Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gas cost vs. commuting and a realistic climate change solution

A quick post at halftime tonight: just want to pass along a couple of interesting pieces.

The first is a couple of graphs of total commuting cost by car vs. the price per gallon of gasoline. They demonstrate why it's hard to get people to switch from car commuting to other modes (like transit or carpooling) even when gas gets very expensive: it just doesn't move the needle that much on total commuting costs. Note how the cost lines are not that dramatic even up to $10 per gallon (as long as you're not driving a Hummer).

The second item lays out a very convincing set of arguments on addressing carbon and climate change. Key excerpts:
We rich people can't stop the world's 5 billion poor people from burning the couple of trillion tons of cheap carbon that they have within easy reach. We can't even make any durable dent in global emissions -- because emissions from the developing world are growing too fast, because the other 80 percent of humanity desperately needs cheap energy, and because we and they are now part of the same global economy. What we can do, if we're foolish enough, is let carbon worries send our jobs and industries to their shores, making them grow even faster, and their carbon emissions faster still.

We don't control the global supply of carbon.

Ten countries ruled by nasty people control 80 percent of the planet's oil reserves -- about 1 trillion barrels, currently worth about $40 trillion. If $40 trillion worth of gold were located where most of the oil is, one could only scoff at any suggestion that we might somehow persuade the nasty people to leave the wealth buried. They can lift most of their oil at a cost well under $10 a barrel. They will drill. They will pump. And they will find buyers. Oil is all they've got.

Poor countries all around the planet are sitting on a second, even bigger source of carbon -- almost a trillion tons of cheap, easily accessible coal. They also control most of the planet's third great carbon reservoir -- the rain forests and soil. They will keep squeezing the carbon out of cheap coal, and cheap forest, and cheap soil, because that's all they've got. Unless they can find something even cheaper. But they won't -- not any time in the foreseeable future.

He then makes a set of substantial arguments (well worth reading), concluding with:

If we're truly worried about carbon, we must instead approach it as if the emissions originated in an annual eruption of Mount Krakatoa. Don't try to persuade the volcano to sign a treaty promising to stop. Focus instead on what might be done to protect and promote the planet's carbon sinks -- the systems that suck carbon back out of the air and bury it. Green plants currently pump 15 to 20 times as much carbon out of the atmosphere as humanity releases into it -- that's the pump that put all that carbon underground in the first place, millions of years ago. At present, almost all of that plant-captured carbon is released back into the atmosphere within a year or so by animal consumers. North America, however, is currently sinking almost two-thirds of its carbon emissions back into prairies and forests that were originally leveled in the 1800s but are now recovering. For the next 50 years or so, we should focus on promoting better land use and reforestation worldwide. Beyond that, weather and the oceans naturally sink about one-fifth of total fossil-fuel emissions. We should also investigate large-scale options for accelerating the process of ocean sequestration.

Carbon zealots despise carbon-sinking schemes because, they insist, nobody can be sure that the sunk carbon will stay sunk. Yet everything they propose hinges on the assumption that carbon already sunk by nature in what are now hugely valuable deposits of oil and coal can be kept sunk by treaty and imaginary cheaper-than-carbon alternatives. This, yet again, gets things backward. We certainly know how to improve agriculture to protect soil, and how to grow new trees, and how to maintain existing forests, and we can almost certainly learn how to mummify carbon and bury it back in the earth or the depths of the oceans, in ways that neither man nor nature will disturb. It's keeping nature's black gold sequestered from humanity that's impossible.

If we do need to do something serious about carbon, the sequestration of carbon after it's burned is the one approach that accepts the growth of carbon emissions as an inescapable fact of the twenty-first century. And it's the one approach that the rest of the world can embrace, too, here and now, because it begins with improving land use, which can lead directly and quickly to greater prosperity. If, on the other hand, we persist in building green bridges to nowhere, we will make things worse, not better. Good intentions aren't enough. Turned into ineffectual action, they can cost the earth and accelerate its ruin at the same time.

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At 8:16 AM, May 15, 2009, Anonymous kjb434 said...

But first, you'll have to believe that somehow carbon is a pollutant.

A memo from the (Obama's)EPA just said there is no scientific evidence that carbon is a pollutant (even though the Supreme Court ruled otherwise several years back). It was read at the recent congressional committee discussion on the problematic "cap and trade" legislation.

It's hard to believe that the minimal carbon humans and animals push into the atmosphere can actually have an effect since our atmosphere is already at it's carbon saturation point (which means the potential for temperature increase becomes negligible with more carbon present). On top of that, at many points in the past prior to even human existence the carbon levels in the atmosphere were way beyond what we see to day and what we can even generate. Also add that carbon levels would have to be a lagging indicator to global warming since temperature increases occur before carbon increases occur. Even Al Gore's charts show that.

We also have this wonderful thing called the sun. It's what actually rules our climate. And there isn't anything we can ever do about it.


And enjoy you Eco-Friendly Hydro-Carbon Based vehicles. Your trees and plants thank you!

At 11:20 AM, May 15, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have a little fun with this. It's a youtube video comparing global warming alarmism to George Orwell's 1984.

It uses the Apple commercial that only ran once during the superbowl in the early 80s as the base.

At 6:30 PM, May 17, 2009, Blogger Accurate said...

The part that has confused me about this entire argument is when the 'greenies' don't address the fact that these warming, cooling trends have existed for thousands of years. They existed before mankind existed, when the Sahara desert was once a tropical haven. They happened before the internal combustion engine was invented, when Eric the Red discovered Greenland and named it Greenland because it WAS green; not covered in ice. No, these things have happened over and over in time immemorial; but THOSE are the facts that the 'greenies' don't want to talk about.

At 1:08 PM, May 19, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm calling BS on your $1500/mo fixed cost for commuting. What are you driving? Four Bentleys?

At 1:54 PM, May 19, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

He gives his logic at the link. I think you're right: he jacks it up a bit with the parking charge and the insurance charge (which should already be built into the IRS number).

At 4:52 PM, May 19, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1). He's double counting on the IRS calculation

2). $10.00/day for parking seems high...I worked DT for 10 years, and never paid more than $150/month ($8.00/day) and most of the time, even DT, my parking was free. If you work in the Woodlands, Greenspoint, or the Galleria, parking is free.

3). Even assuming his $300/month, $100 for insurance, and leasing something outrageous like a BMW 535 ($663.00/mo according to, you are below $1,100.00/mo.

He's not helping his case by making up objectively ridiculous figures. Leasing a BMW 535 is not a "necesity" for commuting, either...a 2009 Chevy Malibu will set you back $283/month and will provide the same level of convenience as the Beemer.

He might as well say "it costs $300/day to eat" because he has to eat at Per Se and order the wine every night.

At 4:52 AM, May 20, 2009, Blogger engineering said...

Hey Tory,

The never ending argument that people should all move inside the loop :)

Regardless of the arguments, two main reasons why people move to the suburbs are:

1. quality of schools
2. cost of housing

Figure out how young families can have both of them in the inner city and the dynamics of urban development might change.

Too much focus on auto/carbon emissions. Can we focus on consumption?

Every week I notice the tremendous amount of garbage that is put out along the curb for pick up. If we reduce consumption and the size of houses we live in we might have a better outcome in reducing energy consumption.

On the other hand, it is up to the person on what he/she wants to spend every day in commuting else we should become a socialist or communist country. After all we in the US believe in the freedom of choices. :)


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