Peak Oil News: Addiction

Monday, February 06, 2006


By James Howard Kunstler

By now, President Bush's wildly irresponsible remarks on energy in his state of the union speech may have already vanished down the memory hole, but the damage will linger on. "America is addicted to oil," Mr. Bush began, failing to mention that underlying this addiction was a living arrangement that required people to drive their cars incessantly. A clueless public will continue to believe that "the best way to break this addiction is through technology. . ." and that "we must also change how we power our automobiles."

Mr. Bush recommended ethanol. As one wag put it after the speech: "America's heroin is oil, and ethanol will be our methadone." The expectation will still be that everybody must drive incessantly.

It is hard to believe that Mr. Bush does not know the truth of the situation, or that some of the clever people around him who run his brain do not know it, namely that ethanol and all other bio-fuels are net energy losers, that they require more energy to grow and process them than they produce in the end, and that the energy "inputs" required to do this are none other than oil and natural gas, the same fuels we already run engines on.

The president also said that "breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal, to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025."

In point of fact, our oil imports from anywhere on the planet will be reduced by more than 75 percent because by that time worldwide oil depletion will be advanced to its terminal stage, and nobody will have any oil left to export -- assuming that the industrial nations have not ravaged each other by then in a war to control the diminishing supply of oil.

The key to the stupidity evinced by Mr. Bush's speech is the assumption that we ought to keep living the way we do in America, that we can keep running the interstate highway system, WalMart, and Walt Disney World on some other basis besides fossil fuels. The public probably wishes that this were so, but it isn't a service to pander to their wishes instead of addressing the mandates of reality. And reality is telling us something very different. Reality is saying that the life of incessant motoring is a suicidal fiasco, and if we don't learn to inhabit the terrain of North America differently, a lot of us are going die, either in war, or by starvation when oil-and-gas-based farming craps out, or in civil violence proceeding from failed economic expectations.

I hate to keep harping on this, but Mr. Bush could have announced a major effort to restore the American railroad system. It would have been a major political coup. It would have a huge impact on our oil use. The public would benefit from it tremendously. And it would have put thousands of people to work on something really meaningful. Unlike trips to Mars and experiments in cold fusion, railroads are something we already know how to do, and the tracks are lying out there waiting to be fixed. But the reigning delusions of Hollywood and Las Vegas prevent us from thinking realistically about these things. We're only into wishing for grand slam home runs and five-hundred-million-dollar lottery jackpots. Anything less than that makes us feel like losers.

Meanwhile, the official Democratic Party response to Mr. Bush's fucking nonsense was the stupendous fatuousness of newly-elected Virginia Governor Tim Kaine's rebuttal, a saccharine gruel of platitudes and panderings that made me want to shoot members of my own party on sight.

History will look back in wonder and nausea at the twitterings of these idiots as the world they pretended to run lurched into darkness.


At 8:18 PM, February 07, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As far as I understand, ethanol is not a net energy loser. There just is not enough airable land on earth to feed the current population and produce enough biodiesel and ethanol to supplant our voracious appetites for fossil type fuels.

At 9:44 AM, February 08, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Home brew ethanol is certainly an energy loser. However, using state of the art optimized processes, you can get a whopping 1.3 units of energy out for each unit of energy invested. Plus or minus a little bit depending on who is doing the math.

Still not great EROEI


Biodiesel from an oilstock like soybean, is about 2.5 to 3 units out per unit energy invested, depending on how you account for the energy value of the feedstock (for animals) left after processing.

That's worlds better than ethanol, and still doesn't change the thrust of MK's argument at all.

As easy fossil fuels are depleted, it will absolutely require dramatic changes in how we live, how we move about, etc. It will be the antithesis of globalization. Essentially self sufficient local communities will be the key.

Finest regards,



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