Archive for August, 2012|Monthly archive page

Rationing: You might just like it

In About the book on August 3, 2012 at 6:39 am

That ration card in your future?                     It’s not all badAl Jazeera English

And coming in 2013 from The New Press

Any Way You Slice It:

The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing 

by Stan Cox

Here’s Wendell Berry on the Diane Rehm Show, November 14, 2012:

My thinking about that starts with the assumption that to do permanent damage to the ecosphere is wrong, absolutely wrong and that when these extraction enterprises to produce fuel, destroy permanently, parts of the world. That’s wrong, there’s no excuse for it. And for that reason, I’m not taking anybody very seriously who’s talking about energy, who isn’t talking about rationing.

When I first told Wes Jackson that I was writing a book on rationing, he said, “You have to read Carter Henderson’s The Inevitability of Petroleum Rationing in the United States.” Published by the Princeton Center for Alternative Futures in 1978, this 77-page gem is extremely difficult to find in print, and as far as I can tell, does not exist in digital form. But after 18 months of searching, Wes came up with his old copy:


By then, Any Way You Slice It was finished, so I could not take advantage of Henderson’s extensive insights into the 1970s energy shortages. He was focused primarily on gasoline rationing and, like me, did not like provisions in the Nixon and Carter plans that would have allocated rations to licensed drivers or vehicles. Henderson and I would have an equal ration go to every adult, so that those who do not drive can benefit by selling their rations. Henderson would have them sold on a “white market.” I’d rather see them sold back to the government (as explained in the Al Jazeera article above).

I know – You’d rather not talk about rationing. It’s a word that people often loathe and fear. Health care expert Henry Aaron has compared mentioning the possibility of rationing to “shouting an obscenity in church.” Yet societies in fact ration food, water, medical care, and fuel all the time, with those who can pay the most getting the most. As Nobel Prize–winning economist Amartya Sen has said, the results can be “thoroughly unequal and nasty.”

In Any Way You Slice It, I discuss how rationing is not just a quaint practice restricted to World War II memoirs and 1970s gas station lines. Instead, it’s a vital concept for our fragile present, an era of dwindling resources and environmental crises. Any Way You Slice It takes us on a fascinating search for alternative ways of apportioning life’s necessities, from the goal of “fair shares for all” during wartime in the 1940s to present-day water rationing in a Mumbai slum, from the bread shops of Cairo to the struggle for fairness in American medicine and carbon rationing on Norfolk Island in the Pacific. The big question: can we limit consumption while assuring everyone a fair share?




In A/C news, About the book on August 2, 2012 at 7:30 am

The inevitable pro-air-conditioning backlash has come from Slate in the form of an article by Daniel Engber. His chief arguments are that heating in the US uses more total energy than does air-conditioning, and that air-conditioning can protect health in severe heat waves. Those are points that I make in Losing Our Cool as well, and they don’t amount to a justification of air-conditioning.

Heating may still use more energy than cooling even with today’s hotter summers, but  air-conditioning creates more greenhouse emissions. Here’s why. Air-c0nditioners are powered almost totally by electricity (for buildings) and liquid fossil fuels (for cars) and always requires climate-unfriendly refrigerants. Most heating is done by burning fuels directly. The inefficiencies of electricity generation and transmission and the fact that it is done largely with coal and fuel oil means higher emissions. If you count only energy use and only buildings, A/C is responsible for under 300 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually versus more than 400 for heating. But add in vehicle A/C and the greenhouse impact of refrigerants, and the total climate impact of air-conditioning is almost 450 million metric tons CO2 equivalent, versus 415 for heating.

But the much more important point is that most of that heating is necessary (even if the energy could be used more efficiently) whereas most of that air-conditioning is not (or is what we might call a “created necessity” because of the way we have constructed buildings and cities and arranged our transportation system.) So the factors that have decreased demand for heating, including the great southward migration and global warming, represent a missed opportunity to save energy. All of the emissions–and then some–that could have been spared because of lower heating demand have been replaced by cooling emissions.

I have dealt with the heat wave argument many times. The use of air-conditioning to protect people of advanced age or poor health against deadly heat waves accounts for a tiny percentage of total A/C use; by far the greatest use is of a completely different kind, in situations that do not warrant a refrigerated environment. I noted recently, for example, that “keeping vulnerable members of our communities alive during heat emergencies is one thing; using that as an excuse for neglecting horrible urban living conditions while at the same time tolerating the routine, lavish deployment of chilled air throughout much of the rest of society is another.”