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A paper published last year by Resources for the Future made the point that our oil vulnerability has less to do with the amount we import than simply with the staggering amounts we consume period.  In addition, energy independence, a favorite rallying cry of politicians, is an unachievable myth.  

Energy independence has been a rhetorical and political rallying cry for nearly 40 years—President Nixon presided over the massive 1974 Project Independence Report—and it is as flaccid a concept today as it has been over the decades.

There are for sure excellent reasons for reducing dependence on oil, particularly imported from unfriendly or unstable countries.  If you are interested in understanding better what’s involved with moving towards reduced dependence on oil, you’ll want to check out this cool tool I heard about from reading the Water Cooler Games web site. This is a simulation game (a sim) that’s available free from Forio Business Simulations.  In this sim, you have the goal to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil within a specified time period.  

In this sim, you are the President of the United States.  You’ve been elected on a platform of reducing U.S. dependence on oil imports. There are a variety of options available to you to alternately reduce consumption and increase production.  These range from opening oil fields in Alaska to mandating improved fuel efficiency of new vehicles. After selecting your policy options, you write a speech to the American people outlining your policies and click the "start" button. The simulation then shows if you were able to achieve your goals.

These are the policy options:

Transportation Initiatives  

  • Alternative fuels research.  
  • Encourge production of hybrid vehicles.  
  • Launch a nationwide promoting carpooling.  
  • Improve jet engine and airplane technology to reduce airline fuel consumption.  
  • Convert trucks and trains running diesel to biodiesel or other alternative fuels.

Domestic Supply Initiatives  

  • Open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development.  

Residential and Commercial Initiatives  

  • Launch a campaign to encourage Americans to lower their thermostats during the winter.  
  • Sponsor a nationwide conservation program to reduce residential and commercial uses of petroleum.

Industrial Initiatives  

  • Sponsor a nationwide program to replace industrial use of petroleum with synthetic alternatives.  

Electric Utility Initiatives  

  • Convert oil-based electrical generation to natural gas, solar and wind technologies, and nuclear power

The goal is to reduce oil imports by 25% of the 2005 level by 2025.  Here are some simulation results with various scenarios I tried, along with the percent increase or decrease in oil imports, and the percent of U.S. oil that comes from imports:

  1.  Do Nothing – 43% increase in imports, 72% of U.S. oil will be imported in 2025.  This requires no sacrifices from Americans, but fails to meet the simulation goal.
  1.  Open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil production starting in 2008 (in three years) – 29% increase in imports, 65% of U.S. oil will be imported in 2025.  Again, this requires no sacrifices from Americans, but also fails to meet the simulation goal (ANWR performed better than I had expected – I had thought it was the proverbial "drop in the barrel").
  1.  Implement all initiatives to improve transportation energy use except for conservation (carpooling).  This represents a relatively modest improvement in energy efficient transportation, though probably not from the political perspective:  1) in 2007 (in two years), start selling new vehicles that run on ethanol, cellulosic ethanol or biodiesel - 25% of all new vehicles sold will run on alternative fuels within three years of the start date (i.e. by 2010);  2) in 2007 (in two years), start selling hybrids that achieve 50 miles per gallon fuel efficiency, to be achieved within three years of the start date (by 2010); 3) starting in 2008 (in three years), reduce jet fuel use by 25%, to be achieved within four years of the start date (2012 – the airlines and aircraft manufacturers have better lobbyists); 4) in 2008 (in three years), reduce diesel consumption in trucks and trains by 25%, to be achieved within three years (2011 – Congress takes pity on the trucking and rail industries).  This doesn’t involve much sacrifice on the part of most Americans, except perhaps for some new taxes for incentives and research, and possibly some job dislocations (layoffs or relocations), but reduces oil imports by 21%.  There is still 58% of U.S. oil consumption being imported.  

3a.  As a variant, I tried more aggressive measures to reduce transportation energy use (doubling all of the goals to 50%).  This does achieve the goal, reducing oil imports by 42%.  However, 51% of U.S. oil consumption is still imported in 2025.  Moreover, the simulation does not explore the technical feasibility of, say, reducing jet fuel consumption by 50%, much less the political feasibility.  There probably would be some sacrifices required of Americans to achieve this goal because the research, engineering and manufacturing effort required to reshape the transportation sector probably would rival the Manhattan Project.

  1.  Vice President Cheney said in 2001 "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy".  So how about it?  The conservation scenario involves:  1) instituting carpooling starting in 2007 (two years out) in order to reduce an individual’s vehicle-miles traveled by 25% with two years; 2) turning down thermostats 5 degrees, starting in 2007 (two years out), and instituting a residential and small business conservation program starting in 2009 (four years out) to reduce petroleum consumption by 25% within three years of the start of the program.  Conservation results in reduced oil consumption, but petroleum imports still increased 16%, with 67% of U.S. oil consumption being imported by 2025.  When you double the percentages conserved (to 50%), oil consumption is reduced by 6.67 million barrels per day, but overall imports only decrease by 8%, and 62% of oil consumption is imported.  [Wingnut note:  before you shout heh, indeedy – Vice President Cheney is right, be aware that conservation when combined with technology initiatives is probably the edge we need for energy independence, and what do you have against personal virtue anyway?].  However, this would involve considerable reshaping of our work and leisure lives, so there would be significant sacrifices involved with conservation alternatives.  
  1.  Large manufacturing and utilities scenario:  this involves 1) industries finding substitutes for petroleum feedstocks and fuels starting in 2008 (three years out – they have better lobbyists), achieving 25% reduction in petroleum consumption in four years (2012); 2) utilities replacing petroleum-fired electrical plants with natural gas, solar, wind and nuclear starting in 2008 (three years out), within 5 years.  The sacrifices involved may include higher prices and utility rates, since this again may involve a Manhattan Project-style effort.  And, it isn’t terribly effective by comparison, with oil imports increasing 31% by 2025, and 70 % of our oil consumption coming from imports.  This makes some sense – a relatively small fraction of total petroleum use goes to industrial feedstocks, and fuels such as coal and natural gas are already the major generators of electricity.  

There is a wide range of scenarios that you can try out, but it becomes clear how much we need to do in terms of reorienting our lifestyles if the goal is to reduce dependence on imported oil.  It’s a consistent message with the Hirsch report, which recommends that we get off our asses now and start working on implementing strategies to reduce oil consumption.  This game may help some understand better what’s involved.  

This is an example of a "serious game" which can be helpful in understanding a complex issue such as the outcomes energy policy choices (Forio provides some additional information here).  "Addicted to Oil" is a bit on the dry side, but probably highly useful as a classroom demonstration.  However, Forio does sell web simulation tools, so those who are inclined probably could try to jazz it up a bit (check out their web site for other user-created sims).  In addition, I’m always interested in "looking under the hood" and checking out the equations and assumptions used in the modeling – but the game does provide references to its data, and presumably a subscription gets you access to the model equations.  However, at the end of the day, I agree with Clive Thompson about sims such as "Addicted to Oil" for understanding environmental problems:  

This, ultimately, is the brilliance of using game-like simulations to teach people about politics. Because the best way to learn about a complex system is by poking and prodding it. Indeed, that might be the only way to truly internalize something really complex: You have to experience it for yourself. If you'd explained to me, in words, just how hard-core our conservation would have to be to truly reduce oil usage, I probably wouldn't have believed you. But after playing around with the sim for a while I'm kind of stunned into re-appreciating the magnitude of our oil problem.

Cross-posted at Impact Analysis.

Originally posted to JLowe on Sat Apr 28, 2007 at 05:34 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (9+ / 0-)

    Science is not everything, but science is very beautiful - Robert Oppenheimer

    by JLowe on Sat Apr 28, 2007 at 05:34:37 PM PDT

  •  the sim is a good idea. (0+ / 0-)

    perhaps this is the only way to get thru to some people.

  •  This is interesting...fascinating.... (0+ / 0-)

    Is there a sim for tobacco, too?

    What can be done must be done, and soon, too.

    The notion that energy independence is

    as flaccid a concept today as it has been over the decades

    puts the oil business in a class all by itself.  

    Makes me a bit angry that you, Mr.1911, would be taken in by this and publish a link here to a game scenario that has been put together by people with questionable motives.

    (Who else would put together such a sim but Big Oil?) I would rather keep my mind open to the kind of government leadership which can, and will, prove that the concept of energy independence using solar, wind and water, is viable, and it is only The Big Four Oil Co's who are powerful enough to block it.  

    •  Yes, and you flunk on energy policy (0+ / 0-)

      There isn't a tobacco sim yet, but there's no reason one can't be created.  It's a good idea.

      On the other hand, I'm not sure where you get your understanding about energy policy.  The reasons for pursuing solar, wind and hydro have to do with reducing the use of coal for electricity generation, as a means of reducing greenhouse gas generation and possibly averting global climate change.  What could that possibly have to do with oil consumption, most of which is used to drive our cars and trucks around?

      As far as the so-called motives of my sources, you're welcome to your opinions.  If you have more backup than just assertions, I'd be glad to listen to it. But I don't think the onus is on me to demonstrate their ideological purity before relying on their information.

      Science is not everything, but science is very beautiful - Robert Oppenheimer

      by JLowe on Sat Apr 28, 2007 at 06:57:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's the problem with real science... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JLowe

        I do take issue with this statement from you:

        ...I don't think the onus is on me to demonstrate their ideological purity before relying on their information.

        You certainly have the creds to publish here what you wish, but I wouldn't rely on information before vetting the ideological purity and peer review of documents from the RFF.

        As far as busting the idea that we can't get away from massive gasoline usage, the car makers (mostly just Toyota right now) have gone a long way toward 100 miles per gallon in cars with reasonable prices. I will have to get back to you with science, but thank you for challenging me to think about this.

        I actually read Darmstadter in college poli sci. This paper you link to contradicts some things he has said in the past. (to be cont.'d)

        •  Okay: $olar™ is definitely the answer. (0+ / 0-)

          In 2005, solar energy accounted for a US market value of $38 billion. With new multi-junction solar cells on the drawing board, which could triple or quadruple the output of currently available panels, nanotechnology promises to offer a paint-like substance that would be almost as cheap as paint, offering a solution, if you will allow the pun, that would solve the problem worldwide.

          The problem that we face, of course, is political will and an energy policy (thanks to Cheney's Energy Taskforce) that is financially raping our children with costs and indebtedness that have skyrocketed. We have lost six+ years time in this mire, while Germany has installed state-subsidized solar panels and buys the energy produced at a price that is higher than the price it charges. Yes, electric bills are somewhat higher, but 80% of the people are strong FOR IT! And within the next 20 years, solar will power 40% of their national grid. That's how fast solar has taken hold there. $olar™ will power their cars, their a/c's and their factories.

          Read it as socialism any way you want to, but this is what is necessary, Darnstadter be darned, and good government is the only way to achieve it. If the Government would provide the incentives that are required, the jobs created in a new solar industry could provide great incomes for the technological revolution that energy independence requires. In sum, it would pay for itself! It is achievable within the foreseeable future of 50 years. Indeed, it must be achieved, and we do not have a moment to spare for Cheney, or for Darnstadter.  

          Fielding the Mojave Desert with solar panels today would power all of LA County!!  Las Vegas is building its very own solar field in nearby barren desert. So, if you want to publish Darnstadter memes all over the place with links to the RRF, do so. But you do run the risk of spreading negative juice when you obviously have the mind for better thinking and more positive and hopeful memes.

          JLowe, I appreciate your diary very, very much, for it made me think! Thanks.

        •  No problem - the specifics help (0+ / 0-)

          I always feel kind of stuck relying on anything from any think tank that supports Washington - they're all dirty I suppose, it's just a matter of degree.  It's the same thing with quite a bit of the scientific literature in the toxicology and environmental health fields.  I've seen some things published in peer reviewed journals that are simply not to be trusted.  Hopefully, the issues being raised in the comments - such as yours - help provide some degree of transparency.

          That having been said said, I don't believe the issue is we cannot get away from massive gasoline usage.  The issue is whether or not we collectively can summon the will to accomplish that.  High mileage hybrid cars are only one of the answers.  I believe we still are facing a research and engineering program rivaling the Manhattan Project, and a massive restructuring of our work, leisure and travel lives (along with attendent dislocations and inconveniences) to break this oil addiction.  

          Thank you for reading and sharing your views on this matter.  I hope we can continue this discussion.

          Science is not everything, but science is very beautiful - Robert Oppenheimer

          by JLowe on Sun Apr 29, 2007 at 03:10:45 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  energy is fungible, to a degree (0+ / 0-)

    If we increase electricity generation from solar, wind and perhaps geothermal, and nuclear, we can decrease the natural gas consumption for that purpose.

    Natural gas is a very good automotive fuel, definitely good for buses, perhaps for trucks and fleet cars.

    Inefficiency of automobiles on the road is appaling.  My impression is that the average city milage is close to 20, rather than 50.  A hybrid two-seater can have mileage of 70, and most of the car trips are with 1-2 people in the car.  Stands to reason that half cars on the road could have mileage of 70.

    Therefore, in 15 year frame, it is feasible to reduce automobile fuel consumption by 50%, the petroleum fuel consumption by 60% (substitution with natural gas), import for 66% of todays consumption to 15% (assumption: production drops from 33% of todays consumption to 25%).

    There: reduction of petroleum import by 75%, so we could have most of the import from Canada and Mexico.  NAFTA would become almost self-sufficient in fuels.  Voila! energy independence!  Especially if Canada and Mexico will follow the saving programs.

    It can be politically hard, but technologically, we can achieve energy independence with only modest alteration of life style.  Now, with a massive transition of commuting from automobile to alternatives (feet, mass transit, bicycle), change into less energy intensive diet (less meat) etc. we could become exporters.

  •  change how we work (0+ / 0-)

    Did the simulation include an option for government sponsored and deployed free broadband services for all business and households? Which would then allow a mandate that all "indirect labor" type workers spend at least two days a week working from home rather than commuting. And that videoconferences replace driving to meetings or sales calls, flying from field offices to headquarters sites or to conferences, etc. And making it easier to decentralize manufacturing and production sites closer to regional centers of consumption.

    As with health care, where we optimize the interests of insurance companies and pharmaceutical makers while suboptimizing the economics of all other businesses, we currently enshrine the interests of the telephone and cable companies over the interests of all other businesses. The only way to make a serious dent in our oil consumption is to change how we work, both in learning to trust workers to do their jobs without a manager looking over their shoulders constantly and in moving toward decentralized production and toward moving goods over shorter physical disatnces.

  •  No sacrifice? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JLowe

    Do Nothing – 43% increase in imports, 72% of U.S. oil will be imported in 2025.  This requires no sacrifices from Americans

    That makes it sound like a painless option. Why bother with conservation, then?
    There will besacrifices, in the form of massively higher prices, shortages, or worse, long before that date, because these trends are simply unsustainable.

    There is not enough oil worldwide to provide for that demand along with the fast grwoing one from China and elsewhere.

    •  It was inappropriately worded (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jerome a Paris

      You're correct - that wasn't worded well.  It's a matter of when we make the sacrifices - and what kind of pain we feel.  Is it going to be more modest economic dislocations and inconveniences, experienced sooner?  Or, is it going to be severe economic dislocations, poverty and disease, and the unraveling of civil society, experienced later?  

      Thank you for drawing that to my attention.

      Science is not everything, but science is very beautiful - Robert Oppenheimer

      by JLowe on Sun Apr 29, 2007 at 03:19:21 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  interesting find. i'll check it out later. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JLowe, samddobermann, alizard

    having played with a corp oil sim, i'll offer this much: i appreciate this game's PR value, overton and all ...

    however, the shock value of the exercise is rigged for specific talking points. conspicuously missing from the set you list are environmental variables -- dependent and independent factors-- that would or ought to affect policy over the period. just one or two, e.g. fuel price changes, GCC disruption, would be "politically" appropriate and realistic.

    feedback loops are crucial. i'm still missing how and how often the game reported within each president's term ... :)

    also, it's pretty peculiar that no tax mechanism is available, altho' you infer "some new taxes for incentives and research" on the curve, and no parallel renewable power generation or trading, altho' that exactly where state legislation is headed.

    anyways, thanks for posting!

    Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

    by MarketTrustee on Sun Apr 29, 2007 at 09:40:14 PM PDT

    •  Good points that can lead to a better sim (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      samddobermann, MarketTrustee

      You're right, in that it's a fairly crude model.  But policy models have been designed in the past to make a point - for example ecological footprint analysis historically has emphasized the virtue of "strong" sustainability over other policy choices.

      I think the point I didn't make more clearly is that simulation tools can be useful in stimulating awareness and interest in learning more about policy issues.  Simply making people aware of the missing factors is a useful exercise.  One of my next steps is to try building some models, and making them into sims using Forio's software.  

      In addition, my experience with games and sims is always that you struggle between playability and realism.  Some of the most realistic sims I've played are a pain in the ass.

      Science is not everything, but science is very beautiful - Robert Oppenheimer

      by JLowe on Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 05:30:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  PHEVs are the way... (0+ / 0-)
    The simulation lists encouraging hybrids as an option, but does not include plug-in hybrid (PHEV) or pure electric cars.  EVs use no oil, and most studies suggest that PHEVs would reduce average oil (gasoline) consumption by ~85%.  This alone is enough to reduce our oil usage levels below the rate of domestic (US) oil production.  Almost all of our oil usage is for transport.

    No other measures are even remotely as effective as PHEVs and EVs in terms of reducing oil consumption.  Essentially, the price of achieving oil independence, if we ever wanted to, is to have everyone pay a few thousand more for PHEV cars, period.  Major lifestyle changes will not be necessary.

    Other helpful ideas include electrifying our rails and reducing the use of natural gas (especially for power production), as natural gas and oil are fungible fuels that can largely be substituted for each other.  At present, little oil is used for power production.

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