Wednesday, July 1, 2015

#182 / Can You Picture That?

The following statement comes from Amory Lovins, cofounder, chief scientist, and chairman emeritus of the Rocky Mountain Institute, or RMI. In his article titled, "The Oil Price Roller Coaster," published in the Summer 2015 edition of RMI's Solutions Journal, Lovins says this: 

People burn 1.3 cubic miles of oil a year, or 93 million barrels a day (each barrel equal to 42 U.S. gallons or 159 liters). Scott Pugh, energy advisor to the Department of Homeland Security, visualizes those barrels, each 20 inches in diameter, laid end-to-end and joined to form a pipeline. It'd stretch 1.8 times around the earth. To traverse that pipeline in 24 hours, the oil must flow at 1,835 miles per hour - 2.44 times the speed of sound.

The pipeline image doesn't do much for me, but I can definitely picture a big, black cube 1.3 miles on each side, totally filled with oil. 

That's how much oil we're burning each year. Can you picture that, too? See above, with each side being 1.3 miles in length!

The great thing, reading the latest edition of Solutions Journal, is that we can organize our world so that we won't need to fill that 1.3 mile on a side cube with oil each year. Really! We could do it! And based on what Lovins is saying, price may even be on our side.

I am quite a fan of the Rocky Mountain Institute, as I have mentioned in my blog postings in the past. Last summer, for instance, I was writing about "grid defection," as that phenomenon was described in the 2014 edition of Solutions Journal. And grid defection is happening!

Sometimes, the best way to figure out what to do, affirmatively (and this works in almost any situation), is first to figure out what you will NOT do. That principle is related to the famous "First Rule of Holes." 

Let's consider NOT filling up that 1.3 mile on a side cube with oil each year. Let's consider NOT burning that oil. 

Consider joining the Rocky Mountain Institute, whose publications will tell you how we can NOT burn hydrocarbon fuels. 

Our planet thanks you!

Image Credit:


  1. Ironically, it takes oil to replace oil with renewables.

    Transforming our civilization, absolutely dependent on oil consumption, to a civilization based on renewable energy resources would take most the remaining fossil fuel energy sources. We can't build a new energy infrastructure using the new energy sources that are not yet built!

    More importantly, the energy efficiencies (energy received for energy invested) is lower than that of fossil fuels. In other words, it takes more energy to create energy with renewables than with non-renewables. That means it takes more energy to do the same thing.

    In a growth economy with an expanding population, we will never have as much energy in the future as we have right now. As fossil fuels sources decline, or are eschewed, energy availability will continue to decline.

    So we can't just NOT burn that oil. We must transform our civilization in social as well as technological and economic pathways to arrive at a civilization that can live within the limitations of available energy.

    Rocky Mountain Institute has always been excellent at pie in the sky boosterism for renewable energy. Their central theme is energy efficiency, which is grand, though it is not the entire answer. Energy efficiency only goes so far in a world of expanding economies and growing population. Ultimately growth overwhelms efficiency.

    So the new civilization must be much different than our present civilization: a steady state economy, a stable population half the size of our present growing population, wealth equality, lower levels of individual and collective consumption, effective environmental protection, peaceful relations among all nations.

    It's a pretty big recipe. The alternative is continuing decline and collapse.

    "It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad." C. S. Lewis

  2. That math is wrong. "1.3 cubic miles" doesn't mean "a cube 1.3 miles on each side". It means a cube 1.091 miles on a side because 1.091^3 = 1.3. However the mental exercise is hardly changed by this mistake.


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