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Why don’t we just ban fossil fuels? “In the last four decades, the United States has outlawed lead paint, phased out asbestos and curtailed tobacco marketing and sales. Similar policies can be used for fossil fuels.”

Discussion  6 comments

Broccoli of Doom

This seems to show a fundamental lack of understanding about the scale of energy use and the issues that we're facing. I think people hugely underestimate the amount of energy modern life requires behind the scenes (it can be easy to think only about your consumption and not the energy embedded in all of the materials and goods around us). One gallon of gasoline is equivalent to 400-500 hours of human labor, we have so many problems to solve before we "ban fossil fuels".

We get 13% of our energy from renewable sources... We still get 10% from COAL. We don't have any _scalable_ solutions to the intermittency problem yet and certainly no mechanism to fund their construction at the moment.

James Landis

Mr./Ms. Doom,
May I call you Broccoli?

You make an excellent point: "people hugely underestimate the amount of energy modern life requires ". Amen. I absolutely agree.

"One gallon of gasoline is equivalent to 400-500 hours of human labor" . The words "is equivalent to" I think are imprecise, and can color our thinking in misleading ways if we are not careful.

'One gallon of gasoline releases the same number of calories as 400-500 hours of human labor' is true, but, in no way does this imply that an additional 400-500 hours of human labor will be required in the post gasoline-world for each gallon of gas we burn today.

For example, to fill a lonely evening, I drive my truck into town to see a movie, 30 miles each way, burn >3 gallons of gasoline total. May sound ridiculous to most Americans, but I assure you, that's common behavior in rural Oklahoma where I live.

In a post gasoline world, I would not devote 1,500 hours of labor to dragging 2 tons of steel 60 miles. Those 3 gallons of gas did not replace 1,500 hours of labor; they replaced 20 hours of walking or 4-5 hours of riding a bike.

In a post gasoline world, I would not walk for 20 hours, either. I would do what humans have done for 50,000 years; I would wait for the movie to come out on streaming. No, in a post gasoline world, I would not be able to live alone so far from the center of my tribe.

I don't mean to minimize the changes necessary for a post gasoline world, because they are huge and far reaching, but perhaps those changes are not as enormous as we think.

Broccoli of Doom

While I agree with your sentiment (we can change behaviors to reduce our total energy requirements, and ICE vehicles do much better job of turning petroleum to heat than they do turning it to movement) I do think this represents another issue with how most people think of petroleum products. Transportation accounts for roughly a quarter of US energy use. However, most of that is the transportation of goods, not individuals. We've all been sold a bill of goods about our "carbon footprint" because it projects personal culpability and avoids corporate responsibility. Yes, your transportation choices matter, but (unless you're a consultant flying daily/weekly) not as much as we've been led to believe.
It's the other uses of energy required for modern living that are going to be more difficult to curtail.
I do think we can make progress here, but I just do not think a ban on fossil fuel is the way forward. Things like the steel industry (of all things) demonstrate how those processes might be decarbonized; of course, we'll have to figure out "green" hydrogen production, but one step at a time.
Also, as an aside, it's important to remember that we don't just use petroleum for fuel. We almost certainly don't want to stop all oil/natural gas production. I've always maintained that petroleum is way too valuable as a feedstock for us to be burning it...

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Agree w/ Mr. Broccoli here. The writer equates banning fossil fuels to banning of CFC's and lead paint. It is not nearly the same problem in scale. Such a ban would cause immediate collapse and suffering. Further, it would not allow us to get to a future without fossil fuels. We need the fossil fuels to manufacture our way out of the dependence. If you were to say phase out fossil fuels in 50 years, that may be feasible but an outright ban is not possible.

Jason KottkeMOD

Did you folks actually read the article? It's not intended to be comprehensive (it's just a newsletter post, not 20-page paper or book), but it does suggest many drawbacks to the idea, including that an outright ban is impossible. I believe that while extremely difficult, a fossil fuel ban is a worthy thing to work towards — the alternative is just too costly.


I read it but also found it asinine. The analog is “we’ve been to the moon, why don’t we move to moon colonies?” I doubt anyone reading the blog disagrees that it’s a worthy goal, but this guy is hand-waving away the specifics and scale of the problem in a way that I find extremely unhelpful. Writing something like

Then energy prices would soar, businesses would shut down, and consumers, especially those on low incomes, would suffer.

Is hilariously inadequate. Energy prices would indeed soar, and most of the country would go without, and countless people would die. He does the same thing with gasoline prices further down.

It’s a silly article.

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