Reg and Syd: They’re Not Gonna Take It

US annual per capita energy usage“Why the long face, Syd?”

“Oh, dammit, Reg, it’s all this climate change talk again. Yes, I know you’re convinced that our fossil energy investments are safe as houses, but there’s enough noise out there to make one wonder. Make me wonder, anyway. Especially now that Hank Paulson’s gotten into the act with his carbon bubble doom scenario.”

Really, Syd. Please do tell me that you can still recognize a self-promotional press release when you see one. After we’ve both done them so many times!”

“Yes, yes … sigh …”

“Our Hank. Tilting for windmills, for fun and his foundation’s profit. Hah! Tilting at windmills, more like it. Since you seem to need bracing up, let me tell you, once and for all, why none of this no-carbon nonsense is ever going to happen. Got any idea how much energy the average American consumes in a year?”

“I can websearch it … about 310 million BTUs?”

“Close enough. How’s that compare to, say, 1957?”

“Working … looks like about 245 million BTUs a head.”

“So each of us, on average, is using about 1/6th more energy now than half a century ago. How many Americans were there then, and how many today?”

“Hmm … looks like 175 million then, 315 million now.”

“Twice as many, near enough, yes. So in order for total energy usage in the United States to break even with the 1957 level …”

“Each one of us is going to have to use less energy. A lot less!”

“Precisely. I make out the per capita budget to be around 140 million BTUs annually.”


“Yes. Ouch. Any idea when the last time Americans made do at that energy budget level?”

“Um …”

“Around 1905.”

“Oh my. What was life like then?”

“Let me give you a snapshot. Most people outside the big cities did not have electricity or telephones; it would be another 30 years before the electrical grid reached the more remote rural areas. Movies were in their infancy as a medium; it would be another 20 years before ‘talkies’, another 30 years before color. Automobiles were rare, expensive, and unreliable; it would be another three years before Henry Ford started selling the Model T. There were no airplanes at all; the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk was four years in the future. It would be another two years before the first synthetic plastics hit the market, another 15 years before the first commercial radio broadcast, another 28 years before the first home air conditioning system. You tell me that 43 million retirees in Florida are going to do without their A/C! I won’t insult your intelligence by even mentioning computers. This is the living standard that the greenies want us to have. And I’m telling you people aren’t going to take it. And it makes no economic sense to expect that they will, at anything short of gunpoint.”

“But surely, technical innovations …”

Sydney! Americans have been investing in energy-saving technical innovations since the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s. And the best that has been achieved is to break even, with efficiency gains wiped out by population increases and the increasing expectations of that population, most of whom are glued to their cells 24/7/365. College students gasp in amazement if they’re told that their parents remember a time without cell phones. Some people are being swayed by greenie rhetoric spouted by movie actors, and people, like our Hank, who think they see a profit in backing that rhetoric. At least 80% of today’s energy budget comes from fossil fuels, and with no credible replacements online that are either economically or, like nuclear or even windmills, politically feasible, I don’t see how those fuels are going to be taken out of the energy economy without severe deprivations to average citizens. And what do we tell people in developing nations, that we in the rich countries have screwed up the earth with our energy use, so they don’t get to have any? Don’t we already have enough of an insurgency burden that we have to cut off our last chance of buying them off with the prospect of energy-fueled lifestyle improvements? I am convinced that, the minute most people see what the rhetoric is actually going to cost them in their daily lives, they’re going to throw the greenies out on their ears. I’m backing that conviction with my fortune, and I know you will too, as soon as you get over your case of the willies.”

“And when New York sinks under the waves?”

“They’ll move it. Like that Egyptian city that went under a millennium or so ago. It’s not like the Big Apple’s going to get inundated in a tidal wave or something. They’ll see it coming, they’ll have time. And in the meantime people get to drive their cars and play with their gadgets, to our profit.”

“I see. Um, tell me, what’s special about 1957? Why that year instead of a good round number?”

“Didn’t you know? That’s when these oceanographers first published on the global warming thing. The planet was already heating up by then, you know.”

“Really? So … getting our energy budget to break even with 1957 wouldn’t be good enough?!? We’d have to do better than that?”

“It would not be good enough. We would have to do better than that. And I’m betting we don’t have the will to try.”

“Right. You wish to try, get a horse. Or a slave …”

Slaves, hm? Without our fossil-fueled labor-saving devices, it could come to that. It’s a time-honored solution.”

“You know, Reg? Sometimes you scare me.”

“Whatever it takes to get you to do the right thing, Syd. What are friends for, anyhow?”

“To share a bottle?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

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2 Responses to Reg and Syd: They’re Not Gonna Take It

  1. Nathalie says:

    I want everyone else to give up A/C right now. And everyone else should be using public transportation (okay I’ll do that too.).

    • Amoeba says:

      Alas, Nathalie, you have, YFNA reckons, about nine months to urge this, before those who recoil at the deprivations such a policy will impose on them (and rail at those who presume to impose it) place Mr Trump in the White House, and his minions silence you.

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