Why it’s ok to drive your car to an anti-oil protest

by Meghan Hughes on January 20, 2014

This guest post is by Meghan Hughes. She has been involved in a variety of environmental groups including Greenpeace, the Save Happy Valley campaign and the Green Party. She has recently finished a Masters in New Zealand Literature and lives in Wellington. She is married to Green Party MP Gareth Hughes, but is proud to claim all her opinions as totally her own.

“Until they personally run their own lives without fossil fuels I’m not prepared to consider their position about not extracting fossil fuels.” Dunedin city councillor, former ACT MP Hilary Calvert.

Hypocrisy (n): the practice of claiming to have higher standards or more laudable opinions or beliefs than is the case. Oxford English Dictionary.

Driving a car to an oil-free protest makes you a hypocrite, right? Wrong: I support an oil-free future in the long term. I agree with divesting from oil exploration in the short term. Ultimately, I believe in moving from a fossil-dependent economy toward a sustainable and more environmentally-responsible economy. What underpins my stance is the reality of man-made climate change and the need for man-made societal change. However, there are people out there who would want me to believe that unless I am able to live my life, run my household, and raise my kids without utilising any products of our oil-dependent society, I have no right to demand anything different. They say to do so would mean that I am a hypocrite. Right?

Wrong. Most of the people making this kind of absurd allegation really don’t care about a genuine response. It is a tactic to shut you down. Unsurprisingly, many of these same people refuse to acknowledge that we are changing our climate, so reject also the responsibly we share in doing something about it. So this isn’t for them, this is for you. This is to tell you that it is ok to drive your car to an oil-free protest.

To call for an oil-free future is to genuinely acknowledge the challenge of man-made climate change and ask, “Where do we go from here?” Supporting an oil-free future is about wanting an alternative and when you passionately believe in the need for an alternative there will always be people who will fight for the status quo. The more threatened they are by your actions, the more defensive they become and the more desperate to shut you down. “Unless you’re some kind of Carbon Jesus and don’t put a foot wrong ever, I ain’t gonna even entertain your ideas.” How convenient!

The truth is no matter which way you turn the reality of our extraction-dependent society is everywhere. Your car, your TV, your phone, your makeup, your takeaway dinner packaging, your new shoes, your kid’s toys: it’s just all too much! We really should just give up. It’s too pervasive, too complicated, and too hard.

No. It isn’t. You have a right to demand alternatives to the only choices you have at this current moment. Do not be discouraged or shamed by people who say you cannot live in society at the same time as you try and change how society is organised. Calling for a change is not hypocritical. It is the only rational thing to do.

The overwhelming consensus of climate scientists tell us the problem is real, it is happening, and if we do not change it will get worse. If we do not lower our carbon emissions and replace our dependence on fossil fuels with alternatives that do not poison our atmosphere and endanger the delicate balance of our ecosystems, it will get worse.

If we do not change it will get worse.

What we are fighting for when we call for an oil-free future is progress. We want the call for progress to translate into action. We want the investment that is currently propping up unsustainable extraction industries to be diverted into solutions that move us toward a more sustainable fuel for our society. We want policies that transition us to a fossil-free future. We want more investment in sustainable transport infrastructure so that we can have alternatives to cars.

This is why it is ok to drive your car to an oil-free protest. Because you are part of a movement of people who want change. Who want alternatives. Who want to change the grim trajectory we are hurtling along right now.

Next time you are packing your placard into the boot of your car, don’t feel guilty. Go one better and make sure it’s a full car. Drive a mini-bus full of people. Join a convoy of cyclists. Pack out a bus, a train, walk, skateboard, paraglide in if you can. But whatever you do, don’t be shut down. Then you would be a hypocrite. Because the other meaning of hypocrisy is believing in something and not doing anything to achieve it.

{ 79 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob Bingham January 20, 2014 at 9:56 pm

If e could harness Greenpeace resources to convert our transport to electric we would make progress in getting away from a fossil fuel lifestyle. Our oil import bill is near $50 billion a year and if we could convert just 10% of our transport we would save $5 billion a year. A much higher chance of success as well.

Kiwiiano January 20, 2014 at 10:30 pm

Our society is so hopelessly addicted to fossil fuel it is impossible to do anything without it being involved somewhere. I could use charcoal to fire a clay pot, but the spade I used to dig the clay, the axe I chopped up the wood with, the magnifying glass I used to light the fire still needed fossil energy.
The carbon footprint of the electrical infrastructure needed for even a severely constrained subset of our present lifestyles is still enormous. I suspect that the only alternative will be to ramp up a Manhattan Project research program in algae to find replacements for all the products we take for granted from coal, oil and gas.

Tom Bennion January 21, 2014 at 12:32 am

I agree that, given that climate change is hitting like a freight train, the argument made by Hilary Calvert is foolish and simply irrelevant.

However, I like the idea of climate change warnings being put on all petrol pumps: as suggested here: http://blog.sfgate.com/energy/2014/01/09/climate-change-warning-labels-on-gas-pumps/

I also wonder how much emissions from transport would reduce if we went back to the 80km hour open road speed limit. My guess is that the savings would be substantial, quite apart from the improvement to road safety.

Kiwiiano January 21, 2014 at 7:47 am

80km would certainly be a move in the right direction, Tom, but we really need to reduce our fossil carbon use to 10% of what we have taken for granted for the last debauched century or so. Which includes not only the petrol in the fuel tank, but the steel/plastics/aluminium/total infrastructure surrounding the vehicle itself. And the asphalt and concrete roads underneath it. It’s going to be a HUUUUGGE task, but one that has to to be done. Preferable starting 50-odd years ago….

Kiwipoet January 21, 2014 at 8:02 am

Thanks Meghan. This kind of put down, I notice, is a favourite of Radio National’s Kim Hill. She ended an interview with James Samuel of the Transition Towns movement by asking if he darned his own socks. There are many variations, the object being, as you say, to shut the argument down and trivialise it. How about this one – your argument is hollow because you wrote it on a computer made of fossil fuels’ derived plastic.
If you did everything these people imply you should be doing, you would end up with nothing but sackcloth and sandals and a mud hut, and do you think they would respect you then? Like hell. They’d dismiss you as a crank. Or attack you for wearing machine made sandals!
The very fact we have to point out the absurdity of this charge of hypocrisy demonstrates just how prevalent it is. Think of the logic – it’s okay to go on selling coal and heating the planet because greenies drive cars. Fast forward a hundred years or so – we trashed our climate system because those bloody hypocritical greenies wouldn’t stop driving cars.
Yeah, right.

Bob Bingham January 21, 2014 at 10:02 am

We managed the first hundred years of the industrial revolution with wind and hydro and I wonder how things would have developed if we had not started to use coal and oil. I don’t think we would have been any less developed and would have had a more extensive and ingenious use of electricity. We may have created a much better lifestyle as our huge use of coal created a lot of very dirty pollution and killed and destroyed many lives. Those who can remember the filth of the industrial cities in Europe and the USA have an inkling of how bad it was. Going to London was called going ‘up the smoke’.

Phil Scadden January 21, 2014 at 10:51 am

I want to put out of questions which I interest me much, because hydrocarbons research is some of what I do. This makes me very prone to mistaking reason for rationalization.

First one – what if we stopped exploring for FF right now. Can we get off FF fast enough not to cause mayhem? It takes about 100,000 wells a year globally just to maintain the current level of oil supply. On the basis of a 30 year lifetime for a well, cutting exploration completely would seem to imply 3%+ cut (probably larger given age of some very large reservoirs currently in service) in production per year. That is very quickly going to deliver a large price signal to the market. This would certain encourage development of alternatives but in short term it would also make fuel unaffordable to poorer people/nations. Is 3% per year too fast?

Second question is whether it is morally acceptable to enjoy the benefits of oil while insisting that other countries take all the risks? (this applying to any kind of mining really).

To me, the biggest issue for climate is coal, and specifically thermal coal. Its minor in NZ but a huge issue worldwide. You can ask the same question there. What if we had a worldwide ban on new coal-fired power stations? You would have very similar 2-4% per year decline in coal-fired electricity production, which of course immediately gets reflected in price. However, I think electricity production is much more easily substitutable from other sources than petrol and this would be a transition that most countries could do. If all new vehicles were electric, it would still take 15-20 years to make the transition.

John ONeill January 21, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Natural gas has taken over from coal as the largest source of electricity in the US, partly from new Environmental Protection Agency rules on carbon dioxide emissions, but largely from the current low gas prices. Unfortunately this has lowered the price of American coal, which is now being shipped to Europe and China instead. US natural gas prices are likely to rise; fracked gas costs more to extract than it sells for, the decline in production is much steeper than for traditional wells, and no new fracking is going on except in association with oil drilling, or where drilling licences are lost if not used. Meanwhile gas prices in Europe and Asia are much higher; once the American import facilities for LPG have been reconfigured for export, US prices will go up to match them. That might slow the surge in natural gas electricity generation; plans to convert some of the truck fleet to LPG would probably continue.
European coal consumption had been dropping till Germany closed half the nuclear reactors there; subsequently hard coal imports and lignite production have rebounded.
http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/Coal_consumption_statistics
Of course all that is just a sideshow compared to the coal China is mining, importing and burning.
http://qz.com/164593/chinas-solution-to-smog-choked-cities-is-to-boost-coal-production-six-fold/
The Chinese are currently building about thirty gigawatt-plus nuclear reactors, and I’ve heard are double-manning the work shifts to build up a large experienced work force. Hopefully they can reduce the build time to about three years and triple their production rate.

FlatFish January 21, 2014 at 6:30 pm

I am in a similar position.

Wrt the transport challenge…

It wasn’t that long ago that we had CNG powering a significant portion of our transport. Yes, I know that came from a fossil fuel source, but methane does have other renewable sources. What would be the challenges in getting “natural gas” from biomass into the gas pipelines? This is no doubt an Energy Out /Energy In calculation.

Also, don’t forget that many car trips are about shifting people from there homes to their offices and back again. What if their offices were closer to their homes – within walking distance say? What if we seriously started using telecommuting / virtual offices?

Bob Bingham February 1, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Oil is a fantastic fuel but it is not going to be cheap for much longer. I think we should start at the soft edges and start using small cheap electric cars for local transport and electrifying our trains and urban buses. As we get used to the new systems we can expand them. Its all about saving money and import bills. Oil is a fuel with a volatile price and I expect we will always need transport.

y-not January 21, 2014 at 11:21 am

Do not see any mention of “Jevons Paradox” here. Individual efforts can from this perspective be seen as more symbolic or exploratory rather than having an impact on reducing fossil fuel use. Without a credible carbon tax individual efforts can reduce demand hence price which can have a rebound effect.

Kiwiiano January 21, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Phil: the big question is Can we stop emitting fossil carbon fast enough to avoid climate mayhem, which will affect the poorer folk as much or worse than we privileged few? Especially considering the different planet when CO2 was 400ppm which would have taken 10,000 years to reach rather than 100.

Phil Scadden January 21, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Well if we dont start, then we certainly wont. However, sudden withdrawal of FF and sudden climate change are both undesirable. It makes sense for the richer countries like ours to pull down FF very fast while developing nations can take longer. But how fast? I do not think you can make the transition from FF for transportation is less than 30 years. You would need 100% electric car production now. Transportation is 21% of total CO2 emission. http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/special-reports/srccs/srccs_chapter2.pdf (table 2.4). To make the transition from coal in 30 years would mean starting now too.

noelfuller January 21, 2014 at 7:24 pm

There are top down measures which affect the big picture and bottom up measures which are big for small parties but invisible in statistics. Then there are top down measures which create bottom up effort – my point is that if demand is brought down that automatically cuts production of fossil fuels so no sweat. Thinking in terms of cutting production without cutting demand goes nowhere.

I have been trying every way I know but there is still a carbon component in anything I buy or do, in any technology I substitute, but how much? I don’t really know. I wonder what would happen if the carbon cost of anything from manufacture to disposal was displayed alongside the price?

Meanwhile I note Elon Musk (Tesla) says his proposed super lithium battery plant will recycle batteries and be solar powered and I applaud that. However, the lithium and other materials will still arrive with their carbon costs. Production chains as well as components belong in this picture. Remember those ‘close the gap’ graphics? If we could see production chains in carbon cost terms we would strive to close the gaps by our own choices as well as demanding closure.

jh January 21, 2014 at 5:40 pm

In what way are the Greens showing the way as far as how we stop using fossil fuels. In Canada the Greens favour immigration. Always the bigger population is better. Here they are part of a concensus that hides behind “needed skills” (dedpite immigration creating its own demand). The UK Greens say a woman should be able to have as many children as she wishes (but children shouldnt be disadvantaged by the poor choices of their parents).
Anyone can protest oil drilling but how will the Greens feed evryone and distribute the goods. In Greenland all is possible?

John ONeill January 21, 2014 at 8:12 pm

Even China has relaxed its one child policy; the chances of imposing anything similar in a democratic country are zero. In any case birth rates are plummeting everywhere except in sub Saharan Africa with no compulsion, and Africa has some very low figures for carbon dioxide per capita. Malawi for example- a few years back their figure was about 0.07 tons CO2 per capita per year, less than a hundredth of New Zealand’s.

nigelj January 22, 2014 at 4:42 pm

JH, You would hardly limit immigration just over the fossil fuel issue. Plus most immigrants to NZ come from countries already using cars so it makes no difference.

And on what planet do you use legislation to limit numbers of children? This policy has really backfired in China.

neilgent February 13, 2014 at 9:36 am

Can someone explain why limiting the number of children (using legislation) has really backfired in China? It looks like a stunning success to me.

Phil Scadden January 22, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Any who claims they are Green but also want a large family are having problems with cognitive dissonance. Food, water, energy problems are all compounded by a rising population. The good old I=PAT formula. However climate problems are result of too many affluent westerners, not too many Africans (who are way down the tree in both A and T). I would frankly be very surprised to hear of a Green politician advocating large families; but I would also be very surprised to find any politician in a democracy suggesting legislative controls on family size. Way too voter sensitive.

However, there is also the reality that our food sources (globally, not NZ) are very dependent on petroleum AT THE MOMENT. The critical question is how fast can we transition away from that while still increasing food production for the increasing population. A major reason why i think you will have to continuing exploring for hydrocarbons in the short term.

FlatFish January 22, 2014 at 7:26 pm

Fair enough point about the family size and the affluent West.

But isn’t the question which hydrocarbons that we know about should we use, rather than continuing to look for more? Or perhaps what aquifers might hold CO2 as part of a CCS programme?

As for NZ why take the risk and put our human / economic / environmental resources into fossil fuel when the rest of the world is doing the same, and into an industry that we all know is going to collapse?

Kiwiiano January 22, 2014 at 8:20 pm

Phil: “A major reason why i think you will have to continuing exploring for hydrocarbons in the short term”
I reckon you haven’t achieved the appropriate level of panic Phil. We should probably have stopped releasing fossil a decade ago, instead we’re still looking for more, even after the 75% warning. I sometimes wonder if the human race has a death wish……

jh January 21, 2014 at 8:17 pm

Im Africa (blah, blah) emmisions per capita are low because they cant afford a car. Give ‘m money and see what happens.

jh January 21, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Japan is a democratic country. They laugh at our largess towards unsupported pregnancies. Life is tough in a world without free fuel lying around (except in Green-land).
Problem with GP is the left-wing Social justice drive kicks in at a certain point. That can mean anything

Gary Young January 22, 2014 at 7:36 am

“Problem with GP is the left-wing Social justice drive”

Are you suggesting that wanting justice for society is a problem? Why exactly?

nickofnz January 22, 2014 at 9:42 am

Well said. Saying people shouldn’t drive to a protest against fossil fuels is like saying Gandhi shouldn’t have used the English language in his fight for independence from the British.

jh January 22, 2014 at 8:55 pm

Chinas population policy isnt a failure; Chinas population is a problem; Chinas population has fallen on the back of it’s population policy.
……
why does immigration matter?
National Labour and the Green Party are pro immigration (“anti immigration feeling has no place in the Green Party says Mr Locke”). The Greens are opposed to burning fossil fuels.
It is mainly fossil fuels that have allowed the human population to get where it is today.
The Greens are saying population doesnt matter if people are relocating, but sustainabilty in a low carbon world has to be identifiable in a geographic location. NZ has a comparative advantage in fishing, foresty, agriculture these will produce less in a post carbon world, yet the Greens seem to be thinking we can develop our manufacturing sector. So far we manufacture houses for new arrivals (and associated infrastructure).

jh January 22, 2014 at 9:00 pm

Population matters because so far the only post carbon model we have are the Amish.
Reality Check:
Treasury note that 70% of our housing stock is in poor condition.

Kiwiiano January 22, 2014 at 9:13 pm

And even the Amish are not isolated from the fossil fuel infrastructure. They still use a wide range of products, tools, fabrics, etc that use FF in their manufacture and/or distribution.
The nearest true example we have of FFFreedom are our Maori forebears.

jh January 22, 2014 at 9:53 pm

There is a commonality we share with Maori tribal society inso far as we all have those roots. Even though native Americans were lice infested and had hard lives most white children when captured prefferd the Indian life upon repatriation. A sustaining rich life depends on society, its ligatures and the physical environment (based on our adaptive evolutionary environment). Yet today, trendy progressives promote multi culturalism and density in housing wherd the realities bear nothing like their utopian dreams.

jh January 22, 2014 at 9:59 pm

I think Hillary Calverts point is unless you have a viable alternative non carbon economy, you are like the person sitting on the wrong side of a branch with a saw.

Beaker January 22, 2014 at 11:11 pm

It does not necessaries have to be a non carbon economy, just a hell of a lot less carbon economy. We have tools available now that when deployed, displace fossil fuel consumption (Renewable energy, nuclear power, energy efficiency improvements, electric cars and trains, crop based feedstock for plastics etc). Needless to say, we should use these tools. Delaying use just pushes us closer to needing zero carbon in the future.
Other developments may come to fruition and help us further reduce fossil fuel use, for instance reduction of metal ore. But pinning our hopes on what we may have in the future, while not doing what we can do now, is very silly.
Your comments look suspiciously like the argument that I come up against often – because a wind turbine will use some fossil fuel in its manufacture and deployment it should not be permitted, ignoring the massive EROI for that wind turbine.
PS the homes that those white children could return to were probably as lice ridden as those of the native Americans. Add to that the draw of the novelty news story skewing the reporting of the respective events, happy to be home -v- not happy to be home. Soldier Blue was not a fly on the wall documentary you know.

jh January 22, 2014 at 11:10 pm

Are you suggesting that wanting justice for society is a problem? Why exactly?

….
I’m saying in some situations there are trade offs and social justice is subjective. The Greens claim to be a social justice party.

nigelj January 23, 2014 at 11:01 am

jh, you say social justice is subjective? Agree it is. For example things like giving people the vote, or women the vote, or fair pay, or freeing the slaves are all difficult to objectively explain or justify, and the chief justification is they are “morally right”. Read what Lincoln said on the slaves issue.

Its ultimately subjective, but so what? Are you seriously suggesting we reverse these reforms? You have to have the courage to make socially just decisions.

Plus on your other post, we dont have to transition to a “no carbon economy” just low carbon. Not on the scientific evidence, and its also not practically possible. You are making whats called a straw man argument. The technology already exists for low carbon, its a question of will power.

Kiwiiano January 22, 2014 at 11:14 pm

“unless you have a viable alternative non carbon economy, you are like the person sitting on the wrong side of a branch with a saw.”
Absolutely, JH, couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately our political and business leaders are steadfastly ignoring the problem, at best paying limp lip service, wasting time and money trying to maintain the status quo of infinite growth on a finite planet instead of making a serious attempt to ensure a viable alternative non-carbon economy.

Thomas January 23, 2014 at 12:16 am

Cutting of FF seems indeed like sitting on branch while sawing on the wrong side… but if the alternative is that the tree topples under our weight?
We will not end FF use this century I would think. But we can do a hell of a lot towards building alternatives wherever possible and practical.
The incentive to build these and live a FF poor lifestyle will need to be created artificially unless somehow miraculously humanity would self-restrict FF use. This would need to come in some form of production quotas which are ramped down over a designed time scale. However, given our absolutely dismal record of negotiating international treaties on any of this so far, I am not holding my breath. I believe that the odds are very high that we will pull the trigger (if we not have done so already) to another grand extinction event. Only this time Homo Sapiens will be around to witness it and most likely have to go through Mad Max territory towards very long and very uncomfortable times. The grieving for the planet as it was before the industrial revolution will surely be without comparison….

Yet just then, a ray of some hope:
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2014/jan/22/eu-energy-and-climate-targets-live

Phil Scadden January 23, 2014 at 9:35 am

Kiwiiano – That would be desirable but that doesnt stop the fact that it is easier to substitute for coal than oil. I would like to see some analysis of the effects of a 3% pa throttle on oil/gas production. I suspect you underestimate the dependence of food production on oil worldwide and the difficulties in alternatives.

You will notice that consumption of petroleum in NZ is rather insensitive to price because of the lack of available substitutes. Further carbon tax there isnt going reduce consumption that much and reduction in consumption is key to reducing petroleum exploration. Investment in oil exploration is driven by price while the price of oil is driven by consumption versus production. If you want to stop any form of mining, then stop the consumption of the product. Otherwise anti-mining protests tend to be mostly nimbyism. I would confidently predict that stopping further exploration for oil/gas in NZ will not make one iota of difference of carbon emissions worldwide when it is possible to explore for oil elsewhere.

By contrast, a small amount of carbon tax (or even just the removal of FF subsidies) quickly make alternative generation better targets for investment compared to coal, and that is what is required to make reductions in emissions.

Furthermore, targets of current exploration is gas. This is likely bound for LNG power-generation and I would say there is a good case to make for conventional gas like this being a lot better for climate than coal which it largely substitutes.

Kiwiiano January 23, 2014 at 5:56 pm

Phil: yes I agree it’s going to be damn difficult to substitute for both oil and coal. But I liken the situation to you sitting with your family on the beach and suddenly the tide has gone way out & a siren is wailing up the coast a way. Do you stroll down to pick up fish in the shallows, dig a trench and sand wall across in front of you, pack up the gear & drive 5 miles parallel to the beach to go home or grab the kids, abandon the gear and run up the nearest hill screaming “TSUNAMI!! GET OFF THE BEACH, NOW!!! ? At the moment we’re harvesting fish and maybe planning to dig sand walls.

Yes, NZ’s actions won’t change Amerika or China but someone has to start somewhere and if everyone stalls until someone else gets their A into G no-one will move at all.

A fiscally neutral* carbon tax would very quickly encourage car owners to abandon their 10L/100kms behemoths & importers to bring in sub-0.5L/100kms ultra-light vehicles (which may not even exist yet) while highlighting to need to get our act together on city planning, public transport and alternative energy. It’s only part of the solution but waay better than the lip service we’re getting at the moment.

* By “fiscally neutral” I mean a stiff tax on all fossil fuel that is returned to every man, woman & child equally, to be spent as they see fit. Piss it on the pub wall, pour it in the SUV’s tank, buy a new ultra-light car, or put solar PV panels on the house, etc etc your call.

Phil Scadden January 23, 2014 at 10:13 pm

Kiwiiano, I fully accept a tsunami is happening, but I dont think jumping up a cliff is the way to get escape. I want to see evidence that withdrawal of petroleum of 3% pa isnt as disruptive and dangerous as climate change. I do accept your suggested solutions. I dont accept the idea of trying to slow climate change by bans on mining. If you kill the demand, you will kill the mining.
I would also posit that the most urgent, effective, fiscally and technically feasible solution to reducing emissions is getting off thermal coal. (I dont see a way to easily get off steel coal but if that is the only thing we use coal for, then the emissions are tolerable).

Now I admitted at start that I struggle with bias. I would be absolutely delighted to see petroleum exploration vanish because we didnt need it. In time, I sure it will happen. Shell thinks 2070. I would like to think 2050. But lets not underestimate how much effort is needed to maintain supply already.

Kiwiiano January 24, 2014 at 6:23 am

Except that it needed to happen in 1950…. anyway, we’re stuck with it because we persist in the delusion that we need to drive around in 2-3litre vehicles when that is pure vanity or expediency. We need less that 50cc per passenger, in fact our ancestors going back forever would have regarded a (50-125cc) Piaggio Ape (Bee) as an unbelievable luxury and I saw those cheerfully keeping up with traffic loaded with 6 Vietnamese and a cow. It would go a long way to reducing the consumption of steel if we down-sized our expectations for commuting.
Unfortunately the process of downsizing is going to take decades and a lot of unpopular decisions will be needed….why is that little pink birdie up in the tree going “Oink, oink!”?

John ONeill January 24, 2014 at 1:46 am

Natural gas is substituting for coal powered electricity in America but in New Zealand it’s substituting for zero carbon plants which should have gone ahead, like the Waitaki run of the river plant and the Hayes wind farm. In the US it’s also undercutting new wind projects, and has had a big part in the forthcoming closure of nuclear reactors like Kewaunee in Wisconsin and Vermont Yankee.
While petrol and diesel will be hard to replace for transport, I’m sure the demand for it is a lot more flexible than recent price rises have been able to show. It would be interesting to compare world war two rationing and Muldoon’s carless days. Most petrol use is probably single occupant running around in towns, the kind of thing that electric cars, car pooling, urban transit and cycling could largely cover, but the emotional attachment to cars is for the occasional use – the road trips, ski trips, taking the boat out or whatever that make life worth living. That will be hard to decarbonise, or to get people to vote against.

Phil Scadden January 24, 2014 at 8:09 am

John, I am surprised by that analysis. The new gas plants that I am aware of are mostly fast-starts which are a very useful compliment to wind farms. I wasnt aware of project cancellations due to gas generation and other reasons were presented for those two projects. It is of course possible to come up with renewable projects that are too costly compared to other sources (including other renewables). Do you have data showing gas generation from these new stations is cheaper per annum than wind, hydro or geothermal plants currently in operation?

I would also note that while low gas prices would be a factor in the Kewaunee nuclear shutdown, so too was increasing wind turbine installation in that state, as well as the political setup where it cost $4.7 a year to license. We would all agree though that US needs carbon tax and/or removal of subsidies on FF.

While I fully agree that we waste petrol, it would seem that people just pay the cost and continue on the whole. I would add standards for fuel efficiency in cars into the mix. All measures which correctly deal with petroleum at the demand end rather than supply.

Phil Scadden January 24, 2014 at 11:16 am

Just further to that, http://www.med.govt.nz/sectors-industries/energy/image-library/energy-data-and-modelling/electricity/elec-Fig1a.bmp/image_view_fullscreen shows electricity production in NZ. I see gas not changing much since around 1999, while I see wind and geothermal rising and coal in decline.
I havent found updated pricing for gas versus wind since 2004 when wind was slightly cheaper. I would be interested in an update.

jh January 23, 2014 at 10:59 am

To cut FF emissions we should start with housing and urban design. I would love to live in a new urbanist eco village.
One of the problems human society faces is that huma bonding is limited to family or small groups anf peple need something to part with money- hence consumerism. If we are to cut back on FF we should cut out a lot of tourism services (but then those peple would be out of work).

Phil Scadden January 23, 2014 at 12:05 pm

One part of the equation. I still think the outline plan I did for http://hot-topic.co.nz/grand-final-sustainable-energy-nz-16-counting-up-the-dollars-and-sense/, while focussed on sustainable energy is also the way to reducing emissions. Its what NZers should do. Globally, the roadmap is different.

And to be honest, in answer to the title of the article, I think it would have been more effective for climate not to get into the car, (reducing demand for fuel), than to go to a protest from a climate perspective. Acting locally not much help here.

viv k January 26, 2014 at 4:35 pm

“ I think it would have been more effective for climate not to get into the car”

You are making the assumption that policy changes will be inacted to reduce fossil fuel use/ CO2 emissions without public protests against business as usual (or only protests that are walked or cycled to)

“I want to see evidence that withdrawal of petroleum of 3% pa isnt as disruptive and dangerous as climate change”

And how do you suppose anyone can supply you with that?

If Bill McKibben’s “do the maths” is correct and we don’t quickly reduce fossil fuel use, then humans will initiate runaway dangerous climate change which will have consequences for humans for the next few centuries. The economic disruption caused by cutting fossil fuel use will be serious and significant, but won’t last centuries. The 2 are not comparable.

I agree with Meghan. You do not have to exit the system to comment on the system. We need to advocate for a renewably powered 21st Century. It will be great when I can catch the electric railcar to Port Chalmers to join the protest against off-shore drilling, but that option is not available yet. If I stay home, people like Hilary Calvert will assume I’m part of the supposed “silent majority” that the supporters of oil and gas claim exists. We don’t know what effects the protests against off-shore oil & gas drillings will have, but I’m damned sure that everyone staying home will do nothing to get us off fossil fuels.

Phil Scadden January 27, 2014 at 9:24 am

Viv k, I am quite for protests that will result in less CO2 being emitted (eg by way of carbon tax, for afforestation etc). I dont think restrictions on oil/gas drilling around NZ have any possibility of restricting CO2 emissions. By contrast, not using oil relieves pressure on supply and exploration..

“And how do you suppose anyone can supply you with that?” I would expect economists to be able to model that. Previous constrictions on supplies should provide a good model for that will do for pricing. When supply is restricted, the price rises till enough users regard that as unaffordable and reduce consumption. Which consumers to you think will be first affected? A targeted carbon tax (ie in wealthy western nations) is more equitable than constriction on supply.

I fully agree with need to get off FF – but I reiterate my point from above. Coal is the danger. As Hansen has pointed out, you can only do so much damage to climate with oil given the likely reserves. Not so with coal. Transportation is only 21% of emissions and more difficult to substitute for than electricity generation.

I think the best NZ can do is provide a model – get the country up to 95% renewables for power and demonstrate an effective carbon tax system that actually reduces emissions.

Bob Bingham January 27, 2014 at 8:34 pm

New Zealand already has an enviable proportion of renewable energy and it would not take much to make it 100%. The glaring omission is transport. Oil is running out and it has a volatile price so it would be prudent to have an alternative fuel and as I have already posted it makes good economic sense, even in the short term. We need to get on with it but this is a government that cancelled the policy to use only energy saving light bulbs so we can’t expect much in the energy saving policy from them.
As they are finding in the Northern hemisphere events are happening faster than predicted and so it pays to get started early.

Phil Scadden January 28, 2014 at 9:07 am

An alternative to oil for transportation is badly needed, but I dont think NZ government can do a lot in the short term to bring this about. I cant see us suddenly being able to afford Tesla’s even if they were available. Given the massive global R&D effort on batteries, it is not unreasonable to expect this technology to be cheaper in 10 years. Our transportation costs us 46kWh/p/d. To replace this with efficient electrics, we need to plan for an extra 25-30 kWh/p/d of electricity generation. This is something the government could be more proactive in but I expect a long battle with nimby’s to achieve this. (compare this with efficient lighting savings which at a maximum could be 2kWh/p/d). Getting over our addiction for long flights to other parts of the world would also be effective (18kWh/p/d).

Bob Bingham January 29, 2014 at 5:51 pm

Nothing is going to happen quickly but time is running out. We have passed peak oil and the Chinese and Indians want to drive cars so the price will become volatile. When it happens its too late to make changes which is why we have to start now. We can electrify our railways and have electric urban transport. Where could we be in ten years time if we started now?

Phil Scadden January 30, 2014 at 8:52 am

Good question. Our entire diesel bill comes to 9kWh/p/d. I suspect most of that is used by trucks but lets assume half of that is for rail and urban transport. 4.5 kWh/p/d is useful saving and we can reasonably expect that much new geothermal generation to be installed by 2025. (and hopefully more wind and hydro too). By comparison however, our retail fuel is 30kWh/p/d. To make much of a dent in that without electric cars, you need to get a LOT more use of public transport.

Bob Bingham February 1, 2014 at 7:44 pm

New Zealand has a reputation for going it alone on plans it believes in and is admired around the World for its independence. I have a viable plan for small scale economic electric car production which is a different route to the American model and would be a good start to get things going.

Diana-HotDamn February 2, 2014 at 11:07 am

Please read this page, by the author of From Smoke To Mirrors
http://fromsmoketomirrors.com/howRenewableFuels.html
It explains why Fossil Fuels should be eliminated from the global economy.
It also shows that the best choice of fuels for cars, trucks, ships, aircraft, agricultural and construction equipment is petrol, diesel and fuel oil. We can manufacture carbon neutral hydrocarbons and leave fossil fuels in the ground. We have proven technology, and we have a workable plan.
Can you imagine our society reverting to the lifestyle of the pre-european Maori or the Amish ? Seriously ? ?

Bob Bingham February 2, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Whatever fuel we use we need to start converting our transport to renewable. Transport is our last big consumer of fossil fuel and we have an import bill of $50 billion annually to convert into domestic renewable energy.
It seems a worthwhile financial proposition to aim for.

Phil Scadden February 4, 2014 at 7:11 pm

Bob Bingham, you keep repeating this $50B figure and as far as I can see it has no basis. The actual no. for all petroleum products according to NZ Statistics is $8.3B while we export $2B. http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/snapshots-of-nz/nz-in-profile-2013

Useful discussion needs accurate numbers.

Bob Bingham February 4, 2014 at 8:38 pm

I did a search on NZ statistics and had a total of $47,036,051 for 2012. I rounded it to $50 and made the mistake of incorrectly counting the zeros so it is only $50 million. Its not a figure I can relate to in everyday life so I did not notice the error.
Its still a lot of money which we could save without changing our lifestyle. I think we should be working towards it because it takes time to convert and its best to get started before we have a problem rather than wait until it overtakes us.

John ONeill February 2, 2014 at 6:34 pm

I wouldn’t say we have proven technology. Choren Industries in Freiburg, Germany, had 800 people working on their biomass to liquid fuel process, using gasification and the Fischer-Tropsch process, with a large plant being set up in Sweden as well; they’re now bankrupt.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBemiEM9ZTE
Another method of B2L conversion involves subjecting the plant matter to supercritical water, with temperatures over 374 degrees C and pressures above 200 atmospheres. It’s being worked on in Australia ( Ignite Energy) and the USA. It appears to work considerably more cheaply for coal than wood though.
So far the biofuels story has been a disaster. Big Ag in the USA used their political clout to mandate alcohol from corn, with little if any reduction in CO2 emissions, but a huge impact on world food prices. EU ‘renewable’ fuel requirements have led to the devastation of large areas of rain forest in Indonesia, to grow palm oil for diesel. The forest is often growing on peat, many metres deep, which has been sequestering huge quantities of CO2 for thousands of years. Now it is drying out and burning, fouling the air all over South-East Asia and totally eclipsing any advantage from reduced oil use.
Recent research has shown that trees, as they get older, keep increasing their drawdown of CO2; the best thing to do with forests is just let them do their thing. Wood as a fuel gives out about the same heat as coal per gram of CO2, but it uses more labour and area to collect. The timber industry has also been killing its workers at a rate only rivalled by the coal mining industry.
New Zealand now has a population, and population density, comparable to Britain’s in 1750. At that time there were 600 ships taking coal from Newcastle to London, as they’d burned most of their forests, yet I’m sure energy use and demand for metal then was only a fraction of what we use now.

Bob Bingham February 5, 2014 at 5:18 pm

So much of our life is driven by fossil fuels that it is difficult to imagine a society without it. We are not short of energy from other sources and I believe we would have found a different way to power our society and would probably would have ended up at the same level as we are today but a bit cleaner. We would still have cut down the trees and have factory farming and many other destructive activities but with a much smaller amount of CO2.

the biofarmer February 6, 2014 at 7:56 am

Can you imagine a non-urban society? Everyone growing their own food?
An agricultural nation which does not cut down all its trees?
Farms which provide all their own hydrocarbons for machinery operation?
Of course population growth would have been much slower in the absence of abundant energy.

Kiwiiano February 6, 2014 at 8:59 am

“Can you imagine a non-urban society? Everyone growing their own food?”

We could/will have to return to such a state, but I fear it will be as vulnerable to famine as it was in the past. Nowadays a failed crop can have the slack taken up by food being transported cheaply from areas where there wasn’t a crop failure.

Roll on the “Manhattan Project” for getting algal* biofuels really rolling. So many of the components are already in place, it just needs the will to bring them all together and the $$$$ currently subsidising the fossil industry to be diverted.

* It has to be algae. There is no other crop that can double its mass overnight.

the biofarmer February 6, 2014 at 9:17 am

Diversity would seem to be a more sustainable strategy ; the risks inherent in mono-culture are well-documented.
What are the requirements for algal culture? Are the supplies inexhaustible?

Kiwiiano February 6, 2014 at 9:47 pm

Strictly speaking it’s not a mono-culture, there are multitudes of different algae with potential for biofuels and in fact a wide range of organic materials normally associated with FF.
Traditionally they have been grown in open tanks, but that is fraught with contamination, predators, evaporation. Industrial closed tanks are easier to maintain but of course are more expensive. That is not such a problem if we were to take into account the vast subsidies FF is currently getting or the failure to count the full costs of FF.

The processes for extracting the payloads from the algae have been a problem, but from what I’ve been reading about OriginOil, that is ‘solved’. They are producing plant for skyscraper-sized algae units, using the sewerage from the building as nutrients for the algae and converting the algae into heating fuel. See http://www.originoil.com

Origin would probably be even bigger in the field if they weren’t distracted by their success in cleaning up fracking fluids and the water from fish farms. And of course they won’t be the only people working at the problem.

Phil Scadden February 7, 2014 at 8:53 am

Algal cultures are just a another form of solar energy. They have better efficiency at converting solar to hydrocarbons than other biofuel crops but still lousy at kWh/m2 compared to PV. When you need a high energy density (eg diesel), they seem a good solution. To be really effective, they need CO2 enrichment – eg pipe exhaust from a steel plant into your algal farm.

Phil Scadden February 7, 2014 at 8:49 am

I cannot for the life of me see why you think we should have to return to non-urban sustenance economy. We didnt live in one before FF and dont see why we should live in one post-FF. Division of labour and economies of scale are not FF-dependent. Why should have a non-urban society?

You do need energy – what has happened though in the past 100 years is the development of alternative technologies – particularly electricity generation and the way to achieve it from hydro, wind and solar. Furthermore we have become far more efficient users of energy and can expect to get better for some time.

However, we do have recognize limits for population. Sustainable energy and resource availability is vitally dependent on stabilizing population.

Kiwiiano February 5, 2014 at 5:43 pm

The problem is or was that about the time fossil energy appeared, we were already running out of trees & the alternatives, wind, hydro, solar were barely on the horizon. True, there were wind and water mills but the big metal smelters were in trouble. In a sense, coal saved civilization. We made a pact with the Devil that gave us a century or so of unprecedented luxury, but OL’ Nick is about to turn up with his hand out.

Bob Bingham February 6, 2014 at 4:57 pm

The first one hundred years of the industrial revolution were powered by wind and water and Stephensons Rocket was invented in 1829. The first Porche was electric and dated 1892 and there were a few internal combustion engines powered by coal gas of petrol at about the same time. We could have gone all electric and only been a little bit behind where we are now. Its all a question of where we put the resources.

Kiwiiano February 6, 2014 at 9:28 pm

I had a look at what happened, Bob, can recommend Prof Wiki for info on the Industrial Revolution. There’s endless arguments about when, what and even if it was, but the salient details for us are: Coal/coke was replacing charcoal by the 1680s, iron increased production during the 1700s, steam started replacing wind & water by 1820 although it was advancing coal mining in the early 1700s by pumping water out of the mines.
Chemistry, machine tools and textiles also really took off in the late 1700s with Portland cement arriving in the 1830s.

Could we go back? It’s going to be bloody difficult without severe belt-tightening. Especially as about the time population pressures and wacky weather hit us, we’ll be buckling under depleting resources. Hopefully we can keep the sophisticated industrial infrastructure needed to make solar panels and wind/wave/tide turbines rolling in spite of shortages of things like rare earths, copper, etc. We’ll really have to get serious about recycling too, I’ll oft thought that Kate Valley & the like are a stupid idea for all the dumped materials that contained metals. We should be stockpiling them down in the MacKenzie against the day when they’ll be truly valuable.

Phil Scadden February 7, 2014 at 8:57 am

If the only thing we used coal for was making steel, then the environment can mop up the CO2 without adverse effects. However, if population continues to increase then we will eventually run out of iron/coal.

noelfuller February 7, 2014 at 7:50 am

The technological nous to implement the electric vision was not there a 100 yrs ago and even now we wrestle with the issue of energy storage.

Another potential fork was and is the stirling heat engine , devised in 1816 but forgotten for a time with the advent of internal combustion and electric motors. It is definitely not a dead duck. Serious research and introduction of new varieties is ongoing.

The stirling engine works by heating and cooling gases with regeneration . to produce motion. Is planet earth a stirling heat engine?

The stirling motor is silent, no internally generated emmissions, no valves, can run on a large range of temperature differences but works best in cold places. It does require an external source of heat and has to loose the heat again, which can be critical, but the range of heat sources is very large – very well suited to renewable energy sources.

There are a large variety of stirling engines and applications and almost every one here could have two of them in your homes already.

Thomas February 6, 2014 at 8:10 pm

FFs were yet another “success trap” for humanity. With the help of FFs we have outgrown the number of us that would be sustainable without FFs by significant fraction – in my mind anyway.
And unless we use the rest of the FFs that we might be able to consume without risking the plant to fuel the transition to a non FF future, then we will be toast….

noelfuller February 6, 2014 at 12:04 am

Fossil fuels also made world wars possible.

Kiwiiano February 7, 2014 at 4:19 pm

Wooo!! A posting entirely pertinent to this thread just popped up:

http://ourfiniteworld.com/2014/02/06/limits-to-growth-at-our-doorstep-but-not-recognized/#more-38795

Quote from the article:
“The question is: when do we reach the point that oil supply is growing too slowly to produce the level of economic growth needed to keep our current debt system from crashing?

It seems to me that we are already near such a point of collapse. Most people have not realized how vulnerable our economic system is to crashing in a time of low oil supply growth.”

Please read and report back. There will be a test last period tomorrow.

Thomas February 7, 2014 at 8:53 pm

One of the best compilations of the consequences of the “perfect storm” that is brewing for your world economy is here:

http://www.tullettprebon.com/Documents/strategyinsights/TPSI_009_Perfect_Storm_009.pdf

It is perhaps the most eloquently argued summary I have come across.

Kiwiiano February 7, 2014 at 9:57 pm

An eloquent tome indeed, Thomas, thank you for passing it onto us.

May I second your offering with a thread drifting into what alternatives may befall us once the Age of Gasoline is past. The ArchDruid has once more delivered a piquant discussion on what might have been if petroleum and electronics hadn’t taken over. Something envisaged by Steam Punk enthusiasts, perhaps.
He has an intriguing thought that reminds me of the TV program back in the day about how seemingly tiny events changed history.

Outside of the realms of imaginative fiction, though, it’s rare to see any mention of the possibility that the technology we ended up with might not be the inevitable outcome of a scientific revolution. The boldest step in that direction I’ve seen so far comes from a school of historians who pointed out that the scientific revolution depended, in a very real sense, on the weather in the English Channel during a few weeks in 1688. It so happened that the winds in those weeks kept the English fleet stuck in port while William of Orange carried out the last successful invasion (so far) of England by a foreign army.

As a direct result, the reign of James II gave way to that of William III, and Britain dodged the absolute monarchy, religious intolerance, and technological stasis that Louis XIV was imposing in France just then, a model which most of the rest of Europe promptly copied. Because Britain took a different path—a path defined by limited monarchy, broad religious and intellectual tolerance, and the emergence of a new class of proto-industrial magnates whose wealth was not promptly siphoned off into the existing order, but accumulated the masses of capital needed to build the world’s first industrial economy—the scientific revolution of the late 17th and early 18th century was not simply a flash in the pan. Had James II remained on the throne, it’s argued, none of those things would have happened.

I admit the crash of the global financial system is not a tiny event, but hopefully humanity will stagger on. In the mean time stock up on garden hoes, two-man saws and slide rules.

Kiwiiano February 7, 2014 at 10:18 pm

In particular, browse thru the comments by J.M.Greer’s followers. We are not alone, methinks.

John ONeill February 8, 2014 at 2:08 am

From Gail Tverberg’s article
‘ One common view is that just because oil, or coal, or natural gas seems to be available with current technology, it will in fact be extracted. This is closely related to the view that “Hubbert’s Peak” gives a reasonable model for future oil extraction. In this model, it is assumed that about 50% of extraction occurs after the peak in oil consumption takes place. Even Hubbert did not claim this–his charts always showed another fuel, such as nuclear, rising in great quantity before fossil fuels dropped in supply.’
I haven’t followed the peak oilers’ arguments in detail, but it seems to me that on this point Hubbert was right and his followers are wrong. It’s often argued that no fuel with the energy density of oil is available to replace it, so an oil-powered civilization must chug to a halt. Uranium has an energy density several thousand times that of oil, and thorium about the same. That energy density has already effectively abolished war between technologically advanced countries. No one will even invade a pissant little country like North Korea, because however much the latest Kim annoys them, he has enough energy available to inflict unacceptable damage.
That energy density is enough to nullify any counter-arguments. Lack of fuel? The quantities needed, and the energy resulting, are respectively so small and so huge that we should be right for thousands of years. The waste? About the size of a drink can, per person, per lifetime, at US levels of energy squandering. Cost and technical difficulties? The energy is there, it just needs enough people to figure out how to get it. No good for transport? You can make liquid fuels, just as you make electricity. With enough heat and pressure, all that is needed is a feedstock of carbon and hydrogen. Using biomass for that is possible, though it means collecting from a low density source; using coal would not be as bad as if the coal also supplied the energy, but is no way to get atmospheric greenhouse gases on a steep downward trend. The US navy is working on making jet fuel out of sea water.
http://www.nrl.navy.mil/media/news-releases/2012/fueling-the-fleet-navy-looks-to-the-seas
The density of carbon in seawater is about 140 times that in air; by using an electrochemical cell, most of this, plus hydrogen gas, can be extracted and processed into hydrocarbons. Hopefully most industry and shipping can be converted to electricity or direct nuclear power, but synthetic fuels can be made for the rest. Iron smelting using hydrogen as the reducing agent and direct nuclear heat, via molten lead or salts, would eliminate another of coal’s niches.
A high energy advanced society with low or negative emissions is certainly possible. Whether it will happen before the climate feedbacks really kick in is the real question.

noelfuller February 7, 2014 at 11:32 pm

Should one conclude from these reports cited above that if one does not invest in renewable energy now doing so will be much more difficult in the future?

Thomas February 8, 2014 at 9:20 am

Considering the enormous challenge of transforming a sizable part of the worlds energy provision away from FFs to Solar, we must advance fast in any case. New technologies may well emerge that would render today’s collector technology out-dated. However the actual cost of PV cells have fallen so far now that in the total amount of a solar roof project say, the cells are now less than 50% of the cost. The rest being taken up by support structures, cables, inverters and so on and of cause the wages for the planing, provision and installation of the same. So even if the cost of cells were to drop dramatically further, the cost of a solar roof will likely remain in the range of 100% to 50% of today’s cost. We are close to a plateau therefore, where waiting for future revolutions in solar tech will deliver diminishing returns to the investor. Therefore, its time to install now, as long as perhaps savings or employment earnings can support the same. As the risk of the later evaporating in due course is much greater than the promise of the next generation of collectors materializing.
In the same thread of thought: Grid tie systems, as great as they are now, depend on a functioning grid. Without a battery option, home owners will be at the mercy of the power grid and the wonderful solar roof will be pointless, should society no longer be able to maintain a functioning grid, because any black outs, brown outs and grid collapse scenarios will render the solar roof dysfunctional…

Kiwiiano February 8, 2014 at 9:25 am

I suspect it will be a close run thing. Will we realise the gravity of the problems we are making for ourselves before the perfect storm of financial instability, wacky weather and resource depletion cripple our ability to make the necessary changes?

Given the relentless stupidity of much of humanity, I fear not.

Never mind, given 100 million years or so, some descendant of a rat currently eating an endangered species out in the bush will achieve sentience and the whole mess can start again.

Bob Bingham February 8, 2014 at 9:31 am

We passed peal oil in 2008 and demand is still going up. Anyone can see that problems are brewing. This is why I keep banging on about converting our transport to electricity. Oil can go up in price overnight and how long does it take to electrify a railway or convert our city buses to electric. Ten years? And the World economy will be in chaos. If we started now we would be in much better shape when oil prices spike.
We are not short of energy and our electricity companies have a market that is not expanding and yet there is this huge market called transport that they are not exploiting.
My electricity bill last month was $10 due to solar panels and loads of friends have done the same thing. The electricity companies need to find new markets fast.

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