Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Please allow me to introduce myself...

by DeAnander Sun Jun 12th, 2005 at 01:58:32 PM EST

I have a personal interest in energy literacy and the ways in which its opposite, energy illiteracy, is encouraged by our current economic and social order.  What is energy literacy?  One answer (mine, at the moment) is:  an understanding that the fundamental economics of life are calculated in units of energy, not units of money.  

If we don't understand energy units and costs, then we can't sensibly discuss issues close to my heart like sustainable technology, how to adapt to the end of the cheap fossil fuel era, how to live within our planetary means, etc.  We can't talk about which "alternative energy sources" are cost effective, or assess the impact of our daily choices and decisions, without understanding energy units and concepts.

We are all brought up to understand money units from an early age.  We know how to compare prices, and how to tell if something is expensive or cheap, a bargain or a rip-off.  We are brought up, by contrast, in fairly complete ignorance of energy units and equivalences.  Because of our inability to think quantitatively about energy with the same fluency and ease with which we compare prices at a supermarket, we are prevented from making rational choices or understanding major issues facing us (as individuals, nations, a species).

For example, I have met people who seriously believed that Americans can go on running their private vehicle fleet as is, even if we run out of fossil fuel, by using peanut butter as fuel.  To believe this requires  ignorance of the concept of energy density, the difference in potential energy between a gallon of gasoline and a gallon of peanut butter.  Similar illiteracy and innumeracy underlies much of the Pollyanna-ism of popular American culture with regard to energy futures, "the American Way of Life" and so forth.  The various Cornucopian cult variations (hydrogen will save us, nuclear power will save us, cold fusion will save us) are all based, in my humble opinion, on fundamental energy illiteracy.

Many people believe that they are doing "all they can" by recycling packaging;  most people place a disproportionate emphasis or value on the "energy savings" they achieve by this fairly painless, socially acceptable activity.  They do not generally pause to consider the total energy cost of the packaged foods and other goods whose packaging they are virtuously recycling, or how much greater a savings would have been realised by buying locally or in bulk.

The focus of my diaries will be on energy and sustainability issues; the motto will be Show Me The Numbers.  We can only make sense of the urgent energy issues facing us -- and the era of cheap fossil fuel and its side effects have piled up issues that will take us a generation to solve -- if we understand the numbers.  

We need to learn to think in calories, watts, joules, BTUs, barrel-of-crude equivalents, as well as in dollars and euros.  We need to think in terms of EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) in every area of human effort, from transport to electricity generation to nutrition.  Particularly in our current parlous and unstable times, with entrenched commercial interests (oil lobby, coal lobby, nuke lobby, military/industrial barons) trying to spin our energy fears into lucrative deals for themselves, we need to be literate enough to see through both soothing happytalk and chicken-little panic-mongering, in order to assess soberly what our best chances are of  piloting human civilisation through a difficult transition.

I hope to encourage others to join me in the challenging task of becoming energy literate, learning to read the energy price tags on the artifacts and services all around me.

Do you think Peak Oil is a real issue?
. I'm expecting it to cause a big die-off or other major catastrophe w/in my lifetime 6%
. I'm expecting it to change all our lives and cause significant disruption 72%
. it's pretty scary, but I worry about war, global warming, etc, even more 20%
. it's over-hyped like Y2K and will not be such a big deal 0%
. it's a big scam promoted by the oil companies to jack up prices 0%
. what's Peak Oil? 0%

Votes: 44
Results | Other Polls
Well, hello there. Long time no see. Does this mean I'm going to get to dog your steps here as well?

Seriously, I'm looking forward to these.

How's life been treating you?

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Sun Jun 12th, 2005 at 02:50:27 PM EST
Hi Colman -- as a matter of fact, the last time I stepped out of the Moon for what turned out to be a long walk, you and I were agreeing with each other!  Life has kicked me in the ass bigtime of late -- I'll spare you the details some of which are just too damn personal, but walking pneumonia was one outcome.  Looking forward to sparring amicably with you in the new venue :-)  nice to see you here.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun Jun 12th, 2005 at 03:37:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We need lots more easy-to-understand comparisons of energy use for the complete lifecycle of products in order to persuade ourselves and everyone else to change habits. Thanks for your contribution on the Hummer.

There are only one or two Hummers in Finland, but quite a few SUVs.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Jun 12th, 2005 at 11:24:16 PM EST
to reading your diaries. I always read your comments on MoA with great interest and learned a lot from them.
by Fran on Sun Jun 12th, 2005 at 11:44:34 PM EST
In my heart of hearts, I dream of a world where we are not slaves to planned obsolescence.

And somewhere along the timeline of the Industrial Revolution, people went from making the most of what they had to having the most of what they made. I hope to God that in my lifetime the pendulum of thought swings back the other way.

I'll be looking forward to reading your diaries.

by wanderindiana on Mon Jun 13th, 2005 at 12:41:44 AM EST
This is one of the top two or three issues, and of those I think it's probably #1. Why? Because all of the insane geopolitical logic of Bush et al begins with US dependence on foreign oil.

So thank you! You will have an avid reader here.

Pogo: We have met the enemy, and he is us.

by d52boy on Mon Jun 13th, 2005 at 01:39:26 AM EST
great first diary. I too am very concerned about energy issues and sustainable ways of life, so I look forward to your future diaries.
by byoungbl (byoungbl at mindspring.com) on Mon Jun 13th, 2005 at 01:47:09 AM EST
Great idea for an ongoing topic....looking forward to reading more.
by SallyCat on Mon Jun 13th, 2005 at 02:55:59 AM EST
A fine start. I will look forward to acquiring more energy literacy myself by reading this series.

Just a nit-pick about the poll, though... Y2K was not over-hyped alarmism. It was an enormous success story. It was an example of a serious disaster being projected, the warning being heeded, appropriate action being taken, and the disaster avoided.

The difference between peak oil and Y2K, I suppose, is that the companies who understood the Y2K danger early enough had a strong financial incentive to solve it for themselves and/or propagate the solution to others. So far, the only group of companies who seem to understand the concept of peak oil are the oil companies themselves... and it seems they have a strong interest in nobody else paying attention to the pending disaster.

by Canadian Reader on Mon Jun 13th, 2005 at 06:58:26 AM EST
as an alternative to GNP....because we don't value the basis for production--energy, watershed products like forests, water, soil, air quality (which can also be measured in units of energy)

We cannot solve the problems of today using the same thinking that produced them. (Einstein) http://www.noquarterusa.net
by DrKate on Mon Jun 13th, 2005 at 09:28:10 AM EST
...of human society.  Natural resources enable the development of civilization, but energy input is what sustains us day-to-day.

I'm looking forward to reading your future diaries.  I think we might disagree a bit on the potential of nuclear energy, so I'll be interested in hearing what you have to say.


by AlphaGeek (SiliconValleyAlphaGeek(a)gmail.com) on Mon Jun 13th, 2005 at 12:15:39 PM EST
Excellent term ...

Appreciate your dedication to try to reduce energy illiteracy ...

The balance between 'conserve' (use avoidance) vs alternative energy is one that those who "care" often lose track of.  

Within my "personal" life, try to do cost analysis (rough), including cost avoidance (e.g., life cycle costs).  Societally, try to include pollution implications as part of "cost".  All of this ends up mainly measurable in some way ...

by BesiegedByBush (BesiegedByBushATyahooDOTcom) on Mon Jun 13th, 2005 at 12:26:11 PM EST
You've picked a big chunk to chew - energy policy is going to be the issue that defines our times.

"Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral." -Paulo Freire
by wobblie on Mon Jun 13th, 2005 at 01:28:13 PM EST
I'm also new here. I saw the link on dKos and decided to join up.

I look very much forward to reading on this blog.

It was a cold, bright day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.

by Stradavus on Mon Jun 13th, 2005 at 11:56:30 PM EST

Energy density is poorly understood by the public, and I think it's important to come up with user-friendly analogies so that people realize just how energy-dense oil is in comparison to other fossil fuels, and how energy-dense uranium is in comparison to fossil fuels and, in fact, every other source, and how wind and sunlight are diffuse, weak sources.  

Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of eliminating any of these options right now. And even more unfortunately, many factors point to an increase in fossil fuel combustion in the coming years.

There is no one magic solution.  Until one comes along, we need to have a realistic technological bridge to do all we can to reduce human contribution to global warming or face immense consequences.

I recommend another way of thinking about energy resources:  risk versus benefit.

The comparative risks of different energy sources must take into consideration.  For example, cradle-to-grave costs to public health and the environment, relative volume of waste, whether waste is dispersed or sequestered, etc.  Renewable resources should be looked at in regard to the coal combustion involved in making the concrete bases for wind turbines and the steel for the towers. Solar panels should be looked at regarding the noxious gases involved in their manufacture. Habitat destruction caused by hydroelectric dams. And so on.

by Plan9 on Tue Jun 14th, 2005 at 07:49:56 PM EST

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