Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Can we have an Oil-less Society?

Quite simply no. Oil is used to make plastic, tires, roads, pesticides, and fertilizer.

The good news is that we are not running out of oil. We are running out of cheap oil. We will need oil for the forseeable future, what societies need to do is remove oil usage from our trucks and cars, and possibly our planes and ships.

It can be done with current levels of technology. But it will take immense work on the part of governments everywhere.

Our final goal as developed nations should be societies that get their power from renewable resources like wind and sun, and we should charge our cars with electricity from these renewable resources, charging from our homes and community chargers. It's really the only way.

Fission isn't the solution. Hydroelectric isn't the solution, though we should continue to depend on those sources, just not build anymore. Natural gas isn't the solution because like oil it will soon have a peak production point. Coal isn't the solution because it will increase global warming.

Essentially western governments knew of this coming (now arrived)dilemma. They chose another route, a route that consisted of militarily taking over most of the oil producing areas of the world. This route it turned out is in fact the more costly route. Oil production has fallen considerably in the Middle East since the Iraq invasion.

The above scenario I laid out with renewable energy sources creating power for society still has oil in it. It's just that the oil consumption is much lower. Trucks may still run on oil, I just don't have the information yet as to whether or not ethanol based fuel can be used to run them. But with current technology we can take oil out of the commuter's hands, and give it to the truck driver, the farmer, and the industrialist. It has to be done. It will mean the end of the car as we know it, the end to the rumble we are used to of an engine starting in our driveway and an end to the familiar smell of burning gasoline. But these smells and sensations end in every other scenario as well, where gasoline is so expensive no one can afford it.

I think there is a slight chance that the market will work in such a way as to force consumers into electric cars. But companies are run by humans, and humans make mistakes. General Motors in the face of peak oil has just released brand new full size SUVs and pickups for the US market. It is this insanity that makes me realize that government will have to step in at some point and guide wayward corporations to profitability through either a bail out, or laws mandating certain types of production.

Now all that's left is for brave leaders to step forward and give the finger to the oil industry, and start courting the power industry as its replacement.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A New Look at the Car in Europe

I wrote a few days ago about a trip I took to the town of Cambridge, north of London, home of the esteemed University of Cambridge. I experienced small town gridlock traffic coming from parents dropping their children off at school, or commuting to the town center to their jobs. There was a great deal of bicycle usage and walking, but still there were a lot of cars, and few busses or taxis.

I think that high oil prices are going to have a larger effect on Europeans then I realized. It won't be as dramatic an effect as in America where it is typical to drive five minutes alone in your vehicle and whole cities are built without sidewalks, but their will be an effect. Now that Peak Oil is undoubtedly here the entire world is going to undergo a fantastic transformation that will probably make life harder for the vast majority of earth's inhabitants.

I think the future of the car is going to be one of a borderline luxury. What I mean by this is that very short travel, such as less than two miles will always be by bicycle or walking, at least in Europe. A car will be for commutes only, and occasionally for trips. Long trips will be the domain of trains and airplanes, but more and more trains since those run on electricity and will be less affected by higher gasoline prices.

I think also that many people will see the car as a weekend fun toy, as many Americans view the motorcycle now. Because of that I think we will see a lot of people in the western hemisphere purchasing sports cars that they will use solely on the weekends, and then perhaps a small people mover for everyday usage, or rely on walking during the week, and use the sports car for fun on the weekends.

I looked on various Japanese importer websites today at used Mazda 3rd generation RX-7s for the UK and many were selling for under 9k sterling. To run such a car everyday would be outrageously expensive, especially since a rotary engine is not fuel efficient in the slightest, but to have one for the weekends when roads are clear is a great idea.

You have to ask yourself, do I want a low quality lifestyle with abundant resources, or a high quality lifestyle with less resources. Do I want a lot of average things, or do I want a few good things? The future of human consumption is the latter whether you like it or not. How humanity will react to that is the issue.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Quick Cuts

Automotive News has some good articles this week concerning the state of the industry. Remember, these articles require subscription. I will highlight quotes from them though:

American market turning into European market--

GM Vice Chairman Robert Lutz says higher fuel prices, if sustained, inevitably would push Americans toward smaller cars.

"If U.S. fuel prices start equaling fuel prices in Europe, we will have the same vehicle type over time that Europe does - a very large B-class at the bottom with the vast majority of people driving Cobalt-sized cars," Lutz said in an interview at the Frankfurt auto show.

"Fuel prices would have to go to European levels for that to happen. If it stays (in the $3 to $4 per gallon range) it will result in some market shift. It has to."

Ford realizes that design is more important than subtle improvements--

Despite improvements in noise, ride and handling, a new interior and a fold-flat third-row seat, Freestar sales have been dismal. One reason: The exterior is virtually undistinguishable from the old Windstar it replaced.

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