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The American way of life presently depends on the continued supply of a resource -- oil -- that will run dry within our lifetimes.  Much of the current oil price hike is attributable to concerns that demand is already outstripping that supply.  The Bush Administration's response to this crisis has centered on calls to open up the Outer-Continental Shelf and Arctic National Wildlife Preserve to pump our remaining oil out at a faster rate, beginning in 2018.  That Congress will heed this call is an inevitability.  In this diary, I ponder another solution to our energy crisis, one that I am assured is equally logical and effective.  I caution you, though, this solution is not for the cowardly or faint of heart.

1.  The Energy Supply Problem

As many of you already know, the world's supply of oil was formed through a very delicate process. Circulating currents developed in certain basins at the edges of the world's oceans, trapping organic matter, which sank to the bottom of the basins.  Sedimentary rock that was uncommonly rich in organic material formed, and was eventually buried beneath the Earth's surface.  Once that rock sank below 7,500 feet (but not below 17,000 feet), heat from the Earth's core broke the organic molecules in the rock into hydrocarbon chains, creating droplets of oil.  If those droplets were connected inside especially porous rock, and squeezed out by tectonic pressure into leak-tight reservoirs bounded by other, impermeable rock, then oil accumulated such that it can be extracted by human ingenuity.  

Over hundreds of millions of years, this accidental cycle produced between two and three trillion barrels of conventional oil capable of extraction, depending on whom you ask (and excluding unconventional oils such as oil sands, oil shale, and snake oil).  To fuel our robust industrial economy, we've already used over a trillion barrels of that supply, almost entirely since WWII.  We currently consume 30 billion barrels per year, and the amount we consume is increasing every year. Eventually we will run out of oil, conventional and otherwise.

Unfortunately, 40% of American daily life depends on oil.  Plastics, pharmaceuticals, pesticides -- 90% of our organic chemicals derive from oil.  Virtually the entire transportation sector, including delivery of almost all food and goods, depends on oil.  Production of oil is a primary reason for American economic dominance in the 20th century.  Its shortage was a primary reason for Germany's defeat in WWII, and a precipitous drop in the price of oil exports was a primary cause for the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Wealth and power in the world are inextricably tied to machines and control of the energy that drives them.

As a matter of economics, the decline in wealth and power to be expected from the end of oil does not begin when the last drop of oil is squeezed from the ground.  It begins when the supply of energy is insufficent to meet demand.  As a matter of geology, the capacity to supply oil "peaks," or stops growing, generally at the midpoint, when one-half of the discovered and undiscovered reserves have been extracted. Because the demand for oil has risen with the rate of extraction, absent some alternative to oil (and development of the infrastructure for such an alternative itself requires energy), a decline in our way of life at the point of "peak oil" is certain to occur.  Even for the optimist, the only question is whether the decline is precipitous or measured.  

There are doomsdayers who suggest that that decline has already begun. Whether it has is the object of considerable debate, a debate I do not care to enter.  For now, it is enough to say that every warm body to have looked at the issue agrees that "peak oil" will occur within the next 25 years, and that on Sunday a member of Dick Cheney's energy task force, no less, was already yelling at everyone to grab their guns and run for the hills:

Clearly, this problem is one requiring honesty, leadership, and foresight from our elected officials.

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2.  The Administration's Response

Tuesday morning, President Bush set forth one aspect of his administration's solution to the energy crisis: Clear any obstacles to pumping the remaining oil out of the ground at a faster rate.  At a late-scheduled press conference, Bush announced that he was lifting the executive ban on oil exploration in the Outer-Continental Shelf (OCS), and called upon Congress to lift legislative prohibition on drilling in the OCS and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Indeed, depending on the types of things you find to be beneficial, opening up the ANWR and OCS to exploration and drilling is likely to have some benefit.  According to the administration's own Energy Department, opening up the OCS would increase the domestic production of oil by 200,000 barrels per day, beginning in 2020:

Opening up the Arctic Refuge to exploration and drilling (assuming, of course, are not left vacant) will do even more, at least between 2018 and 2030:

The opening of the ANWR 1002 Area to oil and natural gas development is projected to increase domestic crude oil production starting in 2018. In the mean ANWR oil resource case, additional oil production resulting from the opening of ANWR reaches 780,000 barrels per day in 2027 and then declines to 710,000 barrels per day in 2030.

As a result, opening up the ANWR and OCS will increase the world's oil production of 85 million barrels/day by 1%, sometime in the 2020s. Although this 1% increase in supply will not necessarily translate into a 1% drop in price, squeezing out 1% more oil in 15-20 years will have psychological benefits as well.  These are best explained by the President himself:

Psychological benefits or no, it is clear that the Democratic Congress will capitulate to the President's demand to open up the OCS and ANWR for exploration and drilling.  This is consistent with Congress's recent passage of tax incentives for oil production, combined with its accession to Republican efforts to block tax incentives for the production of alternative energy.  I write not to applaud or condemn Congressional efforts on these fronts.  

Instead, I write to humbly suggest that efforts may be taken further, that we may adopt a policy likely to be equally if not more effective in dealing with our energy dilemma, as set forth more fully below.  

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3.  A Modest Proposal: For Preventing Enemy Combatants From Being Aburden to the Country, and For Making Them Beneficial to the Public

Say what you will about Nazi Germany in 1944, but that nation shared at least two things in common with America today: a fuel crisis and an abundant supply of detainees in camps domestic and abroad. Indeed, in the very same press conference in which he proposed opening up the OCS and ANWR to alleviate the fuel crisis, President Bush expressed uncertainty as to what to do with detainees in Guantanamo, Cuba:

Q: Mr. President, thank you. I wonder in light of the Supreme Court's decision if you could tell us what you plan to do with Guantanamo?

THE PRESIDENT: We're still analyzing -- "we" being the Justice Department -- are still analyzing the effects of the decision, which, as you know, I disagreed with. And secondly, we're working with members of Congress on a way forward. This is a very complicated case; it complicated the situation in Guantanamo.

In other words, we have no idea what to do with these detainees.  Our options are unpleasant: either we release them, hold them in federal prisons for trial in a civilian court, hold them in military detention centers for trial before a military tribunal, or -- most likely -- circumvent the Supreme Court's mandate entirely by delivering the detainees to other countries for continued, unlawful detention on the United States' behalf.

Sometimes, however, two seemingly disparate problems may be solved with a single stroke of the pen.  When Nazi Germany was presented with an energy shortage and detainee problem in 1944, it responded by developing technology to use the detainees themselves as an additional source of fuel. Studies in that new technology, of course, were cut short the following year.  But for historical purposes the results of those studies remain well-preserved.  

Naturally, I am not blind to the dangers of Nazi teaching and to the horrific imagery that era recalls. But there are at least two circumstances that save my modest proposal from these trappings.  First, while Nazi detention facilities and crematoria contained innocent Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, etc., our policy would target terrorists: people whose mere appellation spawns enmity in the American populace. Second, what was objectionable about Nazi concentration camps was not the detention of entire groups based on ethnic or religious criteria (after all, the United States had relocated 112,000 Japanese-Americans to camps at the same time), but the inhuman conditions of their detention and their eventual extermination. Our policy would neither involve abhorrent living conditions nor the execution of detainees.

Instead, new technology makes it possible for well-cared-for detainees to provide vital energy during their lifetimes.  While the detainees are active, we can harness the friction energy created by their movement:

[Dr. Weber] and an international team of colleagues are debuting their "biomechanical energy harvester" in the journal Science. The device is a brace that wraps around a person's leg with a generator attached to the brace's joint at the knee. The generator harvests energy from walking and turns it into enough electricity to power 10 cellular phones.

"A company's been formed. We have a prototype," said Weber[.]

While the detainees are sedentary, they can be hooked up to intravenous generators that produce energy from their blood sugars:

Researchers in Japan are developing a method of drawing power from blood glucose, mimicking the way the body generates energy from food.

Dr Kazuo Eda, heading the research, [. . . ] believed bio-nano fuel cells were the next step for researchers after generators powered by hydrogen, natural gas and methanol now being developed for the car and energy industries.

Only when the detainees died from natural causes, such as severe fatigue, hypoglycemia, or interrogation, would their bodies be available for liquefaction.  

In addition, other than easing our energy deficit and providing a positive use for enemy combatants, there are many other advantages by my proposal which can be enumerated:

a. Efficiency.-- Production of energy from enemy combatants is actually a more efficient system than our current model.  Under our current system, we expend energy to fight and capture enemy combatants in defense of imperial interests in Middle Eastern countries that provide us with energy.  By producing energy directly from the enemy combatants themselves, we eliminate the middleman and reduce production cost.  

b. Renewability.-- Unlike oil, detainees are a renewable resource.  This is so, not only through the magic of human reproduction, but because this energy plan itself is likely to be used to recruit more people who wish to engage in acts of violence against America, thus qualifying themselves for classification as enemy combatants and detention.  Moreover, even temporary shortages in enemy combatants could be alleviated by tapping into America's vast supply of home-grown detainees, a domestic resource that is unrivaled in the world.

c. Political expedience.-- My proposal is unlikely to meet much resistance from either party in Congress.  Anyone who votes or speaks against this plan would not only be stonewalling efforts to relieve the pain Americans feel at the pump, but would be stonewalling those efforts only to protect the rights of terrorists.  Thus, those who would oppose such a plan do so at grave political peril.  

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And so finally, with that lengthy explanation of my proposal concluded, I turn to the reader and ask: Are you with me, or are you with the terrorists?

The End

Originally posted to el bandito on Fri Jul 18, 2008 at 04:09 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Apologies to those I offend.  I hope, at least, my satire is more thought provoking than the New Yorker's.

  •  Supply & Demand (0+ / 0-)

    Chineses and Indian car plants are coming online with new efficient models. So W scores on a rare correct observation.
    If demand is outstripping supply, how can we hope to see the price of gasolene plateau?
    When prices are increasing, why is it a bad thing to increase fuel tarriffs to discourage more carbon dioxide generation?

    "Think this through with me, let me know your mind." - Hunter/Garcia

    by epcraig on Fri Jul 18, 2008 at 05:35:14 AM PDT

    •  Plateaus and spikes (0+ / 0-)

      If oil and gasoline are indeed supply-constrained, then I would expect rapid spikes and declines in price, not a plateau.  Under queuing theory, as the market approaches 100% capacity (when demand truly outstrips supply), price volatility increases.  Notwithstanding frenetic spikes and dips, the overall trend will be will remain upward:


      So I don't think we can hope to see the price of gasoline plateau, nor do I think we want it to.  Gasoline is still cheap, compared to almost any other liquid we buy:

      Diet Snapple 16 oz $1.29 .... $10.32 per gallon
      Lipton Ice Tea 16 oz $1.19 .... $9.52 per gallon
      Gatorade 20 oz $1.59 ........  $10.17 per gallon
      Brake Fluid 12 oz $3.15 .....  $33.60 per gallon
      Vick's Nyquil 6 oz $8.35 ...  $178.13 per gallon
      Pepto Bismol 4 oz $3.85 .... $123.20 per gallon
      Whiteout 7 oz $1.39 .........   $25.42 per gallon
      Scope 1.5 oz $0.99 ..........   $84.48 per gallon  

      We could soften the economic blow by drawing from our emergency petroleum reserve when the price is above the trend (as it probably has been the last week) and replenishing that reserve when the price is below the trend.

      But the long-term solution is to transition to a post-carbon economy.  Whoever wins the race to supply this country with a non-oil source of energy in the next 10 years will be a gazillionaire.

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