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Sunday, September 04, 2005

Maybe higher gas prices are exactly what we need

Note: I know it's a little long, but I recommend reading this entire post if you've got the time.

Maybe this is blasphemy, but I'm not so sure that higher gas prices are a bad thing. I know that the price spike affects virtually every aspect of modern convenience, boosting the transportation costs of food and other products, but it could be what is needed to force what I'm going to call "gas reform". It should probably be "fuel efficency reform with an emphasis on the research of renewable energy sources", but that's a little long.

It's kind of like tort reform, but everybody wins. Well, at least in the long run.

Right now America has a bad habit of carelessly guzzling gasoline. Increased fuel prices force a change in habits. In manufacturing habits, in buying habits, in driving habits.

From "Gas prices too high? Try Europe" in the Christian Science Monitor:

"Societies adjust over decades to higher fuel prices," says Jos Dings, head of Transport and Energy, a coalition of European environmental NGOs. "They find many mechanisms."

Chief among them, say experts, is the habit of driving smaller and more fuel-efficient cars. While the average light duty vehicle on US highways gets 21.6 miles per gallon (m.p.g.), according to a study by the Paris based International Energy Agency (IEA), in Paris, its European counterpart manages 32.1 m.p.g.

"European consumers are very sensitive to fuel economy and sophisticated about engine options," says Lew Fulton, a transport analyst with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). "European car magazines are full of comparisons of fuel costs over the life of a vehicle."

When demand changes, manufacturers need to deliver. The Detroit-based auto makers will be forced to produce smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles that exceed the fuel-efficency of today's hybrids and rival luxury cars with their comfort and style. The first step: don't make hybrid cars so damn ugly. The Honda Civic hybrid (Japanese, of course) is a good start. American auto makers aren't making more fuel-efficient vehicles because they don't have to.

Higher gas prices should also make cash-conscious drivers drive more slowly and safely.

"There is really good evidence that higher prices reduce traffic," says Stephen Glaister, a professor of transportation at London's Imperial College. "If fuel prices go up 10 percent ... fuel consumed goes down by about 7 percent, as people start to use fuel more efficiently, not accelerating so aggressively and switching to more fuel-efficient cars. It does change people's behavior."

The US authorities, however, "are unwilling to use resource price as part of their strategy" to conserve oil, says Lee Schipper, head of transportation research at the Washington-based World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank.

"The biggest hole in our policy today is fuel taxation," he adds. "Tax increases are something Americans should do but don't know how to do, and I wonder if they will ever be able to.

Some additional thoughts:

The gas tax holiday for Wisconsin is a bad idea. It'll save individuals a couple bucks and cost the state millions that could and should be used for other things, such as education. See previous post: Treating what's ailing Wisconsin

Hydrogen cars are the stupidest idea ever. Hydrogen is essentially a battery. It can't be harvested, it has to be created in process that splits the hydrogen from oxygen in a water molecule. For the process to occur, it has to be powered by electricity. How do we get electricity? From fossil fuels, such as coal and gasoline. That should probably proceed any article on the future of hydrogen cars, yeah? Oh, and it's expensive as hell.

The same thing goes for Ethanol. It's made from corn... great! Except that to grow corn you need to transport fertilizer and water. You've got to use machines to plant and harvest... machines that run on gasoline. And you've got to run a refinery to extract the ethanol from the corn. A refinery that, unless there's some new technology I'm not aware of, will run on electricity. And not electricity produced by wind turbines. In total, you're using a lot more energy to create the ethanol than you'll ever get from the final product.

Really, it doesn't help anyone except subsidy-receiving farmers. So, how about taking those subsidies and spending that money on education so that someone in state government can think to call someone who knows something about science and maybe create some public policy that actually helps people.

And well we're at it, maybe someone could tell a reporter to ask a couple questions when they're doing stories on renewable energy because we all know that these blog things are just a fad anyway


Blogger --DoinkMan said...

Good post!

I tend to agree on most points.

I think though, you are being a bit too dismissal on biofuels. Ethanol has it's problems but continuing down our current energy path has the same problems magnified. Biodiesel, espcially if we nail down how to harvest it from algae, has the most promise in the short term.. but like everything it has not yet been proven it can scale up to create any sort of sizable impact.

So right now, efficiency is our best bet.

9/09/2005 09:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too bad Canada's Diesel Smart car can't be owned south of the border. It would be just the ticket for errands around town or the daily commute to catch my train...
Joe - outside Boston

9/10/2005 07:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't argue with the concept that higher prices will push better efficiency and different consumption behaviors in people. Being a very much capitalistic society in the US I think that higher prices is the only way we will ever get away from fossil fuel.

Now - as for ethanol being inefficient - not really. Yes, you burn a bunch of fuel to produce it. You also burn a huge amount of oil as you refine and transport crude oil into gasoline that you pump into your tank. The notion that ethanol uses more energy than it produces is based on a flawed study - that conveniently did not do a comparison to fossil fuel using the same methodology. Unfortunately the follow ups did not get as much publicity as the original study that has now become an urban legend.

9/12/2005 07:42:00 AM  
Blogger Mikhaël Bélanger said...

I agree. Higher gaz prices is a slap in the face that we badly need, or at least the ones that didnt care about gaz before it happened.

One thing, I am not an expert on Ethanol but I do know we cannot crop enough corn to supply everyone...

But Hydrogene, now I do not think you are correct. Yes it takes electricity, but I live in Quebec... We use hydroelectricity here and we have a ton of it. And if you read a lot of Wired's stories, you will learn that nuclear fission (not the experimental fusion) can now be ultra effecient and aside from the radioactive waste, does not make any harm to the environment.

And as for cars, look for GM's "one single engine for multiple cars" idea. Very smart.

I think in the next years, hybrids will be a first step, and Hydrogene will kick in for transport. The electricity will probably be provided by nuclear, hydroelectrity, solar and wind turbines... As for Hydrogene, well.... 98% of universe is made of it I think.

9/14/2005 02:26:00 PM  
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10/04/2005 02:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While your busy suggesting that some politicians get educated, maybe you can learn to spell - or at least use your spell checker :)

12/27/2005 01:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As one anomynous to another: never mind spelling ... while your busy, I mean "while you're busy", go back to school for punctuation lessons.

12/28/2005 04:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Burn :)

12/28/2005 05:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Higher gas prices is only a good thing if you ignore their effect on everything else. Inflation, interest rate hikes, recession. That's the problem with such narrow mindedness. Cause and effect. Just do your part. If that requires political change, then vote. If that requires change in your habits, then do it. But don't forget about the Mexicans, the Chinese, the Indians, the Russians, the South American's cutting down rain forest. All of this has an affect.

6/06/2006 08:08:00 PM  
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