Analysis and rationality in a nonrational world

May 10, 2006

Blame for high energy prices

Filed under: Energy — analysis @ 12:36 pm

It was pointed out to me recently that China is buying up all the energy resources it can, dealing with even oppressive regimes (like Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iran, former-Iraq, and Syria?) to establish a foot-hold. Of course today China uses, per capita, a fraction of the energy of the US, but they’d like to establish a different balance.

I thought I’d go around and list some areas where I see massive wastes of energy today…

(Technorati Profile)

1. School fliers – our school doesn’t believe in putting more than one item on each single-sided page. There are fliers that have ten or twenty words. My favorite: Cinquo de Mayo will be held on May 5. I bet next year, the Fourth of July will be on July 4!

2. Cars. Well, duh, and yes, I’m guilty. After years of driving efficient cars – 38 mpg Corolla, 35 mpg Neon, etc., – I regressed and got a sorta-kinda-minivan, the PT Cruiser, with a stick-shift. 22 city, 27 highway in my case. But then, that’s far better than the average American, who commutes with a Suburban, Explorer, etc., getting even lower mileage and carrying a single person around. I got this for the cargo/passenger space – and it still gets better mileage than any minivan or large SUV. Most SUV buyers buy ’em for the image, not the utility, which for most SUV buyers is no more than a minivan (OK, an AWD minivan for those in the Snow Belt.) Not my opinion – market research. Same goes for big pickups, which are even more wasteful than big SUVs. Mind, I don’t have a problem with muscle cars – at least there you’re getting something for the fuel spent.

3. TVs. Every pizzeria, every waiting room, every store needs lots and lots of TVs, blaring all the time, using up scads of power. Department stores like to have displays with dozens of TVs all at once.

4. Lights. They stay on.

5. Computers. As AMD says, the power wasted by inefficient servers can light entire cities. Me? I got a Mac Mini that uses a peak of 60 watts, but normally uses less than half that. Also, an LCD monitor. At least in the land of computers, I’m energy efficient. But even with standard machines, most people and institutions don’t shut ’em off or let them sleep. I went around and changed settings on each computer in my daughter’s school but they got changed back, and the password was changed so I couldn’t do it any more. So we have about 50 computers running 24 hours a day, and being used 2 hours a day. They ONLY buy Windows machines for some reason (hint: the guy who gets paid for maintenance makes the purchasing decisions), so that’s about 300 watts per machine x 50 x 24 hours. Server farms … have many energy efficient choices now that save power directly, and also save air conditioning (through lower heat.)

6. Unnecessary trips. I biked to the bank today, I work at home, I don’t go out to the mall as recreation. I don’t spend a lot on gas, can you tell? Not everyone can get away with that. Most people can however save trips. If we had a leader in the White House we’d be saving tons more energy just by following the WWII slogan, “is this trip really necessary?”

7. Plastic crap. Toys for tots, gadgets for guys, etc., etc. Takes energy to make, ship, and dispose of, and adds to landfills. Just say no to crap. Kids grow up MORE healthy with a small number of good toys than with a large number of lousy ones. (Psychological research, not opinion).

8. Alternative energy. Yup, I’m paying extra to support wind and solar power (and methane recovery from landfills.) I can afford $5 a month for that.

9. Night football games. Darn, those lights cost the town a lot of money in energy!

10. Landscapers/lawn folk. Yes, they drive me crazy. Everything is gas powered, and they spend hours raising huge clouds of dust to move six leaves to one pile, making noise like an airport while they do it. None of those gas powered gadgets are designed for efficiency, as far as I can tell, and they’re largely unregulated in terms of pollution, noise, and gas mileage. For God’s sake, people, get a freakin’ reel mower and pay a kid to mow your lawn if you can’t do it yourself. I was shocked by the state of reel mowers today. Buy the second-cheapest (NOT the cheapest) from Sears and you get a lightweight, sturdy, self-sharpening mowing machine that’s quiet, efficient, EASY to use, and apparently never needs to be repaired. It takes less time to mow and it self-fertilizes. Oh, and it’s cheaper than a power mower of similar quality, never needs gas, and can go for ten years without a tune-up.

11. Buying stuff made in China. Support an oligarchy with a lousy human rights record, while spending all that fuel to ship it here and destroy our balance of payments. Doesn’t make sense to me but I have to admit like just about everyone else, I end up with lots of stuff made in China because sometimes there’s no choice (or no indication). Wal-Mart, by the way, is probably the worst place to shop if you disagree with “communist” China’s nasty ways. Of if you love America (or Canada) since our economy cannot survive a continued and ever-larger trade debt to China; Wal-Mart has been accused by companies of practically forcing them to move factories to China (as in telling them if they did not, they would lose the world’s largest retailer as a distributor).

12. Bad technologies – using write-once CDs or DVDs for backup, buying lots of floppies, non-rechargeable batteries (purchased by the score), etc. You’re paying one way or another for those. Unfortunately this country doesn’t believe in taxing according to real cost, so you pay a fixed tax for garbage collection (in most towns) and the other costs of getting rid of rubbish and toxic waste are hidden in other tax bills. Make less trash, pay less cash – in the long run. The sensible way would be to put a surcharge onto disposable batteries, razors, etc. to make those who make the trash pay the cash. (The same goes for roads – I believe ALL road building should be paid for by gas taxes.)

13. Driving to work when it’s not needed. I take the bus when I go to the city – the bus carries up to 60 people (as I recall) who would all be driving an individual car. That’s about 90 gallons of gas saved in a short trip for a single bus. (Of course not all are full but you get the idea.)

14. Excessive heating and cooling – that just came to mind from ritzy hotels. They like rooms to be 90 degrees in winter so you’ll be impressed by how they spend your money, I guess.

That’s all I have time for. I guess you could think of a dozen more. But you know, I know I’m not perfect. I try to reduce my impact. But I don’t think you can really complain about high fuel bills if you’re not trying to reduce – those who have Expeditions shouldn’t throw stones. It’s not ONLY a political problem, it’s largely supply and demand. The Alaskan oil reserves would be good for about six months of full American demand; and then it would be gone forever leaving us with nothing (and by the way, we’d sell it to Japan in all likelihood!). What’s more, though they belong to the US government, I doubt much of the cash would flow back into the Treasury. Likewise, I have no time for conspiracy theories telling me that environmentalists have caused the energy prices to spike. Intelligent conservatives know that’s a load of rubbish. Environmentalists have darned little power, and there’s a finite supply of oil going against an ever increasing demand with China and India both coming into the energy age. So I’m not in the mood to hear that. The rest of the world will have no sympathy for our gas prices as long as we’re using double what most people do, and I don’t see why we expect them to. Bring down our energy usage, and then I think we can all talk.

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