On Tuesday night President Obama addressed the nation (one of those oval office ‘today we have invaded….’ type addresses). He was confirming his proposed actions with regards to BP and the Gulf oil spill, but also suggested a move towards a greener USA.
As expected he drew no punches and has subsequently met with BP and ‘agreed’ that they will put $20 Billion into a reparation fund to make amends for their damage. The spill is appalling and the matter needs sorting in as efficient a way as possible – but as the old advert said – ‘lets not make a drama out of a crisis’! Hopefully things will now progress in a more positive manner.
For me however this was not the most interesting aspect of his initial broadcast and the subsequent events.
America is currently more dependant upon fossil fuels than any other country in the world. Partly due to its massive size, and partly due to historic government policies. Who has not had a smile on their face after filling up their huge gas guzzler hire car at a US service station and had change from a $20 bill!
America has for too long had an ‘un-real approach’ to energy costs. Their fuel is very cheap and their cars are appallingly uneconomical. Their idea of progress (in California where they have no choice) is the Toyota Prius – need I say more!
In Europe manufacturers are being forced by legislation to get their average emissions down – we are seeing BMW, Volvo, Mercedes etc all producing lower emission cars. This also feeds through as more economical cars. This is not happening in the US though. The Americans have a love of all things large (apart from the rest of the World, which they don’t appear to need).
Using data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the average fuel economy of new petrol cars in the UK is approximately 42 mpg and for new diesel cars is 48 mpg, in the USA the average is still in the mid 20’s!
If all cars on US roads simply met President Obama’s plan for a minimum efficiency of 35.5 miles per gallon, the country could potentially save its entire Saudi Arabian import bill!
China and India are however the next big potential user of oil.
As recently as 1990, China got through around two million barrels of oil every day, it is now pushing seven million, and set to rise to twice as much again by 2030. As America’s Energy Information Administration points out, that extra demand alone will add 10% to the world’s consumption.
Another way of looking at it is that the Chinese currently consume just one litre of oil a day per head, compared with 11 litres in the United States. If the country’s oil demand were to reach US proportions, total world consumption would double. Such levels of production would be impossible to achieve, now that the rate of worldwide extraction is already in, or close to, terminal decline. It is for this reason BP and other oil companies are off shore drilling through almost a mile of water and pushing current technology to the limit. The potential profits are huge – but so are the risks.
In Europe we have targets for moving to renewable energy sources – the aim is 30% by 2020. Most European countries have signed up to this and are moving towards it. Unfortunately the US have always found an excuse or changed the ground rules to get around this, and for a country that uses 20-25% of the Worlds oil, but produces only 1% now, that is not an intelligent move!
So President Obama’s announcement that he is looking to push the US into embracing renewables etc is very good news for all of us.
“I say we can’t afford not to change how we produce and use energy – because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security, and our environment are far greater,”
He said it demonstrated the need to end the US “addiction” to fossil fuels.It remains to be seen if he can pull it off (generally Americans seem too insular to realise what is happening in the rest of the World), but if anything positive is to come out of the Gulf spill this may be it.
We will still need petrochemicals, even if we go massively over to renewables, so a reduction in demand is essential.
Perhaps this is also the opportunity for President Obama to sign up to emission cuts and get China and India on board as well?