Someone on the news observed recently that many Americans judge the economic health of the country mostly on the current price of gasoline.
I think nothing speaks to the truth-blindness of our society about energy more than this. Personally, I never notice the price of gas at the pump. It's of no concern to me. I know it's going to take between $20 and $30 dollars to fill up. I have a lot more important things to worry about than the exact amount.
I think there is an unspoken assumption among our citizenry that the government runs the oil business. We seem to think that the government controls gas prices (sort of like the Federal Reserve controls interest rates), and we interpret fluctuations in gas prices as a measure of the government's ability to manage world affairs. In truth, gas prices are simply the short-term indicators of a constantly fluctuating free market.
Fluctuations in price are natural. The spike due to the Chavez crisis in Venezuela had nothing to do with the economic health of the country. Yet it probably bummed out millions of people, making them wonder if the world was indeed going to hell.
Thus, the price of gasoline is to "Main Street" what the Dow Jones/Nasdaq indices are to Wall Street: rather meaningless figures by themselves, which are taken as reflective of something much more than they are.
An interesting fact from the link above: the daily gasoline consumption by the U.S. is around 360 million gallons a day, which (using an estimate of 100 million households) comes out to about 3.6 gallons per day per household. The 360 million gallons is not a direct measured figure, but is an estimate obtained by taking 43 percent of the daily crude oil consumption of 19.5 million barrels, since 43 percent is supposedly the fraction that winds up as gasoline.
What Muslims Think About Gasoline
In an interesting article in the Los Angeles Times, Jeremy Rifkin — who is writing a book about hydrogen power — reported that many Muslims see oil as the Great Equalizer.
"Many younger Muslim fundamentalists view oil as 'a soft loan from Allah.' They see oil as the great equalizer, a spiritual as well as geopolitical weapon that, if Islamized in the service of Allah, could lead to the second coming of Islam."
What Christians Think About Gasoline
Perhaps fossilfuels.org is a Christian-based site, judging by this lead-in:
"Fossil fuels are one of the Creator's greatest gifts to humankind."
Let's run with that idea. God apparently gave the U.S. enough oil to get us all hooked on the stuff, but he gave the Muslims a lot more so that they'll have plenty of it to sell us when we run out of our stocks. Nice little power play. Whose side is God on?
The organization published this article on how the Internet is essentially a coal-powered phenomenon. This is true. Quite Dickensian, when you think about it, but 51 percent of U.S. electricity comes from burning the shiny black rock, all of which is mined right here within our borders.
But the article contains some rather interesting claims about how much of the increase in U.S. electrical demand is actually due to the growth of the Internet. I don't even bother reading these numbers. They might as well be made up out of thin air, presented without a detailed explanation of how they were obtained.
An Alternative Approach
The proposal by Cape Wind Associates of Boston would spend $600,000 (financed through conventional loans) to build a 170-unit wind farm on 28 square miles of Horseshoe Shoals in the waters off Hyannis, Mass.
It seems offshore wind farming is not a new idea. Although there are existing fields in Europe, this one would be unprecedented in the U.S. because of its scale. The towers themselves would be enormous compared to the ones typically seen in California.
The carbon steel turbine columns would tower 270 feet high, over 40 stories high at the tallest blade tip. They would be spaced one-third to one-half mile apart and would deliver up to 420 MW of electricity to the New England regional grid (equivalent to a small nuclear reactor; up to one-half million homes, using the "1 MW = 1000 residences" rule of thumb). The farm would supposedly be operational by 2005.
Local residents are less than enthusiastic. Greenpeace is in favor of it.
This article from National Geographic a couple months ago is about a proposal by the same company to build a 200-turbine offshore wind farm off the coast of Ireland that would produce up to 520 MW.
"Currently Europe leads the world in its use of wind power. Denmark generates 15 percent of its energy needs using wind power with Germany and Sweden close behind. By 2020, Denmark expects to generate 50 percent of it power demands using wind."
The article gives some interesting figures about the difference in subsidies for wind power between Europe and the U.S.:
Brian Parsons of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., believes that five percent of the country's energy demands could be met with wind power by 2020. "But it would be a big challenge," he said.
According to Scientific American, one of the principal advantages of offshore farms is that ocean winds are steadier than those on land. The article also mentions that the Massachusetts farm would be visible from the Kennedy compound.
Matthew Trump is a physicist living in Staten Island, N.Y. He specializes in the study of relativistic many-body systems and chaos. He is currently writing a book on quantum spin while maintaining his Web log Viva Capitalism.
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