Carbon atom claustrophobia

Dave Riley says the problem is where to put all those carbon atoms where they’ll do the least harm.

We are no longer just talking about whether you can run the air conditioner 24 hours per day or how you plan to heat your bath water but how are you going to afford to live given that food and petrol and water and accommodation are all going up in price.

Given that oil is a commodity whose price is in effect becoming more reflective of its cost there is really no other option than to move to a public transport solution or get energy for transportation from somewhere else — such as turning nutritional calories into biofuel or harvesting natural gas for running internal combustion engines rather than heating. It’s a take from Peter to pay Paul situation.

Makes it all rather claustrophobic doesn’t it? as the world economy closes in on you.

Electric vehicles that are recharged by renewable energy would certainly be one solution, but only a partial one. EVs can’t do everything. Hauling equipment and supplies will still require diesel engines, as does farming. But if less petroleum-based fuels are consumed by all, then that leaves more available for the vehicles that really need it, presumably at a lower price since demand will have dropped. But that is long-term solution, while the squeeze is happening now.

Truckers, especially independents, are definitely feeling the economy closing in.

In real terms, at least 50 percent of truck-generated income is going right back into the fuel tanks. Factor in maintenance, and that bill can approach 75 percent. Thousands of operators have been forced to look for shortcuts, put off critical maintenance procedures, or park their rigs altogether because they cannot earn a living.

Here in California, diesel is now over $5 a gallon. The soaring cost of diesel means higher prices coming for virtually everything. Too few carbon atoms. Too many places that need them.


  1. “Hauling equipment and supplies will still require diesel engines, as does farming.”

    Not entrely true. Tractors can and are converted to use electric motors for farming. As for hauling frieght, railroads are the obvious solution– diesel locos are far more efficient than trucks in terms of tons hauled, and railroads can and are run on electricity.

    Our railway infrastructure is poor these days compared to what it used to be (and compared to what other nations have), but there’s a reason Warren Buffet is investing in UP and BNSF. As for the 6 million-odd people employed in trucking, we’d best get to retraining them to do something else. OTR trucking has been a detour of excess dependent on cheap oil that no longer exists.

  2. Cuba as part of it’s ecological refit has moved over to smaller farms — intensely farmed using permaculture principles and using oxen and horses.

    But we shouldn’t get caught up in tech details as the first and primary shift has to be a larger scale one.

    So whether farms use tractors or not and how they are powered is a bit of a side issue.

    For instance moving a lot of cross country freight from road to rail is do-able in a staged and planned sort of way if there was the will to so proceed. Trucks powered by petroleum products would still be deployed for intra urban haulage during a transitional stage of undetermined length — just as trucks would still be on the highways. So you don’t make a pitch for an absolute solution straightaway because there are a few issues that need to be resolved and re-employing truck drivers is one of them. Rail infrastructure is another.

    But one crucial element that has to be exposed is the actual capital investment & maintenance cost for the highway network compared to that for rail. In effect, along with other factors, thats’ a massive subsidy to the trucking companies and the economic cost (let alone the ecological and social cost) of road freight transport is not being scrutinized.

    So the choice is do you hang out for a half arsed promise of an electric truck, car or tractor solution (powered by what form of electricity?)or do you move resolutely over to less carbon intensive transport means?

    Any “green” and peoples government would address that issue with (a) a program of taking back the rail companies from private corporations and (b) investing massively in public transport infrastructure. To facilitate the commuter shift, public transport could offer free fares so that theres’ less to compete from the private sedan option.

    If you do it another way — it cannot be done. How’s the market going to format that sort of transition? Instead of building cars in Detroit you do what they did in WWII and turn production over to weapons in the war on carbon: rail rolling stock, wind farm hardware, etc.

    In 1943 — I think it was — one estimate had it that only 150 – or so private motor cars were produced in the USA. as everything was geared to the war effort.

    Proof positive: you can retool the economy in an emergency and this is an emergency.

    However, I think you’ll find that the major agricultural outputs that contribute to climate change are not tractors but industry aspects such as cotton growing, rice farming, beef and sheep grazing. Thats’ the case here in Australia with beef cattle being the main culprit because ruminants produce methane related gas big time (as rice paddies do in Asia).

    That proportion of your total climate change gas is surely logged somewhere but for Australia agriculture produces more climate change gases than transport due to whats’ farmed and how. But the big issue is stand alone energy production and not the internal combustion engine.

    The way it’s panning out now the oil price rises are a text book exercise in the market driven economy. Petrol price controls — taking whatever form — while an anathema to economic rationalism — won’t address the underlying carbon pathology. So I think a crisis is looming much faster in our social relations long before the ecological issues kick in further because ours is also a food crisis as food price rises seem to be now in sync with oil issues just as climate change is impacting so disastrously first up in the Third World (witness Haiti).

    So while the primary ecological issue may be energy production maybe it’s food price and food supply that will drive the crisis on a massive scale both in the Third and First Wolrds.

  3. Ironically, the transportation shift Dave describes– and says the market can’t accomplish– has already begun. The mechanics are simple: as the price of fuel rises, OTR trucks can no longer compete with rail. This has already begun. As rail becomes more profitable, private corporations WILL increase rail infrastructure. If the government assists oin creating that infrastructure, so much the better.

    As for that massive highway subsidy, guess how they sold that? National security. Yes, President Dwight D. Eisenhower (based on his experience with a trying cross-country military convoy in the early 1920s) agrued that high-speed, reliable interstates were essential for national defense. In the process, he changed the face of the nation, creating suburbs, destroying the rail industry by effectively subsidizing trucking, and making us the nation of the private automobile. For better or for worse, Eisenhower left more of a mark on the U.S. than any other president of the 20th century.

    The effect of the food crisis will be interesting, because global economists (surprise) prescribe exactly the opposite solution from what Dave does: throw the small farmers off their farms and make BIGGER, corporate-run farms. Typically, though, larger farms, though more profitable, are less eco-friendly. A homestead or community beef or rice or vegetable farm typically produces much less methane per pound of product than a factory farm– though clearly none are methane-free. Plus the economic impact of this policy is frightening, increasing poverty and (surprise) creating a vast pool of unemployed people begging to work in factories.

    I’m shocked at how often I hear this corporate globalization policy touted, even on NPR, as the solution not only to the current food crisis but to the population explosion. Sounds to me like Capitalism meets Soviet Marxism.

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