If gas were $10/gallon, would we die?
Posted by Tom Wright on December 6, 2012 at 3:15 PM

In order to run the industrial economy do we absolutely need to utilize the ancient carbon in fossil deposits?
Especially at the current rate of acceleration?
The process simplified:  we extract ancient carbon, imbedded in a low entropy state, put it first through the extraction process, then through refining and distribution, and then finally combust it for its ‘energy’.  All three processes increase the rate of entropy: the rate of disorder rises.

We take something of relatively low entropy, and we spread it around, purposely.
We displace the combusted ancient carbon, increasing its concentration-

into theupper atmosphere and the oceans, then we wonder what happened?
To paraphrase Bill McDonough, waste shows the intention of poor design.
And we waste because although we claim to be part of a market economy, we continue to mis-price the ancient carbon: we say its ‘cheap’.  Would we die if we got rid of every bit of ‘cheaply’ made goods, and replaced them with fewer higher quality goods?
What’s wrong with this picture?   We say the market is ‘efficient’ – because it’s amarket –

yet we have all these conspicuous externalities that point to the exact opposite.

Do excessive wastes not equal excessive inefficiencies?
And wouldn’t ancient carbon have a higher and better use than combustion,

e.g. for carbon-fiber materials in light-weight vehicles’ bodies?
What we have done is to say that entropy increase is necessary for a modern life;

perhaps that actually makes us non-modern, i.e. our current industrial paradigm:

1) extract resources,

2) privatize the profits, and

3) externalize the social costs onto the commons

— this is a regressive economic paradigm.

Extraction economics is by its very nature waste intensive, unless that waste equals food for a next life, which it does not.
The carbon cycle is out-of-whack, which means the water cycle is out-of-whack:

and this is predictable, because of the increasing rates of entropy.

(We can’t reorder fast enough to make up for the disorder caused.)
How could we slow down the rate of dispersing ancient carbon into the skies and sea?

In a market economy, demand can be slowed down through price increases.

Price increases are somewhat natural with scarce resources: as supply diminishes, even if demand is flat, prices tend to rise.

As supply gets more expensive to extract, in BTUs invested, on BTUs extracted, those added costs also increase price.

And of course if demand is increasing, with scarce supplies, price also increases: which is the current scenario.
If $4 per gallon became $10 per gallon, could you get as much done today with 2.5 times less ancient carbon combusted?

If so, then your ‘combusted carbon contribution’ in dollars would stay steady.
What would that look like?  You would walk more, bike more, take public transportation more, tele-commute more, car-pool on purpose, entertain your like-minded neighbors, etc.

Would any of those behavior changes cause you to die?
How do we get to $10/gallon as soon as possible?

First of all, we do have a carbon-combusted economic model that values the cheap and the wasteful.

Bill McKibben refers to this as ‘politics determined by rhetoric from Big-Energy-owned politicians’.

The federal gov’mint budgets US $40 billion annually in oil, coal, and natural gas subsidies.

Removing the subsidies would raise the price, and perhaps that’s the only reason they exist- to keep carbon-combustion falsely cheap.
Could it be possible that Big Energy’s lobbying, advertising and PR budgets are all literally subsidized by congressional choices, i.e. paid for by you the tax payer?  And you thought gas was cheap?  And had you ever considered the drivers of carbon pollution as inactive laywers-as-legislators and active PR folks- professional spin-doctors?
Orwell did.
They say we need ‘growth’.  Do we?  Do you want to be a 400 pound person?

Aren’t there two distinct types of “growth”?
1) An outer-directed growth: adding up the total flow of stuff:

more is better, bigger is better.  Does that really make sense?  The planet is not increasing its mass.

It’s not making more carbon.

There’s an amount of carbon:  in a safe range, that makes life possible;

it’s not about ‘more’ it’s about ‘just-right’ in a cycle: in balance with the biosphere.

GDP and GNP are antiquated indices:

Perpetual material growth is not possible, and the opposite is not poverty,

instead it’s about having enough for a high quality of life.

Again, the focus, the goal, is a living system, unless you want to die, soon.

When material growth is equated to ‘enoughness’, we will have matured

significantly as a species.
2) Inner-directed growth is very important to your human psyche.

Understanding sufficiency is part of inner-directed growth;

this progressive inner development may be the key to the solution:

a way to evolve, with quality of life and interdependent relationships.

We need a ‘unit of happiness with less stuff’ index to replace GNPs!
Another very important shift of rhetoric and double-speak lies in the word ‘conservative’.

Only a low-entropy economy would be conserving resources.

So should we be calling people who advocate increased rates of extraction cycles that lead to wastes:

“conservative”?  These beliefs in ‘wastes don’t matter’ are regressive at best, and show up as a type of feudalism:

the class that gains economic power;

and the class that has to deal with the remains of the carbon combustion, and the changes that burden the commons.

If one were to be truly a “conservative” would they not instead advocate very slow consumption of very scarce resources?

If one were a “conservative”, would they not desire a regenerative economics based on renewables,

instead of the waste-based economics that currently dominate ?
Does a carbon tax make sense?

Here enters the concept of EPR.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is the extension of the responsibility of producers for the environmental impacts of their products and packaging to the entire product life cycle.  EPR is based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle. The simple idea is to get true-costs in the product, so that the market responds authentically.
If you ‘own it’ in its low entropy form, how about when it’s highly entropic-

now that the carbon that you once ‘owned’ is acidifying the oceans ?

Or increasing in concentration in the upper atmosphere?
Yet with this necessary price increase:

an inflation for users of carbon combustion,

so too will actual profits increase, whether you believe they actually collude on price on not.

That profit can be created by increasing price, which increases revenues, over costs.

Common sense says that the price can increase until readily available substitutes exist.

SO we will need to make partners with Big-Energy to make the transition happen:

they’ll win no matter what, to a certain extent. . . they have control of ancient carbon,

which can be transformed and release energy.

In a way, isn’t raising the price of ancient carbon combustion common sense for Big-Energy also?
Can some of this ‘profit’ be socialized through a carbon tax?
There is an imbedded cost of security systems for the low-entropy carbon deposits:

approximately 50% of the USA federal budget is for current and past wars and security systems for ancient carbon deposits.

At current rates of consumption, this amounts to about $2/gallon, which is distinct from a carbon tax.
What the carbon tax accounts for are the costs of externalities: to help the market identify true costs.

So perhaps to cover the cost of repairing, revitalizing the regenerative system depletion, we do need a $5 per gallon carbon tax.

That’s a jobs bill:  many jobs to decentralize energy-collection systems, and relocalize society at large.

We could add a million farmers per year, just to build soils that sequester carbon, and deliver better food and seeds to society.
It does take a village, as a human-scale alternative.
On second thought,

if gas were$15/gallon, would we die?
Could you live, and even prosper, at a 75% reduction in combusted carbon?

If your life depended on it, would you accept that straight forward solution,

as an option to finally become modern?