I'm in favor of action. A very large part of why I'm not in a university. Pose a problem for them- and they will cheerfully host meetings; forever. Our government, in case you hadn't noticed, has adopted this method.
So when a good solid observation hits me, my tendency is to look for a way to turn it into a positive action; something actually feasible, in this world.
A serious shortcoming to my desire for action is the plain fact that people HATE to change. Whenever a major change is suggested, or demanded by circumstances, history is absolutely clear on what to expect- most folks will say a) it's not possible, and b) you're wrong, and c) I won't do it. History, however is also clear on another point- change IS possible, and does happen.
A little parable as an aside. Spouse (not Spice) taught piano for several years; often in the Little House, where I'd designed the floor specifically to hold the weight of her grandmother's upright. I got to hear a lot of lessons. I'm really NOT quick to draw conclusions about any observations; only after long repetition of this pattern did I admit it IS a pattern. And it still astonishes me. Universally- and I do mean universally; every time a piano student was presented with a new piece of music; one slightly more challenging than the last - their reaction was/is ALWAYS - "I can't do this. I CAN'T." And they seem to believe that. Each time. Segue to 2 weeks later- whatever aspect of that piece of music seemed impossible to them- is now second nature; they accomplish it and don't even notice they've done it. So they get a new piece of music to tackle; and the cycle starts over. "I can't do this. I CAN'T."
Eventually I experimented with a couple of the more accessible students- and pointed this out to them. It didn't really help. It now seems to me there may be a hardwired basic biological reaction here - amounting to "look, you're alive now; don't change what you're doing." The critical part being - "don't change."
The world we've now created requires extensive change. And we're really quite bad at change, as a species.
All this is supposed to make YOU the reader a little less likely to think "oh, that's just crazy talk" (thank you, Vanessa); and a little more likely to listen to the scheme below and think; "hm; that might be worth trying. How do we do it?"
Continuing from the last post- one of Friedman's incontrovertible truths was "He’s dead right. The market alone won’t work. Government’s job is to set high standards, let the market reach them and then raise the standards more."
This being at least a partial contradiction of his previous dogma "the only way ... — is by mobilizing free-market capitalism."
Part of what I pull out of that- along with some obvious truths available to us all - is that the "free market" is NOT working to help solve society's energy problems. And the "government standards" are not working either. Yet.
History is priceless for multiple reasons. Certainly it can show us past mistakes, and teach us not to do them again- Vietnam, for example. But it can also, less obviously, show us how we got into current messes; and consequently suggest ways to get out of them.
The way the world energy markets work at the moment is a big fat catastrophic mess. How did we get here?
Our energy economy didn't come into being until pretty recently- a couple hundred years for coal; less for oil and electricity. There are lots of records available to explain how the "market" grew up.
Here's the problem; as ALL our markets operate today-
THE MORE ENERGY YOU CONSUME- THE LESS YOU PAY FOR IT.
I get a great deal of amusement out of every neophyte pundit "discovering" that "the cheapest power plant is the one you don't have to build." Cutting our consumption of energy is by far the cheapest, fastest, biggest, and lowest impact pathway to a non-toxic economy. And how many big businesses are focusing on energy conservation as their new path to profitability? Maybe it's not zero; but it's dang small. The great majority are busy figuring out fantasies where nobody has to give up anything, and their new "energy source" is amazingly clean, saves our SUVs, and, incidentally, the planet.
THE MORE ENERGY YOU CONSUME- THE LESS YOU PAY FOR IT.
If we are going to survive- I think we have to get that statement inverted - to:
THE MORE ENERGY YOU CONSUME- THE MORE YOU PAY FOR IT.
See, here is where your automatic pilot kicks in with - "you CAN'T do that." and "that's just crazy talk." :-)
But it isn't just crazy talk; because all the reasons that combined to make the markets this way - no longer hold true. We COULD invert it- and rather easily; because in fact most energy sales rates are already controlled by governments; not the free market. WE control them.
Let's just run through electricity- which of course is generated by coal and oil, etc. I'm going to toss out some "example" numbers- please don't comment here that your rates are different- of course they are. These are just approximations- but DO check out the relationships. They're accurate.
You have a home, owned or rented. You pay something like 6-8¢/kWh (kilowatt hour). There are lots of schemes out there for making costs reflect reality a little better- like cheaper "off peak" charges, etc. But they all still work the same way- the more, the cheaper.
Down the road from you is a Super WalMart. They run 24 hrs a day; all lights and refrigerators and freezers and TVs on.
They pay something like 3-5¢/kWh.
Further down the road is a steel mill. They melt metals- sometimes using electric blast furnaces. They pay 2-3 ¢/kWh.
Look it up- your rates are a matter of public record; usually available on the internet with little work searching.
There are at least three historical reasons for these kinds of rates.
1) In the early days of the electrical industry, there was no real power distribution system in existence- you had to build new powerlines for nearly every customer. Arguably; hooking up your house is about as expensive as hooking up WalMart. Arguably. Not in reality, of course- they need much heavier connections, which cost more. And the steel mill is off the charts, there; they have to have their own high-tension lines and substations.
2) In the early days of the electrical industry, there were no big customers already buying power. In order to extend the benefits of clean power to them, operations like the steel mill had to be seduced from coal- arguably, they wouldn't/couldn't change unless offered outrageously cheap power.
3) "Progress" clearly demanded we "grow the electrical industry" - all society would benefit from this new, convenient, clean, cheap, adaptable form of energy.
None of these reasons, I maintain, are at all sensible today; if they ever were. The truth behind why the steel mill pays so little contains the fact that they might, if not given really cheap rates, just build their own power plant. Can't have that.
The power distribution system is mostly "built", though in constant need of repair. At this point, clearly the needs of the large consumers put the most load on the power grid. They should pay more.
There is no shortage of large customers for electric power.
There is no benefit to society, or the world, from electric consumption, per se, being increased; quite the contrary.
What could work instead: electric rates for homes should start low- power for a "normal" amount of annual electric consumption should be very inexpensive.
Just for example- according to the US Dept. of Energy- average US household electricity consumption in 2001 was 10,656 kWh. DOE Power Consumption
We know perfectly well that few of us are as careful with energy as we could be. So let's set the bar a little lower; say the first 8,000 kWh per year should cost 3¢/kWh. Then the next 2,000 should cost 4¢. The next 2,000 -5¢. Then I'd make it steeper; because you're getting into stuff like - lights for your swimming pools; lights for your landscape, tv's in every room- costs that have nothing to do with survival; which is what we're talking about protecting here. So the next 2,000 should cost 8¢; and the next 2,000 should cost 12¢, and the next 2,000- 20¢. You get the idea.
This would give all homeowners a tangible incentive to pay attention to their power consumption. Would they cut back? Not a doubt in the world.
And, incidentally, it would protect the power companies' profits- which is a major concern here if such a change is to happen. They'll scream like stuck pigs if anybody suggests anything that would cut into their sacred profits. All the widows and orphans who own their stock would suffer and die of starvation, don'tcha know. There's no reason why they should. Power company income and profits can stay the same- they will just come to a larger extent from the biggest consumers; not the smallest.
And the steel mill? They don't have to go out of business. Rate changes can be phased in- so they have plenty of time to make adjustments in their operations. No reason it can't be done intelligently, and compassionately.
Sure- their product will then have to cost more. The fact is; it should, and MUST.
We have to get to a world where the actual energy expense for an item is PAID for in its cost. At the moment, our consumer product prices are fantasies; full of weird subsidies and leftover false pricing.
Quite a large part of this is psychological. The Board at the steel mill just never realizes how wasteful they are- power is so cheap they don't even think about it. If they get a little jolt here- they WILL think about it, I guarantee. Will they find ways to economize? Of course. And the potential gains for society are very large indeed- getting households to cut 10% of their power consumption would be nice. Getting the oil refineries and steel mills to cut 10% of THEIR power consumption would be ENORMOUS.
At the moment, they have no incentive to do so. None.
Could this be done? Oh, yeah. Not without a fight, for sure; but the power is already in the hands of citizen power rate boards, in most states. And we could even get the power companies on our side- by allowing their profits to rise just a tad, for every zillion kWh's conserved. That would be a real societal benefit.
My point here. Have you ever heard this idea discussed/suggested? I doubt it. So far as I know, I thought it up; though I'd not be at all surprised if others are thinking similar thoughts. Is it simple? Sure. I'd even say "obvious" - but then I've been thinking it for a year or more now. Doable? Yes. Worth discussing more widely? Yep. And not included in the "the ONLY way..." kinds of calculations. There are LOTS of ways.
It's another example of "we have not yet begun to think", and an example of an action- not a discussion - that is within our reach. Just writing about it all - and mouthing new catch phrases - doesn't cut it.