Energy conservation is not a solution

by Rocket Finance

Don’t get me wrong. Energy conservation is a smart way to save money as an individual or family. Furthermore, I would even go so far as to say that if you don’t try to find ways to conserve your own personal energy use, you are foolhardy and frivolous.

At the same time, energy conservation is not a solution to our national energy crisis. Conservation only delays the inevitable. It preserves the current state of energy usage, but does not move mankind forward. Progress requires energy and progress is the only way that we will find ways to use less energy as well as find new sources of energy. Most homes and cars and factories and farms today are more energy efficient than those of 25 or 50 years ago, but the technological advancements that brought about increased efficiency required research, development, experimentation, funding and market forces – all of which require energy.

Energy conservation can never really reduce the amount of energy that we use – except on a personal level. On a national or international level, energy use is constantly increasing and always will. Our population is growing and more importantly, mankind’s standard of living around the globe is increasing rapidly. People who used to ride bicycles in China and India are now driving cars. Africans who once lived in huts are now dwelling in buildings with electricity and running water.

Energy conservation is a good personal habit to help your bottom line, but the only way that conservation will result in less energy usage is if progress comes to a halt.

I am not suffering under the delusion that fossil fuels are the long-term answer to our energy crisis. It is clear that we must pursue all forms of alternate energy. However, the short-term free flow of fossil fuel will help to facilitate progress. Progress combined with the free market will move us closer to alternative fuel sources.

Some may ask, why is the free market a part of the solution? The answer is that the free market is more efficient than the unwieldy government bureaucracy. Many companies take risks to develop an alternate fuel source that might supplant oil or natural gas. A natural result of such risk is that the market will discard failed ideas. For instance, the government has started to market ethanol as an alternate energy source. On paper, ethanol sounds like a great idea, however, we have now learned that there are numerous problems with this energy source: a) my car doesn’t run well on it b) it might cause just as much pollution c) it costs more energy to manufacture than it produces d) without government subsidies it is more expensive than gasoline e) it is causing the cost of food to skyrocket, etc.

I am not here to debate ethanol, but it is clear that our government has artificially propped up this particular alternative fuel. The free market would have rejected ethanol a long time ago and our resouces would now be focused on the next idea. Instead, we are now stuck with a flawed fuel and a tax subsidized infrastructure that will take years to dismantle. The irony is that if ethanol had been allowed to move through the market on a level playing field, many of the problems related to its use might have been solved. Innovation and efficiency are the hallmarks of capitalism. Unfettered competition between fuel sources is the only way for mankind to progress toward a clean, available, and inexpensive source of energy.

Our government has a track recored of failed energy policies: price controls, moratorium on drilling, moratorium on nuclear development, opposition to refineries, subsidized mass transit and more. Energy conservation is just another government policy that will not help us to move forward. It is a band-aid on a gaping head wound.

Sometimes I wonder if those who favor alternate fuel sources over fossil fuels should change their tack:

  1. Stop opposing fossil fuels
  2. Support drilling
  3. Support new refineries
  4. Support increase mining

Then when the price of energy drops and energy consumption increases, mankind will more quickly consume our fossil fuel resources. At that point, every environmentalist will have his wish: a world without fossil fuel, where alternate sources of energy are the only alternative.

For more energy analysis read Oil Hysteria at On Financial Success.

  1. 14 Responses to “Energy conservation is not a solution”

  2. By Aaron Stroud on Jul 9, 2008 | Reply

    I met a chap a couple of weeks ago who happily told me he was pushing for ethanol because he owned a piece of his family farm back east.

    He was completely oblivious to the fact that he was bragging about using Uncle Sam to move money from my pocket to his!

  3. By plonkee on Jul 9, 2008 | Reply

    I take issue with your characterisation of environmentalists. We don’t want to use up the fossil fuels, it causes pollution and damages the atmosphere. What kind of steward of the earth are you being?

    The true cost of using fossil fuels (including cleanup) is not being charged meaning that the market is being distorted. That’s not good capitalism – the market is only efficient when it has all the information.

  4. By Deamiter on Jul 9, 2008 | Reply

    Nonsense, research and development costs a minuscule fraction of what it could save in energy costs. For example, using only currently available technologies, cars could easily be getting double the gas mileage of even the super-efficient hybrids today! If the research that went into simply turning off the engine when coasting or stopped cost more than the energy it saves, they’re doing it wrong.

    Even more efficient is mass transit — invest in a great subway system like London’s and you cut your energy costs by 10 times! It’s not at all cheap up front, but riding the tube in London is far more convenient than driving and is significantly cheaper than one-per-car commuting to boot!

    Finally, it would cost just pennies per device to eliminate the power drawn when the device is “off.” There are so many places where we’ve just wasted energy because it’s cheap and we can that we could probably halve our total energy use before getting close to running into the limit of current technology!

  5. By rocketc on Jul 9, 2008 | Reply

    Plonkee, we have a major disagreement on whether or not fossil fuels affect the environment. The evidence is by no means conclusive.

    Deamiter, I am not advocating that we quit conserving energy, it is a good idea, but as a stand alone policy, it will not bring about progress.

    Research and development cost a great deal and sometimes energy consumption helps to provide the capital necessary for r and d.

  6. By plonkee on Jul 9, 2008 | Reply

    rocketc, I’m reasonably convinced that the smog in Athens is caused primarily by the cars that drive through. And that the acid rain in Sweden is caused by the pollution emitted from British power stations. Not everything related to the environment is to do with global warming.

  7. By Deamiter on Jul 9, 2008 | Reply

    In a vacuum, NO policy makes sense, but to respond to your original post, energy conservation could avert an energy crisis altogether (depending on your definition of course). I never claimed that energy conservation would bring about progress and I’ve never heard any politician suggest that we should limit energy use in R&D. I’m huge on energy conservation and yet I keep the lights on 24/7/365 in my lab at work just to avoid small temperature fluctuations.

    I think the key that you’re missing is that it is the consumer products that are least efficient and that waste the most. We don’t have to cut progress or R&D, when just applying currently available technologies can double our fuel economy! The energy consumed by my lasers is pretty crazy, but compared to the amount of energy making VCRs blink 12:00 across America, it doesn’t even register.

    We’ve cut car and TV and oven power consumption by half, but consumers don’t care because they don’t relate high gas prices to saving electricity. We can either let the free market do it’s thing and START conserving when gas hits $10/gallon even in America (and electricity hits 30 cents a KWh) or we can stop selling the inefficient devices now and allow a much smoother transition when fossil fuels become too rare to compete with other, more expensive fuel sources.

  8. By rocketc on Jul 9, 2008 | Reply

    Plonkee, You may want to do some more reading on acid rain and some of the myths that have been perpetuated throughout the years. I remember when acid rain was a big deal in the US in the 1980’s. Currently, no one even talks about it anymore. Most of the claims about it have been publicly debunked and furthermore, our factories burn much cleaner as a result of newer technology.

    “One apocalyptic vision is Acid Rain. In 1980 the Environmental Protection Agency claimed that Sulfur Dioxide emissions caused Acid Rain, which had supposedly increased the average acidity of Northeast lakes one-hundred-fold over the last forty years and was killing fish and trees alike. A year later the National Research Council predicted that the number of acidified lakes would double by 1990. So, naturally, Congress included stringent provisions to cut so2 emissions (already down 50 percent from the 1970s) at a cost of billions of dollars annually when it reauthorized the Clean Air Act.

    Yet in 1987, epa research raised doubts about the destructiveness of acid rain. Then came the most complete study of Acid Rain ever conducted, the half billion dollar National Acid Precipitation Assessment Project (napap), which concluded that the allegedly horrific effects of Acid Rain were largely a myth. Among other things, the study found that lakes were, on average, no more acidic than before the industrial era; just 240 of 7000 Northeast lakes, most with little recreational value, were critically acidic, or “dead”; most of the acidic water was in Florida, where the rain is only one-third as acidic; there was only very limited damage to trees, far less than that evident elsewhere in the world where so2 emissions are minimal; half of the Adirondack lakes were acidified due to natural organic acids; and crops remained undamaged at acidic levels ten times present levels. In the end, napap’s scientists figured that liming the few lakes that were acidic would solve the problem at a fraction of the cost of the Clean Air Act’s Acid Rain provisions.”

    Smog is definitely a problem, but it is typically a localized problem in areas with high population density. Ironically, our current energy policy is going to force people to move closer together, thereby increasing smog.

    The earth has an incredible ability to regenerate itself.

  9. By David on Jul 9, 2008 | Reply

    It will certainly regenerate itself – it’s just that we might not be here anymore. 🙂

    There are 2 issues with your post, from my standpoint:

    1. While I agree in principal that by continuing to use up our fossil fuels it will force us to use alternatives in the future, without the advance development of them before the fossils run out, where will we be? There has to be a push asap on coming up with these alternatives, while we still have oil in the ground. We will need that oil to build whatever will be the alternative.

    2. Whether or not one believes in climate change/acid rain/warming/cooling/pollution, who wants to live on an earth with problems like that, no matter where they are? Especially when we know (even if we are not changing the climate, which I think we are) that there are things we can do that do not pollute or toxify groundwater and the like?

    The solution is not to ignore what could be going on, man-made or not, and continuing to drill for oil in far away places, tear up the Canadian tar sands, and shoot mercury and other chemicals into the air. The solution is to work towards cleaning this place up so we don’t have to live with this crap, and neither do our kids. Whether we are causing it, nature is causing it, or aliens are – the end result is the same…a polluted planet. And that is when it will regenerate – by getting rid of the pests for a while – us.

  10. By rocketc on Jul 10, 2008 | Reply

    David, your heart is in the right place. I am in favor of caring for our environment, but in doing so we must base our actions on real science. Unfortunatly, much of our world has bought into environmental alarmism.

    The acid rain threat was overblown.
    Prince William Sound has recovered quickly from the Exxon Valdez disaster.
    There are more deer than ever before in N. America.
    There are more trees in North America than when the first white settlers arrived.
    The polar bear population is in no danger.
    The Alaskan pipeline has actually helped to increase caribou populations.
    Drilling in ANWR would leave a very small footprint (40 acres, I have read) in a region that no one visits and is covered with ice and snow for most of the year.
    Remember the first IPCC report predicted temperature changes of 9C to 14C this century. The second report, five years later predicted .8C to 3.5C.

    And I could go on and on. I am not in favor of slashing, burning, or wasting our environment. I just believe that we can use our natural resources without causing permanent damage. Our country has reduced pollution greatly over the last 30 years. Today, most pollution is coming from China and India and Russia. Environmentalists need to focus their energy on those countries.

    David, if the problems not man-made, getting rid of man is not a solution.

    And in your last sentence, you reveal your true feelings, the point on which we will never agree. Man is not a pest. Man is a part of this world and has been given the opportunity to cultivate its resources. We must, and can, do so responsibly.

    Bad science, alarmism and hysteria is not helpful to progress. However, it is moving us toward a society governed by fear for the benefit of elitists like Al Gore and others. Environmental alarmism is about control.

  11. By Deamiter on Jul 10, 2008 | Reply

    rocketc — it seems you utterly ignored the cited Swedish problems with acid rain? It’s been shown that when we put more sulfur and nitrogen in the atmosphere, rain includes increasing levels of sulfuric and nitric acids. The effect is not local as some suspect because sulfur dioxide and nitric oxides are relatively insoluble so they travel rather far before being absorbed and deposited in rain.

    Over 18000 lakes in Sweden are now dead due to rising acidity from rain which pulls aluminum out of the soil. This pollution comes from England and is freely admitted by the British government based on scientific evidence.
    http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/yourenv/eff/1190084/pollution/acid_rain/

    As for the Prince William Sound, it doesn’t look like an oil-slick any more, but it’s certainly not recovered (despite what Exxon’s press releases say). Chronic low-level pollution is still stunting the growth of many animals and is projected to significantly damage populations for at least another ten years.
    http://www.unc.edu/news/archives/dec03/peters121803.html

    There may be more trees in N America now (I don’t know where you got that) but entire habitats based on old growth forests have been destroyed — number of trees doesn’t replace types and age of trees!

    Pretending that we somehow know the polar bear population is in no danger is silly. Certainly the Nunavut governments claim the polar bear population is rising (they profit largely from continued sport-hunting) but ignoring the fact that they depend on ice flows that are yearly becoming smaller or at least much thinner (this last year the area covered increased even if volume decreased) is just as bad as any alarmism.

    The 2000-acre (not 40) footprint in ANWR only includes the area for drilling and airstrips. This utterly ignores the hundreds of miles of maintained roadway and pipeline as well as gravel mines and ice roads.

    You cite updated predictions based on better models as evidence that the current models are wrong? I understand the apparent correlation (the projected change went down so they might project zero change later on) but such a claim has no logical basis. Would you rather they refuse to update their predictions when new models are developed?

    This isn’t and shouldn’t be a polarized debate — it’s not “skeptics vs. alarmists.” We’re polluting the planet, and some of that could have a serious negative effect. Ignoring some scientists who models climate effects just because they got cited by the hated UN won’t give you a good idea of what we know and what we can know any more than learning about climate change solely from Gore’s populist video.

  12. By rocketc on Jul 10, 2008 | Reply

    I’m not saying that acid rain is not a problem. My point is that the scope of the problem is far less than the alarmists would have us believe. Furthermore, acid rain is a problem that is being solved.

    Responsible environmental care is a good thing, but most of the current debate is motivated by a political agenda and a desire to control advanced civilizations.

    By the way, polar bear estimates put the population at 20,000 to 25,000 – almost 2x the size of the population in the 1960’s. Furthermore, polar bears do not need ice in order to survive.

    A great many scientists are upset about the IPCC’s and Kyoto’s misrepresentation of science. http://www.nationalpost.com/opinion/story.html?id=522276&p=1

  13. By rocketc on Jul 10, 2008 | Reply

    All I am simply asking everyone on this thread to do is to question conventional and popular “wisdom”. I was once a great believer in Global Warming. I subscribed to Ranger Rick and National Geographic and read other environmentalist publications.

    But then I also read what the other side had to say and found their arguments to carry more credibility.

  14. By Deamiter on Jul 10, 2008 | Reply

    Don’t you think that many climate ‘skeptics’ are just as politically motivated as your unidentified ‘alarmists’? I’ve always found industry-funded research (like Exxon’s funded research into Prince William Sound) to be much more convincing-sounding precisely because those ‘scientists’ don’t bother to qualify conclusions and do a much better job of speaking to the general public — their primary audience.

    On polar bears, have you honestly looked into WHY the population seems to have doubled or even tripled since the 50s and 60s? As a guy who claims to look at “both sides” I’d have expected you to have noticed that those early estimates were based solely on the reports of explorers, and the first scientific attempts to estimate the population (70s 80s?I forget) were between 20k and 40k.

    And no, not all polar bears depend on polar ice to survive, but the majority of currently known populations depend on seals and other food they only catch on the ice. Sure, a few bears can survive without ice, but they’re increasingly invading human settlements for lack of food and the average weight of baby polar bears had been dropping in the past few decades — indicating that their mothers are having an increasingly hard time finding food.

  15. By Uncle B on Aug 9, 2008 | Reply

    If the U.S. had chosen to be a moral people, and leaving Iraqi oil alone, and following Al Gore, decided to develop the South Western deserts, with the technology of the times – solar/thermal-molten sodium – electricity installations, for the same amount of money as that war cost, ($650 Billion), today, we would be tapping into the largest, renewable, sustainable, energy source the world has ever known. It would have paid every energy bill in the U.S.A. for maintenance fees only – FOREVER! It would be equivalent to an oil field that can NEVER run dry! Low cost electric power, and storeable hydrogen gasoline replacement from the electricity, for all!
    After the millions of murders, and $650 billions of dollars, borrowed from our children’s futures and pissed away, with thousands of our own and others maimed and disfigured for life, millions of families utterly destroyed, ours and theirs, we are no closer to Iraqi oil production than the Iraqis are!
    The next time you hear a blithering idiot spoiled brat, drunken, drug addicted, sociopath, rich Arabic saber dancing daddie’s boy oilman, stand at a microphone and threaten YOUR safety with someone ELSE’S weapons, remember what you lost America, remember, and weep! (also see http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=a-solar-grand-plan)

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