Thursday, March 10, 2011

USA Trade Deficit : OPEC factor. How to reduce it!

Why are these constant and increasing trade deficits "unexpected"?  I am so sick of reading that type of headline, when it is so obvious that we (as a country) are not doing anything to alter our behavior in a way that would actually bring about long-term trade-deficit reductions.

The latest report I read on Bloomberg today was titled: "Trade Deficit in US Widened More Than Forecast in January".  I just laughed when I saw the title with the "more than forecast" (since economists constantly botch this), and as I read the article and encountered words like *unexpected*, it just reinforced my view of the USA and its inability to recognize a systemic risk to our way of life. Money is going out of here that is NEVER coming back, and it is doing so at such an astonishing pace that is is almost unfathomable.  But, we do not change.

I can not help but find myself getting very frustrated at the stupidity of this country racking up insane trade-deficits with China and OPEC (nations).  This latest report shows "The trade gap with China grew to $23.3 billion from $20.7 billion as imports rose and U.S. exports declined. The U.S. shortfall with OPEC nations widened to $9.9 billion as imports increased to the highest level since October 2008."  Well, when it comes to the sound-bite media, we always keep hearing about CHINA and trade deficits, well... what about OIL?

OK, can we please take note of how huge the OIL side of this equation is?  OPEC is like their own mega-country that is sucking a full 1/3 of the total China/Oil trade-deficit total.  This is an incredible sum going to fueling and heating our country.  We really need to do something to ween ourselves off this externally-sourced energy supply and stop the hemorrhaging before it gets worse.  And, it WILL get worse.  We never learn!  Do you remember the 2008 election promises to finally, this time, break our dependence on oil (as our dependence was killing us with $4/gallon++ gasoline back then)... and, here we are, after all those "this time will be different" (which I laughed at back then KNOWING it would not change)... it is still the same!  We are collectively moronic in our behavior.

Why did this become a politicized battle between the "right" and "left" in the USA?  This is a NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUE... our security is so at risk (over externally supplied energy) that is should scare the heck out of us, but it sure seems to not matter enough to address it.  If I were the President right now, I would address two issues at once: the budget, and this energy issue (and jobs too).  The "untouchable" military budget needs to be partially-redirected toward National Security in the form of building out an internally-sourced-energy infrastructure that will make us more secure.  If it is the only way to allocate funds to such a massive effort, so be it!  Who else has 1/2-Trillion/year budgets to tap into?

We need to work on updating our power grid and DE-CENTRALIZING our power-generation.  I do NOT mean "clean coal" (which is bull@#$!) or other net-carbon-intensive energy production, but rather a distributed series of solar, wind, biofuels (non-food-competing) and the like, all tied into a smart-grid and using superconducting-wire to save the 50% efficiency loss we suffer currently on the grid.

I keep seeing all sorts of advertisements from OIL companies saying how they are working on biofuels, solar, geothermal, etc. And, who better to work on these things?  They have the distribution abilities for the liquid-fuels and gases - like those that would result if we use solar/wind to create hydrogen for widespread use, or methane captured from bio-production, or bio-diesel, etc.  They have the drilling expertise to do large-scale geothermal wells to tap massive heat-stores deep underground.  They even have the wind/solar (companies like BP have pretty good sized solar-production and wind-farm investments already).  They have the rig-builders for erecting massive off-shore windfarm platforms. What they perhaps need is a darn-good incentive to really make the move to these things: give it to them!  We are draining $120BB/year out of the USA just for oil!  Funnel that into alternatives and the incentivising of alternatives (i.e., massive tax-breaks and credits).

Wake up people... if we refuse to tackle the massive China trade-deficit issue, let's at least target the oil issue. And, perhaps some more GREEN jobs would be available to help the unemployment picture at the same time!??  This country is otherwise to remain totally messed up!  $10 BILLION PER MONTH is going out (on oil), and not coming back. $120BB/year!

Do you realize how much eco-friendly-power-generation capacity, and how many JOBS related to that, we could be had for $120 billion per year? WOW! With solar arrays approaching $1/Watt (heck, lets call it $2/watt for high-estimate)... we could purchase, in ONE YEAR, 60 GIGAWATTS worth of solar capacity just with what we would have spent on oil!! Holy cow! And, wind is cheaper than solar, generally!  Realistically we can not realize that level of watts/dollar, as the issue of supporting infrastructure requirements come into play, but we can sure implement a LOT of capacity.  And, this is capacity that keeps paying us back year-after-year (have you heard the term "renewable"?!)

Let us put our drilling-crews to work boring some mega-geothermal projects; let's get those rig-builders building off-shore platforms for large-scale wind-turbines (these oil guys are VERY experienced at building large platforms in water of all depths!), let's get some of our unemployed people back to work by connecting an up-to-date power-infrastructure, building and erecting solar/wind systems, and implementing biofuels facilities.  Now!

Are we otherwise trying to prove that we are a culture that has lost all sense of reality and reason, and show that we can live in denial forever?  From what I constantly see in action, I would swear this to be the case.  Collectively we stand by and watch our standard of living erode as we all whine about it, but yet we also continually vote for politicians that will not stand up and do anything substantial to change our ways.  I am an American, and I want to live in an America that wants to show it has the vision and drive to right itself and do so in a manner worthy of world recognition.  We have the talent.  Let's put that talent to work freeing ourselves of this foreign-energy addiction and constant money-suck that is jeopardizing our way of life.


DED said...

I agree that oil companies need to think of themselves as "energy companies" instead. I might've even blogged about it years ago.

I wouldn't say that clean coal is bullshit. We've managed to strip out sulfur from the waste stream (assuming the power plant owners are willing to pony up the money to install the equipment). Why isn't it possible to figure out how to strip out the CO2? I recall reading about a theoretical process in Popular Science a few years ago. It struck me as a cost issue.

I'd like coal to go away as a fuel source, but I don't see that happening with the huge reserves we have, its low cost and the coal lobby's deep pockets. Let's face it, most of coal's ugliness hasn't phased the public. Strip mining levels mountain tops and poisons streams. Miners die in mine collapses. Underground fires have been burning for decades and have made some towns unlivable due to noxious fumes. Old plants still burn dirty: acid rain and an estimated 20,000 deaths/year from respiratory illness. Sludge and ash poison the local environment.

All these things and yet we still use it as a source of energy. That's why I think R&D on cleaning up coal needs to continue.

Mike Eberhart said...

Ded, as always your comments are appreciated for their insightful nature. You are right: research on cleaning up *existing* coal-fired plants needs to continue. Anything to drop the emissions from existing plants is welcome by me, as those facilities are likely to be around for quite some time.

My biggest fear with the CO2 thing is this: when the "clean coal" people talk about sequestration and pumping the sequestered CO2 into the ground into deep caverns or whatever, it strikes me as so typically human... just shove our waste products somewhere instead of simply not creating the waste in the first place.

If the Fukushima reactor disaster can teach us anything, it is that even the unexpected and unpredicted can occur (in their case the force of an earthquake designers thought unlikely, and a resulting tsunami larger than engineered to withstand).

So, we pump CO2 into a deep cavern... along comes the fukushima disaster of "Clean Coal" when a giant earthquake creates a breach in the CO2 containment cavern and all that stored CO2 floods out all at once and settles in over a city and chokes millions in a silent, invisible, scentless death cloud.

Mark my words: it WILL happen eventually if we let CO2 be sequestered and stored in large volumes somewhere. Sooner or later that carbon dioxide is coming out... whether it leaks out slowly or comes out with explosive force during a natural disaster (or when some bonehead accidentally drills a well into a storage cavern).

The insanity of trying to engineer a way to *hide* our emissions in caverns and the like is just a typical human action that makes zero sense when compared to dealing with the issue in a meaningful and long-term viable way: we need to go to as emission-less power-generation as possible. Right now that means: wind, solar, geothermal, tidal. There are some promising biofuels coming (I read about CO2-eating fungus that can produce diesel! That would be cool. Also, I read about using the difference in ionization between freshwater rivers and saltwater oceans nearby to create electric "batteries" / current in massive scale). MANY options exist that do not produce CO2. So, "clean coal" must die before it ever gets started... sure, let's clean up the existing plants as best we can, but please do not let the inevitable disaster of "clean coal" be implemented. It is nothing but hiding our waste.