Don’t feel like an energy hypocrite, just do what you can
As has been witnessed countless times here and elsewhere, the energy business has a big problem. Few people understand even the basic fundamentals and we do a poor job of explaining it. Mention “oil” and most people think of Saudi Arabia and the price to fill up the car, and nothing in between. Compounding the problem is that virtually everyone on the planet has been made to feel like a hypocrite for utilizing fossil fuels to remain alive, while being harangued by those who love the planet for doing so (that crowd needs them just as much, but pretends otherwise). So the whole topic is a disaster for the average citizen, who is made to feel guilty about using fossil fuels but can’t stop using them.
It’s time to stop feeling bad, and to stop feeling like a hypocrite. You can’t avoid fossil fuels no matter how hard you try, at present. Half of our consumer goods, or more, originate with fossil fuels, and it would be completely impossible to feed 7 billion people and keep them all warm without them.
If global warming is the true concern, and you believe that fossil fuels are the main culprit (they’re not – see China’s coal burning statistics, including the current construction of coal fired power plants), then the choice is fairly simple: minimize your consumption. Many in the environmental movement believe the best path to be protesting and demonstrating, but there is no evidence that does any good whatsoever. What protests actually do is to calcify positions and refocus energy from solutions to skirmishes. It is not productive, at all.
To truly make a difference, minimize consumption. Hats off to those that do. But do we actually know what that means?
Well, to start off, let’s, as the saying goes, pick the low hanging fruit. What’s interesting is that the low hanging fruit isn’t always what’s sold to us. Here are two examples.
For example, here is a misguided but common solution: buy an electric or hybrid car. Why is this suboptimal? Because the true cost of an electric/hybrid car is much higher than is obvious. The massive batteries require serious amounts of exotic metals that come from some less-than-pretty sites. The huge batteries also create a huge recycling problem. The power systems required to supply huge quantities of these cars is extremely substantial. And in the end, the actual fuel savings between a typical hybrid and an efficient, small-motored gasoline-engined car is not that great – big savings occur when a fuel pig is replaced with a hybrid, not when a Toyota Yaris is.
Want some real low hanging fruit? Here’s one that’s really easy, but no one wants to hear it – simply stop flying. Air transportation has a very large environmental footprint from the manufacture of the planes, to the fuel they consume, to the land occupied by airports…and no one needs to fly, ever. Flight is a choice that allows us to save time.
We can reduce our environmental footprint most effectively by simply finding out where we consume the most energy, and then not doing that anymore. Maybe we all move to warmer climates. Maybe we accept that we can’t travel as much or as far as we used to. Maybe we don’t buy anything that requires a lot of expensive and energy-intensive processing and finding out what those things are in the first place.