Salient White Elephant

June 21, 2009

Conservation or Increased Exploration and Production?

In 1985 I bought a Toyota Starlet. A Starlet was a compact car that got 55 miles per gallon (mpg) on the interstate with a regular gasoline engine. (It was a regular car – not a hybrid). The average fuel efficiency of a car on the freeway today is easily half that value.

Think about it this way. It’s easy for us to drive cars that get 27 mpg instead of 55 mpg. All we have to do is to double our fuel production capacity. This is as easy as building a second Iraq.

Or you can think of it this way. If we double the fuel efficiency of cars, then we’ve just built a second Iraq – a virtual Iraq – an invisible Iraq – an Iraq that doesn’t actually exist. Everytime you drive 2 x 27 = 54 miles and burn only a single gallon instead of 2 gallons, then you just burned an invisible gallon of gas from an invisible country. You can’t go to war or even have policy differences with an invisible country. And the cost of the invisible gallon of gas is a whopping $0. Invisible oil fields are never depleted, and invisible OPEC’s are hard to disagree with. Invisible production facilities don’t catch on fire or need maintenance, and almost anyone can finance the exploration of an invisible oil reserve. Burning invisible gasoline produces, of course, invisible pollution. Even the increase in the earth’s temperature is not detectable, existing only in the parallel universe of “what might have been”.

Can you imagine what an incredibly huge task it would be to double the world’s oil production? The billions of dollars that would be required, the trade agreements, the transportation infrastructure that would have to be built to support it, the fear it would strike in the hearts of some governments if they felt they’d have less access to the new oil than other countries. Yet doubling the fuel efficiency of cars is easy. It’s already been done in 1985, and that was even before hybrid technology came along! Yet by doubling fuel efficiency, you’ve essentially accomplished all of the herculean tasks I just described for doubling the world’s oil production capacity, only instead of being a herculean task, it’s a piece of cake!

You can’t go to war with an invisible country. You can’t melt the polar ice caps with invisible heat. And you can’t stifle a government with invisible cronies.

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