discussion of using less oil or not having enough oil, strikes directly at the heart of US power.

However, oil is a finite resource.  If the US wants to retain its power in the second half of the 21st century, we need learn to use other, renewable sources of energy, and the continued focus on maintaining cheap oil supplies are not going to help.

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Happy 4th of July

I hope everyone’s having a great 4th of July (at least those of us in the States, folks from other countries can be forgiven for not thinking too much of it).

July 4th, along with Thanksgiving, is one of my favourite holidays.  That may surprise some folks.  It’s not like the house is decorated in red, white and blue.  I’m not wearing a flag pin, the Pledge of Allegiance makes me uncomfortable and I’m not that into fireworks.  But external trappings aside, I consider myself to be a very patriotic person.  I just don’t define patriotism as being synonymous with “flag waving.”

Patriotism to me is not about loving your flag, or thinking that your country can do no wrong.  To me, patriotism is the love of the ideals that founded the country.  Thinking that your country can do no wrong or that you should love the flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance is no more than nationalism.  If you had been born in any other country, you would be equally “patriotic” to that nation.  The United States was not born from such nationalism, instead we were founded with a belief in 18th century enlightenment values.  The first paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence are filled with such ideals:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

As a country, we have not always lived up to these ideals, but it is the ideals themselves and not the trappings that are important.  This is the reason that the president is subject to the rule of law.  This is the reason that criticism of the government is a patriotic act and that refraining from such criticism when justified is an act of cowardice.  It is only when citizens criticize and elected officials act on such criticisms that the country can improve and come closer to the ideals that we were founded upon.

Have a happy 4th of July.

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