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Abraham Gesner’s New York Kerosene company, in 1856, began to make kerosene for the purposes of illumination. When it brought that product to market, it did not advertise itself as, “having the potential to save the whales,” though indeed that was its effect.

When it did the research on this fuel, it was not the result of the diktat of some all-knowing energy czar in Albany or Washington, DC, despite the fact that the prices of whale oil for illumination had been increasing at “alarming” rates for some time. But what is most important is the way that Gesner advertised his wonder product. He ran pieces demonstrating that his kerosene was one-seventh the price of sperm whale oil.

And for all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the new green energy economy, we never hear a single peep about radical changes like this. Stop and think for a minute – how would your life change if the cost of using energy fell by a factor of 7! For example, in the winter our home energy bill runs about $300 per month, and something like $150 the rest of the year. For argument’s sake, call it $250 per month. So we spend $3,000 per year on electricity and gas for our home. And we probably spend about $4,000 per year to fuel up our two cars. And this is leaving out the embedded cost of energy in many of the other things we consume. We spend at least $7,000 each year on energy and related costs. What would a decrease in prices by a factor of 7 mean to us?

Well, it would mean that instead of spending $7,000 per year on energy, we’d only have to spend $1,000 per year. We’d have $6,000 per year, every year, of extra income that we did not have before. We sure as heck know what we would do if we had $6,000 of extra income, and it would be great … if only … if only.

Reflect for a moment on the way that “cost-cutters” are treated in today’s world. It’s 100% contempt 100% of the time. Walmart is the king of recognizing efficiencies in its supply chain and it is the symbol of everything that is wrong with the world. Forget for the time being that its existence reduces the cost of goods by something on the order of $2,000 per year each year for the poorest families in America. Or think of how we caricature Henry Ford’s ruthless cost saving or Andrew Carnegie’s miserly cost consciousness (did’t he famously sweep up iron and steel filings off the factory floor each day and put them back into his production process?) or consider that Rockefeller and his evil oil company figured out that there are over 200 products that can be generated from a barrel of oil. 200! And all of that came about because each and every one of these “evil” people cared very much about lowering costs.

What the modern environmental movement desperately needs is “Windmart.” We need a renewable energy madman, whose sole goal is to deliver us energy for 10 times lower the cost as we are currently getting it today. We need a madman who refuses to see a single cent of effort or materials wasted in an effort to deliver the next form of energy to us. But we aren’t likely to see this guy anytime soon. He’s Gone Galt. And why has he gone Galt? Because the ruthless cost-cutter is seen as the devil, as everything that is wrong with our semi-capitalist world and few people recognize that the switch to Wind power or flower power or whatever power is coming next just ain’t gonna happen by diktat – it’s gonna happen when we get a breakthrough so incredible that it blows the cost doors off of our current options.

Our modern “E”nvironmental movement should be ashamed. It really should be. We are fed a constant drone of platitudes about shared sacrifice and about how we simply cannot continue living like we are today without wrecking the planet. We are fed time and time again the sorry and tired idea that we need to spend more for energy and less for everything else. That’s the new American way. We’ve descended from a world of Horatio Alger-like ambition to Pittsburgh Pirates’-like resignation. If I were the “mouthpiece” of the new “E”nvironmental movement, I would be spending all of my time ginning up excitement at the prospect of energy that is a factor of 7 cheaper than what we use today. Is it easy? No. Am I predicting that it will happen? Of course not. But no one in the past was able to predict energy transitions and few could have imagined that energy technologies would become so inexpensive as to utterly change the world in ways we could never envision. Cheap and safe electric power was a game changer over using charcoal, coal and wood. I sure hope that someone like Sam Walton is lurking in the green energy sector obsessing about ways to make those turbines last a little bit longer, use a little less material, and so on. You know, the American way – there’s those old ideas popping up again.

p73 in my peak oil notes

5 Responses to “Where Have You Gone Windmart?”

  1. John Getty says:

    I doubt if anyone in the electric power industry worries about efficiency now that they are regulated monopolies but West Virginia Pulp and Paper cared when I was a kid living in western Maryland. Residents of Luke, Md and parts of Westernport, Md got free electric power. My uncle worked as a chemist for Wesvaco- with only a high school education. He purchased a home in Luke that Wesvaco had built for its employees and he, in addition to receiving free electric power got free steam heat. Then the courts put an end to all this at the behest of the power companies. Thank God for government regulation.

  2. Harry says:

    Michael Mariotta is a vast repository of economic history, and so is Wintercow. Thanks for providing for my RDA of something I did not know.

    None of us know what technology will bring in the next twenty years. Last night I was talking with a cardiologist who told me that gene therapy, which his son is studying as a new doctor, might extend lives by twenty years. He said that would be OK, as long as we can solve the problem of getting 100-year-olds remembering where their big tee shot landed.

    With my own money, I am not about to invest a dime on any company that claims to have invented a battery that weighs three pounds and can power a Volt for 250 miles to a service station that sells fully charged batteries for under $7, let alone seven times that.

    Remember back to the days of the breakup of Ma Bell, when antitrust lawyers worried about who owned the copper wires. Mainframe computers housed entire buildings, IBM computers. The IBM vice presidents dissed Bill Gates in his jet in Las Vegas over MS DOS.

    I do know better than to hire the government to be my investment advisor.

  3. Rod says:

    What gets me is how Al Gore is worshipped by the left as an expert who can credibly claim that the only way to save the planet is to raise taxes (and to give him a cut of all that money). Settled science is an oxymoron.

    A quick story —
    One of my college friends became at the end of his career the National Geographic’s expert on climate change. Now, this guy was an English major and had just barely passed the basic requirements for science and math. Before joining the Geographic, he worked for the Washington Post as editor of their Metro section, so it’s unlikely he learned much applied science there. But he is a slick writer who knows how to persuade readers. Somewhere between college and his writing career he lost his skepticism of arguments from authority as well as his distrust of government (probably at the age of 31, as in “Don’t trust anyone over 30).

  4. Tyler says:

    It’s true that attempting to get the government to back the ideas of solar power energy is arduous, but what about the Steve Waltons’ and the Jim Sinegals’ (Costco CE0). Both of these men had an incentive to innovate a company that people benefited from and was inexpensive. Who’s to say someone can’t do the same thing in solar power, biomass energy, or carbon capturing fuel?

    The biggest problem I feel is not trying to get the government to back these solar power (or any other energy form) but trying to get the people behind you. If the people pay less than they currently pay for oil, gas, etc and can receive EVIDENCE from statistics that switching to these new energy forms will help manage climate change, I am certain that they will switch.

    Right now, supply is very scarce in these areas which make things way more expensive, and this is a major reason why people are not converting to these new energy sources. As I stated above, someone needs to find a way to increase supply of these energy sources which will lower the price of these goods, and increase the amount of people wanting these resources.

    Climate change has many flaws, but when it does not snow an inch in December in Rochester N.Y, something must be causing such events to occur. This can be seen in many cities around the Northeast that has experience a significant decrease in snow, and a sharp increase in 50+ degree days in December.

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