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Op-ed column: Technology is there

More electric power and use of rails can offset the so-called energy crisis

Mark Wilson/For The Sunday Gazette
Photographer: Mark Wilson/For The Sunday Gazette
Mark Wilson/For The Sunday Gazette
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Those in the “peak oil” camp, who predict that we are about to run out of easily accessible petroleum, warn that the drop in global oil production will bring dire consequences. Writer James Howard Kunstler, and like-minded groups such as the Capital Region Energy Forum, predict the collapse of Western Civilization and the establishment of an “Amish Paradise.” Yet they forget history and underestimate the technology available to sustain our technological civilization. First, much of ...

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July 13, 2008
8:49 a.m.

[ Flag Post ]

Electric power comes from burning dirty coal, valuable natural gas, and nuclear. We don't have the power you are talking about. The electric economy of electric tractors/combines, 18 wheelers, trains, buses, and ships will not be developed due to the enormous and complex infrastructure and very high capital costs at a time when the nation is broke.

Global oil production is now declining, from 85 million barrels per day to 60 million barrels per day by 2015. During the same time demand will increase 14%. This is like a 45% drop in 7 years. No one can reverse this trend, nor can we conserve our way out of this catastrophe. Because the demand for oil is so high, it will always be higher than production; thus the depletion rate will continue until all recoverable oil is extracted.

Alternatives will not even begin to fill the gap. And most alternatives yield electric power, but we need liquid fuels for tractors/combines, 18 wheel trucks, train, and mining equipment.

We are facing the collapse of the highways that depend on diesel trucks for maintenance of bridges, cleaning culverts to avoid road washouts, snow plowing, roadbed and surface repair. When the highways fail, so will the power grid, as highways carry the parts, transformers, steel for pylons, and high tension cables, all from far away. With the highways out, there will be no food coming in from "outside," and without the power grid virtually nothing works, including home heating, pumping of gasoline and diesel, airports, communications, and automated systems.

This is documented in a free 48 page report that can be downloaded, website posted, distributed, and emailed:

I used to live in NH, but moved to a safer place. Anyone interested in relocating to a nice, pretty, sustainable area, good climate with much rain and good soil?

July 13, 2008
3:28 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

Unfortunately, I concur with everythin cj just said.

Mr. Turon is missing several critical insights that cj just mentioned, and is not accounting for the time it takes to get off of oil.

The 2005 Department of Energy Report (now known as the Hirsch Report, after its lead author) points out that we needed to start *at least* twenty years before reaching peak to have the hope of a soft landing. See (PDF warning).

Please, get your facts straight and start getting people ready for a future with very, very expensive energy.


July 14, 2008
3:56 a.m.

[ Flag Post ]


Excellent article. I count myself as being in the "peak oil camp" (end of cheap oil) but I'm a lot less of a "doomer" than some. I absolutely agree with your central premise:
"The goal should be to switch our transportation from being powered by petroleum to electricity"

As Andre says we need at least a twenty year start for a soft landing and I believe we may be in for a bumpy ride. As you point out the peak in natural gas (much of which will need to be imported as LNG at considerable expense) and coal is further away - however there is no room for complacency. I believe it is possible to be optimistic **if** we make a quick and orderly transition from petroleum to electricity. Unfortunately the mainstream debate remains focused on apportioning blame rather than seeking fundamental solutions.

I also note that while America has excellent tide, solar and wind resources they are currently less than 1% of the energy mix when they could be contributing so much more.

Alternative Energy Blog

July 14, 2008
11:42 a.m.

[ Flag Post ]

"Much of technology is based on electricity, not oil! Computers, telecommunications, lights, industrial machinery, household appliances are electric"
True... but how many of these contain plastics? Plastics are made from oil. So we'll be able to run them, but not make them.

July 16, 2008
5:36 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

While I agree about technological fixes being possible, and the crisis having more to do with transport than with oil, I must disagree with Mr Turon in some regards.

Trans-oceanic shipping is NOT energy efficient; efficient per product unit per mile, and efficient for the manufacturer who can displace costs, but globalization does not begin and end with container shipping. Raw materials are transported to manufacturing sites. Finished product are first and last transported via trucks and/or rail to distribution and sub-distribution points. Even the consumer adds to transport system by the drive across the county to the Costco, Walmart and Big Box Retailer.

Globalization works for the manufacturer, but not the consumer as fuel costs inexorably rise. There is a range of economies that begin at 'local' then 'regional' then 'state' and then 'national' which must be maintained but are made dysfunctional by today's 'global' economy. The most energy efficient economies are 'regional' and 'state' because efficiencies are not lost in the costs of transport further distances.

Mr Turan is certainly correct about Plug-in Hybrid vehicle technology. Imagine having a portable power source that may prove invaluable in an emergency, grid failure or (dare I say utility price gouging?), may allow households the means to more carefully monitor electricity consumption and power many household appliances; may create an economic incentive to drive less, patronize local economies whereby in time more destinations become accessable without having to drive and whereby walking, bicycling become a more viable travel option and mass transit more practical to arrange. The plug-in hybrid batteries carefully mounted may lower center-of-gravity to improve stability and handling, perfect for top-heavy, roll-prone SUVs or any car. I wonder if the implementation of plug-in hybrid technology is hindered mainly because their average useful lifespans may exceed 200,000 to 300,000 miles, or that the public will thus be invested in an area's utility grid and have more say over utility costs.