The Ergosphere
Friday, January 26, 2007

The art of propaganda

Being sick and somewhat out of sorts, I only half-listened to the SOTU speech (text) on Tuesday.  But what I heard did nothing to change my opinion of our lame duck President.

I heard plenty of weasel-phrases, and the anemic goals reminded me of "the soft bigotry of low expectations".  Twenty percent over ten years?  This is just over three times the rate of last year's 0.6% OECD reduction.  The USA's consumption of petroleum products is roughly 45% gasoline; if the US had eked out the same 0.6% cut from gasoline alone, it would come to a 1.33% cut in gasoline consumption - already 2/3 of Bush's stated goal.  Given gasoline prices in the $3.00 range again, this appears likely to happen all by itself.

We need to aim closer to 50% over 10 years, and 100% over 20.  We can do it, with PHEV's, movement of freight to rail and niche biofuels.  But Bush's map goes straight into the swamp.

The other weasel phrase is "cutting our total imports by the equivalent of three-quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East."  Let's examine this phrase in detail:

All in all, this was one for the Hall of Shame.  I would have been even more disappointed than after last year's "addicted to oil" speech... if I'd had any expectations.  He did nothing substantive about the problem before, and I expect nothing better from him unless he has no other options.  (Cynicism has its benefits; you can be pleasantly surprised, but rarely crushed.)

Now it falls to the barely-Democratic Congress to craft the policies we need, the policies we should have had on the "URGENT" list since 9/11/2001.  Will they be able to get around an administration joined at the hips to the oil industry, willing to use executive power to obstruct and even destroy (EPA libraries, NASA earth-observation programs) anything unfriendly to its power base?  Only time will tell.

If the Tesla or the Volt electric cars, or this one:
materialize this year as promised by their producers, we will see a significant reduction in gasoline consumption within 3-4 years.

Bush SOTU speech is irrelevant, cars aren't invented or developed by Presidents or Government departments.
Political speeches are just hot air.
We would see significant reductions in consumption as soon as the tax breaks favoring guzzlers for any "business purpose" are repealed.  This should have been done on 9/12/2001.  Where's the tax provision for one-year expensing of ZEV's?

The government doesn't develop cars, but it does establish the environment in which the developers operate.  Huge improvements in pollution came about because the government made it a top priority.  If the Bush administration had been working on even small measures aimed at economy and independence instead of dismantling all the efforts of previous administrations, we'd be in far better shape as a nation.

But the oil companies wouldn't be so profitable.

Bush sold out his nation and the people who voted for him.  That's all that counts, and I call it treason.
How about listing three things that could have been proposed and passed in the next 30 days that could begin to have a positive impact immediately?

I can think of:

* An oil import fee of $10 a barrel, to be increased by $2 a year for the next 10 years. This would help increase the demand for alternatives in the U.S. and reduce the price that petro-kleptocracies receive for their oil on the world market. (Might also hurt the competitiveness of petroleum-dependent U.S. manufacturers, but how many of them are left?)

* A mandate that all new vehicles (excepting combat and emergency response vehicles) purchased for local, state and federal fleets get an EPA efficiency rating of 35 mpg or greater, increasing to 50 mpg by 2010.

* Eliminate the import duty on Brazilian ethanol.

Again, I'm looking at stroke-of-the-pen kind of stuff. What do you think could work?
You mean something that could have been part of the "First Hundred Hours" to-do list?

I would have returned all business vehicles to the standard depreciation schedule, effective January 1.  Oil import taxes would have similar effects to steel import taxes (disadvantage domestic industry which uses oil as a feedstock), but eliminating the per-manufacturer hybrid car tax credit limits and closing the E85 loophole would have been good.  (Without the loophole, E85 collapses like a jolted soufflé.)

Of course, it might make more political sense to wait to deal with ethanol until food prices upset the electorate.  It's hard to get credit for solving a problem that never hit the public consciousness.

The conceptual advantage of the plug-in hybrid versus a pure electric vehicle is that is requires a substantially smaller battery to achieve a given reduction in gasoline consumption.

E.g. a 30 km PHEV might cut gasoline consumption by 75 % wheras you need a 300 km EV to make up that final 25 %.

Batteries are expensive now and will probably only decline in price incrementally over time. We'll get a much better payback in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and oil consumption if we build 10 plug-in cars than if we build 1 electric car. Government subsidies should be orientated appropriately.
"Bush sold out his nation and the people who voted for him."

All these things could have been advanced by the congress or by state and local governments. I think that the failures are pretty well spread around.

Those kind of statements needlessly alienate a potential group of supporters for reform.
Except that states either do not have such powers (California's authority to regulate CO2 or CAFE standards is legally disputed) or any state which attempts to go it alone will drive its business away to other states which don't (the free-rider problem).

This really does take leadership from the top, and that leadership has been sorely lacking.
I agree. You'd think that there could have been some sort of compromise on opening up ANWAR in return for certain other concessions. But those policies could have been generated at the congressional level as well.
Modular and scalable, with 75% thermal efficiency:

Pretty nice. I wonder if any of the 25% waste heat can be recycled or used to run a turbine, or dry biomass. Though the "WTW" efficiency will likely be less than if the syngas were converted to electricity through a SOFC as you have suggested.

I also wonder if it can be tuned to produce charcoal.
If you leave some of the input as charcoal, you'll lose some of your output yield.

On the one hand, I think that's progress.  On the other hand, it's a process which cannot raise its yields enough to replace petroleum, and competes for the same feedstocks as a much higher efficiency charcoal-electric cycle.  It can displace fossil carbon, but isn't suited to sequestration.  Color me ambivalent.
Slightly off topic, but what do you think of this?

"Sir Richard Branson is raising his game as "saviour of the planet" by announcing a multimillion-pound prize for the best way of removing thousands of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The prize - expected to be in the range of £10m - will go to the originator of the most convincing invention for actively absorbing and storing the principal man-made gas in the atmosphere responsible for global warming.
Sir Richard has drawn up a distinguished panel of judges to oversee the prize including James Lovelock, the inventor of the Gaia theory; James Hansen, the Nasa researcher who first warned the US government of climate change, and Tim Flannery, the Australian zoologist and explorer."
It's difficult to expect more from the administration after this year's SOTU speech, even with the words about biofuels. Propoganda aside, more of the real action is happening in the marketplace where new technologies and good jobs are cropping up. One example, the PowerGen Renewable Energy gig in Vegas March 6-8. Check it out at:
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