Chapter 8: Energy Crisis and Transition
Energy Crisis of the 1970’s
- Culture consumption was considered natural, the energy shortage artificial.
- Anomalous: scarcity was never a concern.
- The economy stalled; endless growth was dead.
Five Stages of the Energy Crisis
- U.S. oil production could no longer keep pace with demand. Reliance on OPEC
- 1972: OPEC price hikes. Nixon announces "Project Independence" to decrease reliance on foreign energies.
- Mid 70’s: Crisis subdued, energy once again became plentiful. Think tanks emerged but no coherent energy policy. A failure to rethink demand!
- 1979: Iran cuts off oil supply. Made the public angry and bitter. Simultaneous inflation and stagflation.
- Ronald Reagan: OPEC was not able to keep some members from overproducing. Prices dropped.
- Realities: The crisis was the result of increasing domestic demands "and the failure of the U.S. government to devise long-term policies."
- Few realized that the crisis existed because of overuse.
- Energy supply thought to be limitless.
- 1970’s: Electricity consumption increased 50 percent.
- Simple journey to the grocery store a high-energy activity. More energy involved than a Colonial household used in a week.
- Why? Most goods are outrageously packaged. (I.e. Plastics)
- Americans annually throwing away more than 100 million cubic meters of Styrofoam "peanuts."
- A "throwaway society."
- The high-energy middle-class standard of living was not a victim of the energy crisis but rather, a source.
- Over the past 50 years, the U.S. had to double their power plant capacity every 10 years.
- Proposed "solution" to the crisis.
- 1970’s increased from 15 to 74 reactors.
- Reactors took 10 years to build from planning stage to actual completion.
- During that time, public mood changed. The China Syndrome and Three Mile Island incident.
- "Our Friend the Atom" campaign never grasped by the public.
- 80,000 year half-life for waste from reactor.
Cures for the Crisis
- "Soft energy paths" sought for recyclable and renewable power. Potential to produce constant energy income from solar, wind, and water power versus a limited supplies of fossil fuels and other capital.
- Public sentiment: Wasting money on interplanetary travel should be spending on public transportation to conserve energy.
- High-tech solutions included heat pumps for homes and monorails for mass transit.
- Parable: Companies admitted to weakness and vulnerability in their products, but their new products will alleviate the problem.
- U.S. auto manufacturers however, completely ignored the energy crisis.
- "Gas Guzzlers": 1973 Ford Thunderbird. V-8 460 cubic inch engine.
Difficulties with Energy Ecology
- Methods that worked best were those that provided economic incentives.
- Energy deeply enmeshed into the consumer lifestyle. Few people willing to make adjustments. (I.e. Carpooling)
- The poor, who consumed little energy, had to adjust their driving and home heating far more than the middle class.
- Americans regarded easy access to energy as their right.
- "Driving had become a part of the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
- Consumption is national progress and social goodness.
- "The individual pushing a cart through the supermarket is visibly pursuing his or her happiness.
- An actual achievement of freedom, independence and mobility.
- Americans viewed the energy crisis as a threat to their way of life.
- U.S.: 5 percent of the world’s population but uses 25 percent of oil consumption and 22 percent of carbon emissions.
- Computers realized improvements in energy efficiency.
- 1995: 32 PC’s for every 100 Americans. Close to the ratio for auto’s in the 1950’s.
- "The postmodern person is hard to locate in space and time."
- International systems emerged. Fax machines, modems, cable lines, and the Internet redesigned production and consumption.
- Although computers facilitated the deskilling of workers in factory environments, many of the same systems broke down and required workers to become more skilled to operate them.
- "Lean Production": factory computerization lowered the amount of high-wage effort needed to produce a product.
High-Energy Culture vs. Electronic Culture
- The automobile led to a dispersion of the population.
- The PC allowed "self-conscious groups to form without much reference to nationwide advertising."
- A creation of a new identity emerged.
- Computer programmers work weeks increased to 50-60 hours.
- Leisure time became more like work. Exercise fanatics. Muscle power once a central aspect was now generated for leisure time.
- Reasoning for decrease of leisure time? The globalization of competition and the rising expectations of American consumers.
- End of the 90’s, energy crisis mostly forgotten.