A Philosopher's Blog

Are We Addicted to Oil?

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on July 6, 2010
Addiction (Ryan Leslie song)
Image via Wikipedia

In his recent speech, Obama trotted out the old claim that we need to deal with our oil addiction. This, naturally enough, raises the question of whether we are addicted to oil or not. This hinges on what is meant by the term “addiction.” Rather than get into a hair splitting semantical debate, I will go with an obvious and intuitive account of addiction.

Addiction  “ is characterized by impairment in behavioral control, craving, inability to consistently abstain, and diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships.”

On the face of it, we do seem to have such an addiction. As a nation, we seem to have a lack of behavior control when it comes to consuming and acquiring oil. We also generally fail to recognize that we have serious behavioral problems relating to oil. We are generally willing to kill and allow our own people to die to ensure access to it. We are also willing to put our health and the environment at risk in order to acquire and use oil. We do this even though their are safer alternatives available that do not involve a need to engage in violent foreign adventures.

Of course, it could be countered that we actually have a legitimate need for oil and our actions reflect this need rather than the pathological behavior of addiction. After all, we do engage in similar behavior to ensure “national security”, yet this would not be characterized as an addiction.

However, given that there are better alternatives to oil, our commitment to it does seem to be increasingly irrational and thus it seems more and more like behavior based in an addiction.  Some might attempt to defend oil by arguing that everyone uses it or that it is a good thing. Interestingly enough, that sort of strategy is used by drug addicts as well.

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42 Responses

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  1. magus71 said, on July 6, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    “However, given that there are better alternatives to oil”

    Really? Like what?

    Define “better”.

    • freddiek said, on July 6, 2010 at 8:51 pm

      Define “better”.
      “safer alternatives available”. Define “safer”.
      “arguing that everyone uses it or that it is a good thing.” Define ” everyone uses”. Define “good”.
      “we actually have a legitimate need for oil” Define “legitimate need”. Back to original meanings: Did our Founding Fathers’ definition of “legitimate need” include oil? :)

      Some of these questions perhaps we’ll apply more frequently in the future to a broad variety of subjects. Health care. Stimulus. Constitutional applications. Religious interpretations.

      • magus71 said, on July 7, 2010 at 1:15 am

        Did Mike mean cleaner, less expensive, more energy efficient?

        He needs to define better.

        Right now, the only enery that’s all of those is nuclear. And I know that that word sends a shiver up Mike’s liberal spine.

        Most technologies are not discovered through government spending, but by companies trying to improve products. If t’s out there, we’ll find it. Until then, keep putting gas in your truck.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 7, 2010 at 11:31 am

      Solar, hydro, geothermal, and wind. Plus human power-people could benefit from walking more.

      In this case, better in terms of sustainability, environmental impact, and that we can create such power locally.

      • kernunos said, on July 7, 2010 at 4:14 pm

        “hydro” Do you recall what happened to all of the ‘free’ hydro power we had in Maine?

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 7, 2010 at 6:38 pm

          A specific problem like that does not show that the entire field of hydro power is flawed.

          There are, of course, concerns about hydro power (such as the environmental impact of hydro dams).

      • T. J. Babson said, on July 8, 2010 at 12:02 am

        See talks and lectures by Nate Lewis of Caltech.

        http://nsl.caltech.edu/energy

        Compared to the total demand, there is an insignificant amount of energy in hydro, geothermal, and wind.

  2. kernunos said, on July 6, 2010 at 10:22 pm

    There is no power source as easy to transport at room temperature and has as much energy per liter/kilogram as petroleum fuels….except nuclear energy. Good luck with getting a small reactor on an aircraft for commuter flights through environmental lawyers. If you would mention fuel-cell turbines I would say you may be on to something except they are about $1000/kW at the moment. Way too pricey as of yet. Regular fuel cells will not even be practical for automobiles at this time as the catalysts and batteries are extremely pricey. I just don’t get it though. Technologies have always been researched in spite of not pushing them politically. Even without tax payer money. The technologies will come and we should just be a bit more patient. No need to cut our noses off to spite our faces as there is no way in hell a 747 will fly with solar panels and/or wind turbines.

  3. freddiek said, on July 7, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    magus71–“cleaner” Does this include the entire process from extraction to cleanup and storage to possible health-care related costs (due to oil spills, reactor failure, or [humor me here] climate change)?

    “less expensive” Does this ‘expense’ include the entire process from extraction to cleanup to health-care related costs (due to projected and/or unexpected extraction accidents, production failures. . .)?

    “energy efficient” Does this ‘efficiency’ include the entire process from extraction to cleanup to health-care related costs?

    “Most technologies are not discovered through government spending. . .”
    But. Sometimes, when circumstances require a quick response, the government can be quite effective. The Manhattan Project brought a quick end to a protracted war. Kennedy set the nation and its governmental powers to landing a man on the moon. 8 yrs later it was accomplished. How long do you think it may have taken if private enterprise had been left to its own devices?

    I think the need for a quick response to our over-dependence on oil can be effectively argued. True, we must keep puttin’ gas in our trucks until we find the answer. But perhaps the trucks can be made more efficient sooner and perhaps our use of gas can be less wasteful. But we don’t have the luxury of assuming the answer will come strolling down the lane without government assistance.

    • kernunos said, on July 7, 2010 at 4:10 pm

      “I think the need for a quick response to our over-dependence on oil can be effectively argued.” OK, go for it. How quickly and why?

      • freddiek said, on July 7, 2010 at 5:18 pm

        I’ll begin with over-dependence on foreign oil and the bearing that has on security. I’ll follow up with the finite sources of oil on our own soil and our own shores and some of the negative consequences of using same– wildlife destruction with or without oil spills, etc. At some point, given the fact that our oil-voracity is increasing rather than decreasing (a predictable consequence of a growing population that has, ’til now put the hunt for alternative energy sources on the back burner–in favor of oil of course) we won’t be able to outbid China for energy resources. It would be nice, at that point, to be energy independent

        It would seem a quick response, rather than the blind heads-up-our-butts response we’ve taken so far would be justified. But then what does “justified” mean, right? Our energy policy has historically been ‘do what’s necessary and damn the consequences’ and once the consequences are staring us in the face saying “Don’t worry. It’ll work itself out.” Doesn’t sound like the mode of thought of our Founding Fathers, but over the centuries it has become our modus operandi.

        • kernunos said, on July 8, 2010 at 7:09 pm

          “I’ll begin with over-dependence on foreign oil and the bearing that has on security.” – Let’s use more of our own resources while we are waiting for the ‘alternative energy’ answer. “I’ll follow up with the finite sources of oil on our own soil and our own shores..”- there is a debate on how finite. Well?
          “….and some of the negative consequences of using same– wildlife destruction with or without oil spills, etc. “- Is there an assumption that alternative energies will not have consequences as well? Seems people are championing an unknown factor at this point.

          • freddiek said, on July 9, 2010 at 11:21 pm

            “Seems people are championing an unknown factor at this point.”

            That ‘championing” is probably part of that pioneering spirit that you dismiss in a later post (7/08 7:04). You don’t make progress without chancing to “champion[] an unknown factor” occasionally.

            On another point from that post:
            “. . .but money does not create creativity or ingenuity.”

            Look at this from a different angle. But lack of money can certainly stifle or destroy the creativity that is there.The kid who gets shot in a drive by shooting might well have grown up to create something overwhelmingly wonderful if he had lived in a high class neighborhood.

            Too, Michelangelo is only one of many painters of the 15th-16th century whose greatness and creativity is lauded to this day. He and his art flourished because of the practice of patronage that was common at that time.

          • freddiek said, on July 9, 2010 at 11:30 pm

            how finite. . .Finite means it is not limitless. I believe that is an inarguable fact. IF it is not limitless, NOW is none too soon to launch serious concentrated efforts on alternatives.

            Everything has consequences. Ernie taught us that on Sesame Street.Wind turbines kill birds. More surprisingly the turbines tempt dickheads to shoot at the props. Yeah. imagine, if you will, the stupid sh**s who do that. But we already have a nice, long list of consequences of our current energy sources, don’t we? Had we known those consequences would we have passed on the progress because it was an “unknown factor”?

    • kernunos said, on July 7, 2010 at 4:12 pm

      I think it could be argued that we need to find the cure for Cancer very quickly. Let’s throw near unlimited resources at that problem. We put a man on the moon didn’t we?

      • freddiek said, on July 7, 2010 at 5:36 pm

        Sure it could. But that would be evading the current subject of discussion and ignoring the vast difference of scale of consequences (not to mention the confusing factor of carbon emissions and some oil-based products and their role in various cancers). However, it would be interesting to contrast, if possible, how much money and how many man-hours have been spent seeking the cure for cancer with the figures for money and man-hours spent on alternative energies and the relative roles of government and the private sectors in addressing both issues.

        • kernunos said, on July 8, 2010 at 7:04 pm

          “…scale of consequences…” What scale are you using and what is the reading you’re getting? Apparently I’m not using the same meter. “However, it would be interesting to contrast, if possible, how much money and how many man-hours have been spent seeking the cure for cancer with the figures for money and man-hours spent on alternative energies and the relative roles of government and the private sectors in addressing both issues.”- I am of the belief that some things are just not possible in a society’s timeline at a specific point. Take Cancer for example. I don’t think it is a matter of money all together. I feel that history is waiting for the right man/woman to be born on to this Earth who’s mind has the capability or idea that will lead to the cure. My point is you can spend on technology, instruments, theories etc. but money does not creat creativity or ingenuity. All the money in the world at this point will not get us to the speed of light for instance. Technology is still moving whether or not you or the government think it is. the problem that I have is when a pompous beaurocrat gets up and decides he/she must chnage the face of the Earth and destroy peoples’ way of life because of some moral guilt(polluting the world/ global warming…etc.) when the jury is still out on such matters.

          • freddiek said, on July 9, 2010 at 11:08 pm

            No doubt our scales are different.

            You feel that what will be will be. That “history is waiting for the right man/woman to be born on to this Earth who’s mind has the capability or idea that will lead to the cure.” while I feel that history doesn’t drive man, man drives history.

            Man shouldn’t care whether that abstraction ‘history’ is waiting for an answer to appear in a flash of light. Man takes action. He works with the resources at hand, doing the best he can.

            If Santa Claus does come down the chimney and deposit a solution to cancer under your tree, acknowledge Santa and his gift and move on to seeking greater things. But don’t forget to ask him to bring you the key to travel at the speed of light next year.

  4. freddiek said, on July 7, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    kernunos–Let’s not lose sight of a comprehensive energy program (that includes research and regulation) aimed at reducing oil consumption and carbon production as soon as possible.

    There is indeed “no need to cut our noses off to spite our faces” but there is also no need to carve up our torsos to spite our heads (i.e. oppose steps in the direction of independence from oil just because they may require governmental oversight and/or taxpayer money). When the government focuses on a problem (see Manhattan Project, Project Man on the Moon)it can be much more effective than private enterprise. Gov’t, in short, can bring together the best of the best, provide nearly unlimited resources and facilities, and encourage a more effective integration of ideas.

    • kernunos said, on July 7, 2010 at 4:09 pm

      “Gov’t, in short, can bring together the best of the best, provide nearly unlimited resources and facilities, and encourage a more effective integration of ideas.” Really? Unlimited resources? Social Security and Medicare are bankrupt. Really? Unlimited?

      • freddiek said, on July 7, 2010 at 7:20 pm

        “Social Security and Medicare are bankrupt.”
        Really? Bankrupt?
        This guy– Rep.Paul Ryan (R–) would beg to differ.
        http://www.businessinsider.com/medicare-and-social-security-are-going-bankrupt-and-obama-isnt-even-trying-to-fix-them-2010-3

        “Washington has long been aware that, unless reformed, our largest entitlement programs — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — will go bankrupt and, in the process, deal a crushing blow to our budget and economy.

        Both Republicans and Democrats share the blame for allowing this looming crisis to worsen, and the recession and the past year’s explosion of federal spending have greatly accelerated our nation’s day of fiscal reckoning.”

        Some points.

        1/ Note the phrases “unless reformed. . .will go bankrupt” and “looming crisis” and how they differ from your phrase “. . .are bankrupt”. There’s a questionable finality about your words that is clearly denied by the Ryan’s. Ryan seems to think that reform is the answer. Ryan’s apparently not a follower of ‘Grover Nordquist’ :His position on this probably places him at the right hand of the anti-Christ in the eyes of much of the conservative right.

        2/Social Security is a system. The Department of Defense is a system. Our legal system is. . .a system. Parts of a larger system–the US government. And all systems are subject to imperfections. All systems are subject to change/adaptation/improvement.

        3/The deeper we get into the recession (that began in ’08)

        http://articles.sfgate.com/2008-12-02/news/17130514_1_word-recession-uc-berkeley-economist-national-bureau

        and national debt the closer the larger system–the country– will be to bankruptcy and thus, the systems within the system , including the departments of defense and agriculture will also be closer to bankruptcy. As we arise from the ashes of that mess that began two years ago we’ll give ourselves some leeway to reform the system. Likely such reforms will go nowhere,however, if one side insists on private accounts as the answer to SS’s difficulties.

        • kernunos said, on July 8, 2010 at 7:14 pm

          Again, the government does not have near unlimited resources without the people. It seems that the government has gotten itself into a bind, spending wise, for political power. A little here and a little there. Whatever the reason the point is that there is not near unlimited resources. especially with tax revenue falling and the government growing by 20%+ during this administration so far. I think the economy must come first. without it there will be no dream of grandoise in Peter Pan Land.

          • freddiek said, on July 9, 2010 at 9:40 am

            But Social Security and Medicare are not bankrupt. You got that…right?

            • kernunos said, on July 9, 2010 at 5:19 pm

              I’m glad you set me in my place. Just going through life and ignoring the problem will not fix it. They are both as good as bankrupt. If there is not enough money to pay for the ‘system’ then it is bankrupt. What day it happens on is still yet to be determined but at the rate this administration is going I think it will be sooner than later. I wonder where the latest report is…..hmmmm.

              http://www.investors.com/NewsAndAnalysis/Article.aspx?id=539411&p=2

            • freddiek said, on July 9, 2010 at 10:57 pm

              But SS and Medicare are not bankrupt. . . . The word ‘bankrupt’ appears only once in Ferrara’s article: “Medicare is more than bankrupt over the long run and needs a fundamental overhaul.” Translation: It’s not bankrupt now and could likely survive with “a fundamental overhaul”.

              Because he’s a conservative, my eyes were riveted by this statement:

              “Every year,[since the beginning of the surplus idea during the Reagan administration] the federal government has been raiding the Social Security trust funds to take that annual surplus and spend it on the rest of the federal government’s runaway spending, leaving the trust funds only with IOUs. . .” I was surprised by the truthfulness!
              This quotation tells me three things.

              1/ If the federal gov’t hadn’t raided the SS surplus there’s a reasonable chance we would not be facing an SS crisis at this point.

              2/ Sensible adjustments to the early retirement and regular retirement age and the SS tax rate would go a long way to saving a program that, in a sense, has been misused to prop up the extravagant spending of the federal government. Oh, and stop raiding the fund, dammit.

              3/ The overspending federal government in the quote spans the period of time from 1983-2010– about 17 years of Republican presidents (Reagan and Greenspan instituted the surplus) and 10 years of Dem presidents. House majorities roughly 17 years and Republican 11 years. Senate majorities 13 D and 14 R. So who’s responsible for raiding the fund surplus?

              Ferrara, the author of this piece, has quite the conservative pedigree doesn’t he?

  5. kernunos said, on July 7, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    “But we don’t have the luxury of assuming the answer will come strolling down the lane without government assistance.”

    What percentage of technological advances have come because of government assistance?

    • freddiek said, on July 7, 2010 at 5:41 pm

      Interesting point for research. Why not check it out? Be sure you take into account grants to college researchers and their assistants. And factor in the government money it took to educate (k-thru-graduate school) the private sector eagles who made the discoveries. And the corporate tax breaks and loopholes that enabled companies to continue the researching in the face of possible losses. And. . .so. . .on. . . Well, you get the idea. I don’t envy you your job.

      • kernunos said, on July 8, 2010 at 6:52 pm

        “Why not check it out?”-Ummm, that is what I was asking you. “Be sure you take into account grants to college researchers and their assistants.”- From private industry money as the government has none of its own. The energy bill/Cap and Trade will destroy or hobble the private sector making grants less likely. “And factor in the government money it took to educate (k-thru-graduate school) the private sector eagles who made the discoveries.”- Ummmm, yeah this is a bit of a stretch as it is tertiarry at best as an affect on technological advances. A society will educate itself anyway with or without the government. The knowledge was already there the government just inneficiently resides over the distrobution of knowledge. throwing all the money in the world just like at alternative energy will not fix its problems. “And the corporate tax breaks and loopholes that enabled companies to continue the researching in the face of possible losses.” – You mean the corporations that creat the wealth that the government will use towards renewable resources? Without the companies with the tax breaks and loop holes we would be no better off then lets say Kenya.

        • freddiek said, on July 9, 2010 at 9:38 am

          ” A society will educate itself anyway with or without the government.”

          And which society might that be? Where has a group, without a government to maintain peace, order, etc. EVER managed to educate itself? For that matter, how long have they managed to remain a group? Phrased in a different way: Which anarchy can you identify that “educated itself” and made progress?

          So down through the ages systematic education has been “tertiary”? Maybe secondary? or primary? or quaternary?

          Here’s an argument not worth entering. The government has no money of its own. Well. Technically its money comes from its citizens. “If” its citizens refused to pony up the money for the gov’t to operate “then” the government would have no money of its own. “However”, at least since the failures of the Articles of Confederation, we’ve recognized the folly of allowing states to contribute to the cause only as they see fit, as some states didn’t see fit to voluntarily give enough to maintain a viable defense. So now tax money goes to the government. It IS the government’s money. We are the government, but please don’t misunderstand, it is the government’s money to do with as we (the government) see fit. We have seen fit to be generous in the areas of federal research grants, for example. Google “federal funding cancer research” or “scientific” or “medical”

          “You mean the corporations that create the wealth that the government will use towards renewable resources?”
          This road runs both ways. Always remember–with no government there would be no corporations. No sources of power, no roads for shipment. . . I just can’t imagine a corporation that can survive, an island unto itself–can you?

          Strange oblique reference to Kenya. You’re not a ‘birther’ are ya? :)

          • kernunos said, on July 9, 2010 at 5:16 pm

            No, not a ‘birther’ here. I just chuckle every time I hear someone bitter from the African American community tell us that our President has no slave blood…or was it robert Bird that told us that?

            • freddiek said, on July 9, 2010 at 9:53 pm

              Yeah. Funny.

    • T. J. Babson said, on July 7, 2010 at 11:57 pm

      Government has a role to play in basic research, as the private sector often has a short timer’s attitude toward the future.

      There is a useful distinction to be drawn between inventors and innovators. Innovators and entrepreneurs are needed to turn inventions into products.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 8, 2010 at 1:03 pm

        True. Companies generally want a quick return (reasonable, they are in the business of making money not advancing knowledge) while the state can take a more long term approach (or not).

      • freddiek said, on July 8, 2010 at 2:01 pm

        In some cases the distinction between “inventors and innovators” or ‘inventions and innovations’ might be a distinction without much of a difference.

        http://inventors.about.com/od/astartinventions/a/air_bags.htm

        At what point does a ‘creation’ become an innovation rather than an invention? In the article above, the ‘invention’ is an airbag.# But the car for which it was designed as an improvement is also an invention. Or is the wheel the invention and the automobile the innovation? Or are most innovations just smaller inventions that are necessary to continue the development of the original invention?Where would the wheel be without the invention of the internal combustion engine. Is the engine an invention and the airbag an innovation because the one is more elemental to the basic function of the whole? Does the internal combustion engine lose its place in the ‘invention’ sphere when it’s replaced in the distant future by another power source? Damned if I know. It’s like trying to ascertain the fine line that often exists between art and craft.

        #Is it unrealistic to think that the problems with early airbags would have been solved much sooner if the federal government had required airbags much sooner. If all manufacturers had been required, from early on, to have airbags installed by a date certain, you can bet your butt there’d have been some mighty scrambling to do it and do it right in order to maintain market share and all that . . .

  6. magus71 said, on July 8, 2010 at 12:45 am

    Ho much government funding did Thomas Edison get?

    A lack of funding is not the issue.

    It is interesting though, since the cost to effectiveness ratio for wind power forces the windmills to be subsidized.

    This whole conversation reminds me that no matter how bad a “conservative” government may be, I just can’t wrap my mind around liberal thinking, which is based on wishful thhinking.

    Fact: Most likely, we will be using mostly petroleum for the next 100 years to power our cars.

    http://www.mackinac.org/11309

    “Though wind and solar rays are indeed free, wind energy and solar energy are costly, compared with the costs of conventional power generation. Several factors make renewables more expensive, including high costs of materials and skilled labor, added operations costs to electric grids that were not built for intermittent resources, and lack of adequate transmission lines to carry power from remote areas (where the wind and the sun are most plentiful) to densely populated demand centers. In addition, large federal subsidies and state renewable energy mandates shift many costs of renewable energy production from generators to electric ratepayers, disguising the true costs of these technologies.”

    “In addition, subsidies for wind and solar energy — which together generated less than 1 percent of our nation’s electricity supply in 2007 — are significantly more generous than subsidies for conventional power generation”

    Nuclear baby, nuclear. We can get a decade of power from a mass small enough to fit under your desk. Oh, but it’s radioactive the greenies will say. Yeah, it was radioactive before we put into a reactor, too. Nature made it that way.

    We seem to want to violate the Law of Conservation of Energy by getting something for nothing.

  7. freddiek said, on July 8, 2010 at 9:28 am

    “Oh, but it’s radioactive the greenies will say. Yeah, it was radioactive before we put into a reactor, too. Nature made it that way.”

    In a way that’s like saying that because lettuce is natural, if you eat it, when it comes out in your poop you should be able to munch it down because it’s natural. But Mr. E coli might have something to say about that. :)
    So. Not quite. Uranium has to go through some serious processing before it can be used for fuel. We don’t have a problem with storing nuclear waste when the uranium is in its natural form (before extraction from the earth). But several possible venues are fighting to avoid becoming a dump site for nuclear waste (what comes out the other end).

    • magus71 said, on July 8, 2010 at 5:28 pm

      Uranium is radioactive. breathe in the dust and find out.

      • magus71 said, on July 8, 2010 at 5:32 pm

        Your lettuce example has no impact on this conversatuion. Now please go eat some uranium.

        • freddiek said, on July 8, 2010 at 8:22 pm

          To what degree in comparison to processed uranium? In what concentration compared to processed uranium? Where would one find the uranium dust found in nature in concentrations anywhere near comparable to concentrations in Uranium? Isn’t it true that if you’re not mining or refining the stuff you’re relatively unlikely to come into contact with dangerous quantities and that it takes some significant mining to get enought to reach that point? Would this “dangerous dust” that one might breathe more likelyl be found in heavily populated areas or in uranium mines? Just curious.

        • freddiek said, on July 8, 2010 at 8:39 pm

          I think the analogy was quite apt. In fact, I think it’s worth repeating.

          First, you wrote:“’Oh, but it’s radioactive the greenies will say. Yeah, it was radioactive before we put into a reactor, too. Nature made it that way.'”

          “In a way that’s like saying that because lettuce is natural, if you eat it, when it comes out in your poop you should be able to munch it down because it’s natural. But Mr. E coli might have something to say about that. :)”

          Translation:Your statement impllies that because the uranium (lettuce) is naturally radioactive (edible), before we use it in a reactor (eat and digest it ) the radioactive material that results (poop with e. coli and other undesirable aspects) will be safe simply because it was ‘natural’ at the beginning and the end of the process. That clearly isn’t true of uranium or lettuce.

          Simply put: Your claim conveniently ignores the processing in between extracting the uranium (harvesting the lettuce,if you will) and the waste that appears at the other end.


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