Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bye - bye bulbs

By Capt Fogg

A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures.

-Daniel Webster-

The last big fuel economy legislation package was enacted 32 years ago. Per Capita energy usage has increased dramatically since then. For one thing, it generated an abiding lust for ever more ridiculously large and heavy vehicles that even $3.50 a gallon gas prices haven't diminished and it did nothing to reduce the longer commutes and increased ferrying of all the little Codys and Madisons to their various activities and lessons.

Technology has indeed improved. Engines are more efficient and more reliable but it's been more than offset by every mother's need to drive an Army truck, by the death of public transportation in many places and by the further decentralization of the population. Dare we hope for a more practical approach in the new energy legislation that the House of Representatives is likely to pass today?

Seems like we can say good bye to incandescent light, our warm and friendly 19th century friend, and hello to harsh, flickering, mercury laden florescent bulbs or to the eerie and expensive aura of light emitting diode arrays. Phillips and GE, who played a large part in drafting the phase out of incandescents will get to sell you things that cost ten times or twenty times more.

I will miss light dimmers. They don't work with florescent light and I will have to find some other way to keep my bedroom and living room and dining room from looking like a hospital. Perhaps it will reduce my electric bill by two or three percent, but I doubt it. Most of the energy usage in my house is from water heating, pool heating, air conditioning and food refrigeration and the electric company is surely not going to freeze rates in response to decreasing demand.

Overall, the legislation is designed to reduce total consumption by 8% by 2030. That's not a lot and the benefit is questionable when one considers the environmental effects of brewing so much alcohol, producing so many silicon or gallium arsenide solar cells or the massive need for ever more petrochemical fertilizers to grow ever larger amounts of ever more expensive grains for fuel. It's really hard to know what the unintended consequences will be. It's likely that there will be more than an 8% increase in population in 23 years. It's hard to know what Americans will choose to drive to avoid the headaches of electric cars or the lack of utility of Smart Cars and it's far from certain that the government will retain it's desire to fund the billion and a half program for the next ten years.

I don't rest any easier knowing that the legislation was mostly drafted by the companies that stand to benefit the most and most quickly and I suspect that the $30,000,000 solar array to be built to power the Department of Energy (during peak daylight hours when the sun shines in Washington) will scarcely profit anyone but the people who sell solar cells.

It's not so much that I'm a reactionary cynic, although I am, but without a major shift in the way Americans live and work and breed, I fear this is only another kind of tokenism and another handout to big corporations and that the unintended consequences may be as bad or worse than doing nothing.

Cross posted from Human Voices

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Anonymous rockync said...

One positive trend is the advent of the light rail. I've been pushing this one in my area and there are several cities already using them. Charlotte, NC just opened their line, Atlanta and Denver have had them for some time. If they extend the lines to some of the outlying burbs, I see it as a pretty significant energy conservation measure.

11:03:00 AM  
Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

It's nothing new, of course. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs. When I was a kid you could ride the light, inter-urban electric railroad from Milwaukee to Chicago and to South Bend,Indiana. Cheap, clean and efficient with stations everywhere. With the right transfers you could go almost anywhere at all.

One of the reasons we tore it up was General Motors who made deals to tear up the rails and supply cheap Diesel and Gasoline buses that hardly go anywhere.

I'm also old enough to remember the Pullman cars and the great fun of traveling long distances in them.

Other countries spend a lot of money on fast rail transportation - we pour it into airlines that lose money, burn massive amounts of fuel and make massive amounts of pollution.

Too bad we're not that smart.

11:42:00 AM  
Anonymous rockync said...

Now that fuel is taking a bigger bite out of peoples'pockets,perhaps, these new light rails will gain popularity and the tide will turn once again.

3:04:00 PM  
Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

Could be, but all those tens of thousands of miles of right of way have long since been sold off.

Even China has better trains and you can get around Europe faster on rail than in the air much of the time. If we still had the roadbeds we used to have and we had 300 mph trains like they do, this would be a vastly less energy dependent country and people could travel with dignity once again instead of in those flying cattle cars they have now.

6:08:00 PM  

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