Energy

What We Believe About Energy

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From the Manhattan Institute, some "energy myths" that most Americans they polled believe. Some samples, from their press release:

MYTH: Most of our energy comes from oil.
Nearly two thirds of respondents believed this to be the case.
FACT: In reality, 60 percent of our energy comes from non-oil sources.
Growing electricity use accounts for over 85 percent of growth in our energy demand since 1980; this deserves greater focus from policy-makers and media.
MYTH: Saudi Arabia provides more oil to the United States than does any other foreign country. When asked for the largest source of foreign oil, 55 percent guessed Saudi Arabia.
FACT: Canada provides the USA with more foreign oil than any other country.
An erroneous belief in our dependence on Middle Eastern oil leads to an illegitimate fear of having energy used as an economic weapon against us.

…..

MYTH: Our cities are becoming more polluted and our forests are shrinking.
Nearly 84 percent believe cities are increasingly polluted; 67 percent believe logging and development are shrinking our forests.
FACT: Trends suggest that the air in our cities is becoming cleaner and we are
experiencing annual net gains for forest area. Inaccurate assumptions about our environment encourage onerous regulation and limit urban development.

Full report on the poll.

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  1. Of course, the Saudi Oil thing is a bit of a red herring. IIRC, the Europeans, nearly as energy-hungry as we are, are the primary purchasers of Saudi oil. If the Saudis and other Gulf states shut off their taps, then the Europeans would start purchasing their oil elsewhere, including Canada and Venezuela – both big suppliers of US oil.

  2. FACT: Canada provides the USA with more foreign oil than any other country.

    This would be more relevant if the Middle East were a country and not a region.

  3. Growing electricity use accounts for over 85 percent of growth in our energy demand since 1980;

    No doubt all that extra electricity comes from electricity mines.

  4. FACT: Trends suggest that the air in our cities is becoming cleaner and we are
    experiencing annual net gains for forest area.
    Inaccurate assumptions about our environment encourage onerous regulation and limit urban
    development.

    I can believe that our cities’ air is getting cleaner (thanks to regulation, of course), but I don’t see how we are possibily gaining forest land. Anybody know?

  5. Above comments are spot on about source of foreign oil. It doesn’t matter where it comes from. Oil is sold on the open market, a barrel of Canadian oil costs the same as a barrel of Saudi oil.

    Growing electricity use accounts for over 85 percent of growth in our energy demand since
    1980

    Ummmm OK, but where does the electricity come from?

  6. And tarran wins the thread!!

  7. No doubt all that extra electricity comes from electricity mines.

    I think this may be the funniest thing I’ve ever read.

    Anybody know?

    Planting trees, maybe?

    From the Metcalf Institute: “The net gain in forest cover in North America and Europe is primarily a result of reversion of agriculture land to forest.”

  8. “but I don’t see how we are possibily gaining forest land. Anybody know?”

    Yes. We don’t farm as much as we used to. Boston is called “beantown” because the areas around Boston used to grow beans that were then shipped to the Carribean to feed slaves there. Now, there isn’t nearly the amount of agriculture in New England as there was in the 19th Century and there is more forest there than at anytime since settlement. Of course forrest have been cleared in the South and in the West as agriculture has shifted. Overall the amount forrested acres in the U.S. has remained stable for the last 100 years. The forrests are not disappearing.

    “Before European settlement, forests covered nearly one billion acres of what is now the United States. Since the mid-1600’s, about 300 million acres of forest have been cleared, primarily for agriculture during the 19th century. Today about one-third of the nation is forested. While total forest area has been relatively stable for the last 100 years (currently about 747 million acres), there have been significant regional shifts in the area and composition of the nation’s forests. Reversion of marginal farmland in the east, large scale planting in the South, and fire suppression have contributed to increases in forest area. Urbanization, conversion to agriculture, reservoir construction, and natural disasters have been major factors contributing to loss of forests. ”

    http://nationalatlas.gov/articles/biology/a_forest.html

  9. the majority of US electricity production comes from coal–about 57 percent.
    http://powerscorecard.org/tech_detail.cfm?resource_id=2
    Nuclear 19 or so, natural gas 18 or so.
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3678/is_200610/ai_n16756266

  10. Terran,

    I think you are ahead of most Americans who think electricity comes from the socket.

  11. Well, I would guess that all that electricity comes from coal. Not oil, to be sure, but still fossil fuel.

  12. Good gravy, Mr. Doherty, please tell me that a writer for Reason magazine is ignorant of the implications of the fungibility of oil, in all circumstances except a condition of global war. Are you proposing that the U.S. invade Canada if the crazy hockey players to the north decide to sell oil at prevailing market prices in the instance of Persian Gulf oil being removed from the market, or worse, being on the global market in an intermittant fashion? Trust me, if the straits of Hormuz were to close this afternoon, the fact that most oil consumed in the U.S. comes from Canadian wells wouldn’t lessen the shock much.

  13. From the .PDF

    MYTH: The US can meet its future energy demand solely through conservation and efficiency measures.
    Nearly 70 percent agreed with this statement.
    FACT: We will need 30 percent more energy in 2030 than we consume today – not a
    demand that can be met through mere conservation.
    Our needs will be met by introducing new energy sources-like nuclear power.

    So, because we cannot, in theory, meet our projected energy requirements through conservation we should not conserve? That’s like saying I can’t make my rent payment without getting a second job so I should continue eating Angus Steak and not switch to ground beef.

    I agree that conservation will probably not solve 100% of the energy problems but things like utilizing solar energy (photo-voltaics and passive solar heating/cooling), insulating buildings, using on-demand hot water heaters and the like will go a long way towards reducing the electricity that we mine from the earth.

  14. So, because we cannot, in theory, meet our projected energy requirements through conservation we should not conserve?

    It says “…[cannot] be met through mere conservation.” Doesn’t say “do not conserve energy”.

  15. Will–No, I’m aware of the fungibility of oil, even if the MI writer is not. Not every blogged citation presented without comment constitutes a cheer or agreement–I thought a representative range of what MI was saying would give a fuller flavor of what I was pointing to. I am confused by Tarran and his cheerers belief that most electricity comes from oil

  16. Coal 57%
    Nuclear 19%
    Natural gas 18%
    sub total other than oil 94%

    So Brian are you saying that only 6% is from oil? I would guess there is some overstatments in your sources.

    “””I think you are ahead of most Americans who think electricity comes from the socket.”””

    I thought it came from a pole in the back yard.

  17. “””MYTH: The US can meet its future energy demand solely through conservation and efficiency measures.””””

    ROFLMAO, We can meet our future needs by not having them.

  18. Rich Ard,
    They also don’t say how much would be met through conservation. If, say 25% could be met that would only mean a 5% increase in energy demand that would need to be met by other means. Projections of energy are based on growth rates at current conservation levels which are far less than optimal right now. I would have taken them more seriously if they had addressed that in their bullet point.

  19. I don’t know if we are confusing “electricity” from “energy use in total,” but I have no problem believing those cited sources that oil per se provides very little ELECTRICITY in America. If those sources–the St. Louis Federal Reserve and the U.S. EIA (actually, it’s 51 for coal, not 57–a secondary source was wrong on that) are wrong, maybe they are wrong.

  20. Brian, I guess I should explain myself.

    When the guy said that our use of electricity was what was expanding, it struck me as being really meaningless. That electricity comes from someting else. It could be oil, it could be coal, it could be natural gas, or indirectly from solar energy (hydroelectric dams, wind farms).

    I am not disagreeing with the notion that people are woefully ignorant of how energy is produced. Their argument, however, does little to dispell ignorance, and that claim seems designed to leave the clueless with a mistaken impression.

  21. Urbanization, conversion to agriculture, reservoir construction, and natural disasters have been major factors contributing to loss of forests. “

    What? Urbanization has been cited as one of the reasons the forests are coming back. I think what they mean was “suburbanization”, where humans decrease density, not where city density increases as is the common thought in “urbanization”

    Also, one more “woohoo!!!” for nucular(sic) power.

  22. Tarran—Gotcha. Their press release explanations of the meaning of the findings are certainly lacking. The use of the scare quotes about “energy myths” was meant to be somewhat of a shorthand signal of my own mixed read on what they had to say. I don’t think the oil-electricity distinction is meaningless, or confusion on the issue harmless in policy terms.

  23. I work for the chairman of a major utility. It’s a hoot!

    Your electricity generation questions can be answered here…

    http://www.eei.org

    and here…

    http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/hepg/

  24. Fair enough, Brian, and I apologize if I was unduly snarky. It just struck me that asking such a question, as if it is meaningful, is nearly as ignorant as any possible answer.

  25. Kwix,

    Agreed – they are too dismissive of conservation and appliance replacements, perhaps; but the question was whether we could “meet [our] future energy demand solely through conservation and efficiency measures” so I don’t know that their pointing out different energy sources as replacements is out of line.

    Didn’t mean to snark.

    I am confused by Tarran and his cheerers belief that most electricity comes from oil

    No such belief here, just thought electricity mines were funny.

  26. Oh boy, since oil is fungible, the neo-cons can now excuse military intervention even if the U.S. gets 0% from a producing nation.

    Maybe the implication of where we get most of our imported oil (Canada, Mexico) is that – worse case scenario – the tars of the U.S. Navy could prevent said oil from being transported to the highest bidders in France or Japan.

  27. “FACT: We will need 30 percent more energy in 2030 than we consume today”

    Yes, and do you realize how many whales we’re going to have kill by 1910?

    L.i.T.,

    “Urbanization” in that context refers to the development of woodlands for buildings and infrastructure, without reference to the style of development. You are right, most of that today is suburban-style. The US Geological Survey uses the term “urbanized area” to refer to the developed land of towns and cities. The term goes back to the 1800s, before the suburban boom.

  28. Wow, Bush really is stupid. Why invade Iraq for oil when Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela are all so much closer? And easier to subjugate?

  29. Uh, whenever I see the friendly Myth vs. Fact format, I check for my wallet, and this case demonstrates why.

    I have no problem believing those cited sources that oil per se provides very little ELECTRICITY in America.

    Too bad that’s not what they said. They said ENERGY, not electricity.

  30. Crimethink–that statement of mine was based on the Tarran and others talk that (seemingly) mocked the distinction between electricity and oil…they note that it is electricity, a mostly non-oil-based energy use, that’s where most of our energy growth needs are coming from. Has anyone debunked their direct statement that “60 percent of energy” (NOT just electricty) comes from non-oil sources? If not, let me know.
    But I repeat: I didn’t post this to cheer it wholesale; I posted it because the poll-study seemed kinda interesting—a blog’s post worth of interesting.

  31. I don’t think the intern who wrote the “facts” is the same intern who wrote the “myths”.

  32. Oil need not be fungible. There are additives that will inhibit microbial growth.

  33. Did anyone else take the 19 question quiz at the beginning of the PDF? It’s as though they were trying to coax false responses out of respondents to make their claims look all that much more profound and revolutionary. An academic and responsible study this is not.
    While their conclusions may be largely correct, the way they went about conducting this study was flawed. Also, since when has the logging of America’s forests ever been an issue? It’s always been about rainforests and all.
    “Do you agree or disagree that America is addicted to oil?” What kind of question is that? In what context? There’s no single answer to that question. Oil is the single largest contributor to our energy supply and yet they can say that it’s “misleading” to say America is addicted to oil. Now wait.. who’s being misleading?

  34. I wish this study were more substantive. At first blush, it appears to be nothing more than a bunch of spin. I’ll take a look and weigh in later. However, the whole “we’re not dependent on foreign oil/middle eastern oil” is a slick obfuscation, and they have to know how sleazy it is.

  35. FACT: An erroneous belief in our dependence on Middle Eastern oil leads to an illegitimate fear of having energy used as an economic weapon against us.

    So…we’re not dependent on Middle Eastern Oil? What dumbass wrote this thinking it was insightful or intelligent?

    The point is, we’re dependent on oil…period. The point ALSO is that we consume far more than we can produce so we must buy it from others.
    So…

    1. No single supplier appears able to provide us with all the oil we need. Yes, Canada is our biggest supplier. Out of over $100 billion in oil imports, they supply about 15%. As a region, the Middle East outpaces Canada with 23%.

    2. If our oil supply drops or demand increases – like say China buying an unGodly shitload for their burgeoning economy – the gas prices will (likely) go up.

    3. If U.S. gas prices go up, it will impact prices on just about everything…just as they did last year.

    4. If prices in America go up it will (not could…will) have an impact on exports, inflation, unemployment rates and strength of the U.S. dollar.

    5. Comparing “Energy” against “Oil Consumption” is more than misleading. For example, even when I lived in Tennessee, we did not have hydroelectic cars. I live in Florida now.The city is fired by a coal-fired plant. My car still runs on gas. When we’re talking about oil, we’re talking largely about transportation and industrial needs.

    I’m not saying the dynamics can’t be changed OR that we’re prisoners of this model. But for now, this is the way things are.

    Anyone who thinks that pinching Middle Eastern oil won’t have an serious and immediate impact on the U.S. economy is a moron and should be avoided.

  36. I don’t know, Pro Libertate, old boy, our last two attempts on Canada didn’t go too swimmingly.

  37. Well, I would guess that all that electricity comes from coal. Not oil, to be sure, but still fossil fuel.

    A fossil fuel that is far more abundant than oil. There is enough coal in only proven reserves to supply all the world’s present energy demands for six centuries, let alone beds that would become economic to mine as reserves dwindled. Not saying that it would be a good idea to dig up and burn all that coal, mind you, but we’re not facing an energy crisis for a while.

  38. I can believe that our cities’ air is getting cleaner (thanks to regulation, of course), but I don’t see how we are possibily gaining forest land. Anybody know?

    Because of private ownership of the forests.

  39. Rich Ard,
    I didn’t mean to sound snippy there, just stating my view on it. That having been said, I was quoting the PR and not the entire Poll piece. I will have to take some time and dissect it.

    Brian,
    Blog worthy this is, keep pieces like this coming. I may not agree with them, but I like getting to see other’s arguments. As a side note, I had never heard of the Manhattan Institute before today nor did I realize that they view praise by Rudi Guiliani as something worth posting on their site.

  40. Wow, some of those questions and “Facts” are shady.

    We know that we are in no danger of running out of oil in the next 93 years, becasue people in the past made false predictions?

    “Given the diversity that defines America’s energy economy…” Given the diversity that defined Jim Morrison’s drug usage, he can’t be said to be addicted to alcohol. Oh, ok.

    That bits about the “safest” energy source and the “causes the most harm to the environment” don’t even attempt to compare different sources in terms of their safety or environmental damage, just to talk up whatever problems allegedly exist for renewables and talk down the problems with everything else.

    The Policy Implication I get from this report is that information from the MI and CEI needs to be treated with extreme caution.

  41. “Also, since when has the logging of America’s forests ever been an issue? It’s always been about rainforests and all.”

    The issue in the US is with old-growth forests, which probably are not increasing. (Pretty much by definition, the enlargement of an old-growth forest would take a very long time, during which there’d be old-growth surrounded by new growth.)

  42. Apparently the Manhattan Institute runs on the cosmic background radiation of the brainpower from the Manhattan Project. Sixty years ago it was intense, but by now it’s dwindled to mere static.

  43. Jon H, also, because they are in Manhattan, from here in California, it looks even dumber because of red-shifting 🙂

  44. “MYTH: The US can meet its future energy demand solely through conservation and efficiency measures.
    Nearly 70 percent agreed with this statement.
    FACT: We will need 30 percent more energy in 2030 than we consume today – not a
    demand that can be met through mere conservation.
    Our needs will be met by introducing new energy sources-like nuclear power.”

    http://www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid119.php

    “In most commercial, industrial, and institutional facilities, there are abundant opportunities to save 70-90 percent of the energy and cost for lighting, fan, and pump systems, 50 percent for electric motors, and 60 percent in areas such as heating, cooling, office equipment, and appliances. Whole-system design may reveal opportunities for downsizing, combining, or eliminating some building energy systems. This approach may reveal major opportunities for capturing synergies between different kinds of savings, and obtaining multiple benefits from single expenditures, thus achieving cost savings that would not emerge from a measure-by-measure analysis. The resulting savings will be severalfold larger and cheaper than are normally expected or obtained.

    Moreover, the productivity gains resulting from employing more efficient building design may dwarf the money saved in energy-see the RMI publication “Greening the Building and the Bottom Line.”

    Heating, cooling, and lighting are the top energy consumptions in the US. Savings of 50 to 90 percent on those across the board would add up to more than 30% of current consumption (I would think).

  45. Fact (ish): If I remember correctly – since the 70’s, the US has something like four times as much usable new energy from savings (conservation and efficiency improvements) as it did by expanding domestic energy supplies.

    Myth: we are nearing the limit along this parameter and will not be able to find an additional 30% increase in efficiency.

  46. edit,

    “has gained something like four times”

  47. I”ve been ranting about Canadian oil for a while now.

    NotThatDavid, it’s not irrelevant:
    From the Department of Energy, top five crude oil imports (2006, YTD through Dec):

    * 19% Canada
    * 17% Mexico
    * 15% Saudia Arabia
    * 12% Venezuela
    * 11% Nigeria

    As Regions:

    * 36% North America (Canada and Mexico)
    * 23% Middle East
    * 21% Africa
    * 16% South America
    * 3% Europe and Russia

    These numbers don’t take into account domestic production either, just imports.

    http://st4rbux.wordpress.com/2007/03/12/ted-koppel-is-wrong-on-middle-east-oil/

  48. FACT: We will need 30 percent more energy in 2030 than we consume today – not a demand that can be met through mere conservation.

    Funny how the same folks who are so optimistic about American prosperity and how much oil we have left are so pessimistic when it comes to the possibility that we might find ways to conserve more or become more efficient.

  49. I’m gradually converting to energy-saving light bulbs. In two months it’s already saved me the cost of the light bulbs. Now I’m worried about running out of mercury.

    But the best thing is that I don’t have to stand on a chair so often to change the light bulbs. (Never, as of this moment.)

    Now I want a cheap, powerful, low-energy consuming computer.

  50. FACT: We will need 30 percent more energy in 2030 than we consume today – not a
    demand that can be met through mere conservation.

    This is ridiculous, simply because it cannot by definition be a “fact.” It is at best a high probability, or the best extrapolation from known facts that we have today. But unless the writers of this poll have time-traveled to 2030 they cannot possibly claim a 30% projected increase in energy use is a “fact”. I found this statement so egregiously biased that it kind of ruined the rest of the poll for me.

  51. I found this statement so egregiously biased that it kind of ruined the rest of the poll for me.

    Finding out the guy worked for Samuel Bodman and (Dan Quayle toadie) Spencer Abraham pretty much established a pretty low level of credibility for me.

    Still, the stilted, strawmannish conclusions and the deliberate, obvious attempts to use oil vs energy and nations vs regions to confuse the issue was a new amateurish low.

    Guys like this act as if everyone in America is either in denial or a moron.

  52. Most of the statements are biased enough to ruin the poll for me, vanya. This is irresponsible and clearly nothing but propaganda to forward a specific agenda. If not promoting anything, it’s at the very least trying to make our efforts to become energy independent seem futile. I like how they claim that our energy supply portfolio is so diversified that we don’t need to be worried about being “addicted to oil.” So may I assume that if any one of the sources of our energy just suddenly one day failed or became impossible to afford that we would get along just fine without it?

    At least they don’t try to talk up ethanol?

  53. we’re addicted to oil

    No we’re not. We’re addicted to food and water (in the sense that we must consume them.) We merely choose to use oil because we gain utility (happiness, wealth, well-being, whatever) from doing so. I don’t understand why so many people want us to impoverish ourselves now, because if we don’t, we’ll be impoverished in the future. If everything else stays the same, of course.

  54. Bartman, food and water are needs – not addictions. As in, if you don’t get them you will die. See Abraham Maslow.

    As for oil as an addiction or a choice, the word “addiction” should not be read too closely as a parallel to drug addiction or the like.

    As for people wanting us to impoverish ourselves, I think you’re making the lcassic error of painting all critics with the same brush.

    It’s one thing to call oil, energy, gasoline and the associated industries as evil corporae raders preying onunsuspecting Americans blah, blah, blah.

    It’s another thing entirely to point out that oil and it’s production is a finite resource with political impact and that the demand for it by us and our competitors in growing.

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