Fossil Fuel Retrenchment  — The Law of Unintended Consequences?

This is a topic that I don’t recall I have addressed previously. Thus, since I today composed the following as an e-mail message to a friend in response to an editorial cartoon, it occurred to me that I ought to post it here — to provide an expression of my thoughts and possibly to engender some in others. From the circumstances of its composition it is not as elaborate an articulation as it might otherwise be; thus it likely ought to be later expanded, but should suffice, for the moment, as to an outline of these considerations. (The original text has been somewhat revised in verbiage as well as format, but, due to time constraints, has been retained in its original brevity.)

Though I’m not a tree hugger (in the sense in which that term has been pejoratively used), I’m all in favor of environment conservation; this preference is a product of my opposition to excessive, conspicuous consumption as well as my religious beliefs. But I recognize that attaining this objective is not going to be as easy or painless as many people think.

It would require much personal sacrifice and alteration of normal behavior. My style may be an example, including: minimization of use of a motor vehicle to less than 5,000 miles/year; avoiding much restaurant visitations; grouping necessary errands in a single trip; grouping purchases of regular staples for a couple months usage; eschewing leisure travel/vacations; and no air conditioning and maintaining the thermostat during the Winter at no more than 64 to 65 Degrees.
If everyone voluntarily adhered to similar retrenchments, then many of the adverse effects upon the environment from human activity would be eliminated; but it will have severe effects upon many economic sectors, e.g. restaurants, airlines, automobile industry, lodging establishments, etc.

Moreover, in addition to the many counterproductive effects you have mentioned in a switch to replacement energy modes — these consisting of equivalent or near-equivalent energy expenditure in extraction or production of the materials required by these replacement modes — there will be substantial economic distress, at least during the interim. If electric motor vehicles become prevalent — either as the compelled or voluntary mode — it will necessarily increase the price of gasoline due to amortization of the same fixed costs over a smaller volume of purchases. (The old rules of supply and demand will be reversed because of contortions of the market by these external influences and factors.). Those then who cannot afford these new vehicles or who have to travel long distances will suffer extensive hardship.

The discouragement of vehicle use within cities appears to be the new trend, and is from an isolated view attractive for many reasons. But it ignores the fact that not everyone lives in these densely-populated elitist enclaves. Those who do will benefit the environment and experience advantages while circulating there. But the prices on items they purchase that depend on long-distance transport, such as food and non-locally produced materials, will increase exponentially — as the cost of those hardships on persons engaged in long-distance travel will have to be passed on to the beneficiaries thereof — and they will be restricted from travel outside those enclaves. Prospects of the consequences of the early abandonment of fossil fuels then are being viewed through excessively rose-colored glasses.

WAYNE A. SMITH
Sanilac County, Michigan USA
10 November 2020

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