Monthly Archive: January 2005

SUVs and oil

How big a contributor to oil use are SUVs?

SUVs are about 1/4 of new cars sold, I can’t find figures for the total number of SUVs. People talk about SUVs because they have led the trend to lower fuel economy in US automobiles, and they are often brought up as a shorthand for talking about the fuel efficiency of US autos.

From googling a bit:
US autos account for 11% of world oil consumption, 8 million barrels per day.

SUVs, due to average lower fuel efficiency, take 33% more gas than cars. So let’s assume that SUVs are 15% of US autos. Then a switch to 5% SUVs in the US would save 0.3 million barrels per day, or 0.4% of world oil demand and 2% of US oil demand. So SUVs by themselves are fairly minor.

Increasing average fuel effciency of US autos by 5 MPG would save 1.3 million barrels per day, or reduce world oil demand by 1.8% and US oil demand by 6.5%.

So the fuel economy of US cars is a big deal.

Life expectancy

Predicting future life expectancy is difficult. In a post, Kevin Drum of Politcal Animal at shows that the actuaries have done pretty well. He quotes one as saying that privately, they expected medical tech to provide faster gains in life span. I think they, and most others, expected a greater rise from medical advances. It has turned out that human biology is more complicated than anyone expected and that early successes with antibiotics and sterile technique were extraordinary. Since then it has been hard slogging.

The huge research effort into biology *will* pay off, but when? I expect it will pay off any time now (in a decade or two). Many different approaches to cancer treatment are being tried, I expect one will succeed. Heart disease can be fought both with biological approaches and with mechanical/electronics tech approaches

The other big factors are culture, business and the environment. US culture has become unhealthy, with people less active. I don’t expect that to change. The industrialization of food has been unhealthy. Effort has gone into making food tasty and cheap (sugary and fatty), and to use advertising to sell people more calories and bigger portions. My guess is that the food business will start pushing healthier food across the board. Healthy food will grow from the niche market it is now to become the norm.

The environment has had its ups (pollution controls) and downs (leaded gas, smog). I expect it will get worse, with overcrowding being the dominant factor. On the local side, I expect pollution will slowly get worse. On the global side, I expect that catastrophes will start popping up (oil scarcity, overfishing, lack of water, climate change, war, etc). Some will affect life in the US directly and others indirectly by slowing or reversing economic growth around the world.

How do all these factors integrate? I have no idea.

Triggering earthquakes!

From an article on earthquakes following the tsunami in Asia a discussion of ways to trigger earthquakes!

Can earthquakes be tamed?
Human activity can cause quakes, but preventing them is harder
Cars are piled on top of each other in Phuket, Thailand in the tsunami’s aftermath
Barry West / EPA via Sipa Press
Can devastation such as that seen is this picture from Phuket, Thailand, be prevented?

By James Oberg
NBC News space analyst
Special to MSNBC
Updated: 7:37 p.m. ET Dec. 27, 2004
Accidental discoveries
People have triggered natural earthquakes through a number of activities on the Earth’s surface, most notably in the construction of large water reservoirs. As the weight of water accumulates in such reservoirs, lower rock layers yield to the stress and shift.

A different kind of large pit was behind what is probably the best-known epsiode of human-induced earthquakes. In 1961, the Army drilled a 12,000-foot disposal well at its Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Colorado, northeast of Denver. Beginning in March 1962, waste fluids from arsenal operations were dumped down the well.

Then a funny thing happened: An unusual series of earthquakes broke out in the area. By the end of 1962, there had been almost 200 earthquakes. At first they were small, but in December they damaged several buildings in nearby towns. Over the ensuing five years the quakes increased in frequency and force, and in April 1967 one measured magnitude 5.0.

A connection was soon established between the waste dumping and the earthquakes, and dumping stopped. The quakes continued, however. So the following year, the Army started to withdraw fluid from the well in an effort to reduce the quakes. Sure enough, as the fluid concentration in the deep rocks dropped, the quakes slowed down.

What was happening was that the fluids seemed to lubricate the rock layers that already were under tension. In that sense, the Army didn’t create the earthquakes, it just hurried them along by making it easier for the rocks to slip. Instead of one big quake at some point decades in the future, Colorado experienced a series of smaller quakes.

Could this principle be applied to other more famous fault lines? In theory, deep wells could insert fluids into one segment of a fault line, while other wells at the segment’s ends would suck out fluids thus releasing the tension harmlessly. The process could continue segment by segment as the fault line was tamed, forestalling a massive earthquake sometime in the future.