Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.
— U.S. Secretary of Energy-designate Steven Chu, 2008
Of course we don’t want the price of gasoline to go up, we want it to go down.
— U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, 2012
Gas prices are on the rise again, which means the “man on the street” will complain to local news reporters about greedy oil companies and foreign cartels, and energy-illiterate pundits and politicians will cry for domestic drilling with wild abandon.
But is gasoline, now approaching $4 per gallon in Ohio, really expensive?
Consider that a barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude oil, trading for around $100 per barrel in March 2012, is equivalent to 10,000 hours of human labor. The work of one person over their lifetime (about 45 years of manual labor) can be done by just four barrels of oil, which costs $400 today. That’s not a bad deal compared to the annual salary, healthcare costs and pension that an employee would receive over 45 years.
Gasoline—and all our fossil energy—has been absurdly cheap over the last two centuries. Even today, fossil fuels are relatively inexpensive for the power they deliver to consumers, companies and governments. Oil’s cheapness has given us economic growth, industrialization and consumerism. And it’s also given us overpopulation, overconsumption, toxic pollution, the depletion of soil, water and rare earth metals, and habitat destruction and its corollary, species extinction.
Solutions that make petroleum less expensive not only make that long list of consequences worse, they delay our inevitable transition away from finite, fast-depleting underground fuels. If we delay the transition, then we will have a larger, more developed global population that’s used to a high-energy lifestyle by the time the shortages hit and rationing kicks in. In short, low oil prices now mean more people, corporations and nations fighting over fewer resources later.
So why don’t politicians call for more expensive energy to curtail use? That would be a more rational response for a world on the brink of energy scarcity. If households find out their income source would soon be drastically reduced, wouldn’t it make sense if they stopped their spending spree and started to save?
Instead, we drain our bank account of accumulated fossil capital at ever-faster rates. Between 2001 and 2011, the world consumed about 260 billion barrels of crude oil. That amount represents about 20 percent of all crude oil ever consumed. Demand and population, especially in China and India, are growing exponentially. If China and India’s oil consumption continues at present rates, they would gobble up all of the available net exports of oil in the world in just 19 years, leaving none for any other importing country, according to petroleum geologist Jeffrey Brown.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu added an enlightened sentiment to the energy conversation in 2008 when he suggested that the U.S. should try to increase gasoline prices to the level in most European nations, which is roughly double that of the U.S. In January 2012, a German motorist paid an average $8.19 per gallon to fill up, compared to the $3.58 per gallon paid at an American pump, according to figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Chu’s announced goal in 2008 was right on target. With much higher domestic prices, solutions like use of mass transit, smaller vehicles and smart growth happen naturally. America would be less dependent upon oil because new housing construction would take place within walking distance of shops and workplaces. New passenger rail lines would connect distant destinations. Wind, solar and other sources of renewable energy would get a boost. Relocation of agricultural production in and near cities would save energy and money and improve food security. Thus, when an even more serious oil crunch comes, American households and communities would be better adapted to survive as fuel costs would be a smaller percentage of total living expenses.
But Chu recently told reporters that he changed his mind since 2008 and that he has actually worked over the last three years to reduce oil prices. This may be political maneuvering ahead of the November presidential election. Or it may be that Chu thinks Americans are too dumb to understand that in the long run they would be better off with higher fuel prices.
It would be refreshing if a few politicians and pundits talked about (without retraction) how high oil prices would secure America’s fossil fuel-free future, and if at least a few Americans told the media how happy high prices made them for the sake of their country.
Last year oil companies cried that ending their government subsidies was un-American and would raise gasoline prices. The truth is that more expensive gasoline would encourage positive changes in the U.S. economy making Americans more self-reliant, less vulnerable to oil price shocks and shortages and more resilient in the face of future economic downturns or Middle East turmoil. That sounds pretty American to me.
The growing Texas solar industry is offering a safe harbor to unemployed oil and gas professionals amidst the latest oil and gas industry bust, this one brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Houston Chronicle reports.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
This month, a new era began in the fight against plastic pollution.
- Historic Agreement on Plastic Pollution Reached by 180+ Countries ... ›
- U.S. Leads the World in Plastic Waste, New Study Finds - EcoWatch ›
- EU Bans Exporting Unsorted Plastic Waste to Poorer Countries ... ›
Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
- San Antonio, Texas Unveils Largest Highway Crossing for Wildlife in ... ›
- Wildlife Crossings a Huge Success - EcoWatch ›
- Climate Change Will Be Sudden and Cataclysmic Unless We Act Now ›
- There's a Heatwave at the Arctic 'Doomsday Vault' - EcoWatch ›
- Marine Heatwaves Destroy Ocean Ecosystems Like Wildfires ... ›
By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>