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Another Talking Point Deflated

August 5th, 2008 · 3 Comments · Energy, News, Politics, Science, Tech

TIME says Obama is right: keeping tires properly inflated can save more oil than offshore drilling would produce. And it would do it immediately, rather than taking till 2030 to have any substantial effect.

How out of touch is Barack Obama? He’s so out of touch that he suggested that if all Americans inflated their tires properly and took their cars for regular tune-ups, they could save as much oil as new offshore drilling would produce. Gleeful Republicans have made this their daily talking point; Rush Limbaugh is having a field day; and the Republican National Committee is sending tire gauges labeled “Barack Obama’s Energy Plan” to Washington reporters.

But who’s really out of touch? The Bush Administration estimates that expanded offshore drilling could increase oil production by 200,000 bbl. per day by 2030. We use about 20 million bbl. per day, so that would meet about 1% of our demand two decades from now. Meanwhile, efficiency experts say that keeping tires inflated can improve gas mileage 3%, and regular maintenance can add another 4%. Many drivers already follow their advice, but if everyone did, we could immediately reduce demand several percentage points. In other words: Obama is right.

Look, things like drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and increasing offshore drilling, are bogus, band-aid solutions that sound good to the easily manipulated but aren’t going to make even a tiny dent in our long-term energy problems. Drilling in the ANWR might produce a six-month supply of oil, ten years after drilling starts — with no guarantee that it will have the slightest impact on oil prices — but the environmental destruction will last forever. It’s just not worth it.

At this point, our petroleum-guzzling culture is like a junkie, wildly slapping around on our scarred, ruined arms trying to find just one more vein. We need to face facts and realize that finding one more vein isn’t the answer — the only realistic, long-term solution is to clean ourselves up and get off the junk.

That means, as sensible candidates like Obama (and Edwards before him) have proposed, a massive investment in the development of alternative energy sources. What we need is a Manhattan Project for green energy. The recent breakthrough in solar power technology is just a hint of what could be achieved if the quest were taken as seriously as it should be:

Up to now solar power has been a “Cinderella” energy source because storing the sun’s energy is so expensive and inefficient.

Now scientists believe they have overcome the problem using technology inspired by photosynthesis in plants.

The system allows small amounts of electricity from solar panels to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. A similar water-splitting reaction occurs during photosynthesis. Later, the gases can be recombined in a fuel cell to produce carbon-free electricity.

Professor Daniel Nocera, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, who co-led the research, said: “Solar power has always been a limited, far-off solution. Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited, and soon.”

British expert Professor James Barber, from Imperial College London, said the technology represented a “giant leap” towards generating clean, carbon-free energy on a massive scale.

“This is a major discovery with enormous implications for the future prosperity of humankind,” he said. “It opens up the door for developing new technologies for energy production thus reducing our dependence for fossil fuels and addressing the global climate change problem.”

More work needs to be done to integrate the new technology into existing solar power systems. But Prof Nocera believes that within 10 years people will be able to power their homes with a combination of solar panels and household fuel cells.

10 years from now would be a lot sooner than 2030, by the way.

It’s absolutely within our scientific and industrial power to transition our culture to sane and sustainable energy sources. All we lack is the political will to stop listening to the junkie-enabling pundits and politicians who are sponsored by the oil pushers, who want to keep us hooked on a hopeless addiction as long as possible.


3 Comments so far ↓

  • Jane

    Yea, horay, hip, hip, hooray for the ocelopotamus! Right on! Now how do we tell this to everyone?

  • Aaron

    Getting an oil baron out of the White House would be a good thing, too. A VERY good thing. That and NOT electing his toady would-be successor (see “Maverick, My Ass”).

  • Steve Sturm

    No problems with Dave’s discussion, but the underlying quoted Time article has some flaws. First, there is no direct link between gas mileage and demand. Oil demand includes many more factors than car gas mileage. Further, the article suggests a 7% increase in car mileage from proper maintenance and tire pressure would result in a reduction of demand by “several percentage points.”

    The math is off. If we even assumed an average car gas mileage of 20 mpg, an increase of 7% would only increase the average mileage to 21.4 mpg. Which would not decrease demand by “several percentage points.”

    As a former journalism major, I am always uneasy when I see journalists, not known for their math, science and engineering skills, take on technical issues.

    And I’m not gonna believe a word about Obama being an environmentalist until he starts walking away from ADM and all the ethanol money going into his campaign coffers. Engineers tried to tell environmentalists that ethanol wasn’t going to work, and nobody listened as agribusiness lobbyists bought congressional votes, aided by a misguided environmentalist perception they were accomplishing something.