In the Sherlock Holmes story “Silver Blaze,” there is an excellent bit of dialogue between Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Gregory of Scotland Yard, beginning with the Inspector:

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

The curious incident of the quiet dog indicated that the mysterious man who stole the prize racehorse, Silver Blaze, was known to the dog, explaining why it didn’t bark.

In other news, I filled up the car and dropped over $50 to do so. As you can see from the photo I took at the time, the price for regular unleaded was just shy of $4 a gallon at the pump. Right now oil is above $110 a barrel. I remember when gas prices last spiked in the summer of 2008, when then-candidate Barack Obama stated that he would have preferred a gradual adjustment to higher gas prices over the quick rise that happened. Here’s a clip of him talking about this in 2008, with some other news commentaries mixed in.

Did you catch the female reporter around 10 seconds in, stating that the Energy Department was forecasting $4/gallon gas prices for the rest of 2008 and into 2009? Do you remember paying that much? I don’t. I remember oil prices dropping like a stone about a month after this video was posted.

The graph on the top right was generated at metalprices.com showing the price of crude oil for the past five years. See that monster spike in the middle? That’s the same 2008 oil spike that drove up gas prices. Do you see how the price quickly dropped, ending up even lower than the previous low point on the chart? Just what could have caused that drop? Oil hit its highest price on July 14, 2008, the very same day that President Bush announced that he would, by executive order, lift the ban on offshore oil drilling. Beginning the very next day, oil prices began to drop and continued to do so for several months as the market reacted to the news of increased future oil supplies.

Now look at the graph on the bottom right, listing the crude oil prices since President Obama took office. Notice a trend? This is what the market looks like when the President reimposes a ban on offshore oil drilling less than a month after taking office, then places a moratorium on all oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The market reacted to the news of decreased future oil supplies by raising the price of crude oil.

Certainly there are other factors that also play into the rising oil prices, the biggest among them being the increased instability in the Middle East and the increasingly weak U.S. dollar in international markets. There’s no need to blame Pres. Obama for political instability in the Middle East (although others have done so), but I will lay the blame for a weakening dollar solidly at his feet. Pres. Obama and his fellow travelers on the political left have trashed the foundation of our currency with their prolific spending and inability to seriously handle the rising deficit.

As long as our dollar continues to weaken because of shortsighted policies made by liberals in government, and as long as Pres. Obama prevents us from accessing our own energy supplies, the price of crude oil and gas will continue to go up and up and up. In 2008, and in the previous years when gas prices soared, there were multiple news stories each day about rising gas prices and the people affected by them. But this year the same news stories have been few and far between. So what is the difference this time? Why the strange silence from the barking dogs of the news media?

It’s simple. The media is too busy wagging its collective tail at its master, Pres. Obama, to bark at him. And when you understand that, the silence is far from curious.

Here is a lovely gem of a press release from the Democrat Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi:

“The President knows, as his own Administration has stated, that the impact of any new drilling will be insignificant – promising savings of only pennies per gallon many years down the road. Americans know that thanks to the two oilmen in the White House, consumers are now paying $4 a gallon for gas. But what Americans should realize is that what the President is calling for is drilling as close as three miles off of America’s pristine beaches and in other protected areas.

“The President has failed in his economic policy, and now he wants to say, ‘but for drilling in protected areas offshore, our economy would be thriving and the price of gas would be lower.’ That hoax is unworthy of the serious debate we must have to relieve the pain of consumers at the pump and to promote energy independence.

“Today, the New Direction Congress will vote on legislation to bring down gas prices by taking crucial steps to curb excessive speculation in the energy futures market. The President himself could lower prices by drawing down a small portion of our government oil stockpile, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The New Direction Congress will continue to bring forth responsible proposals to increase supply, reduce prices, protect consumers, and transition America to a clean, renewable energy independent future.”

Let’s take a look at Her Speakership’s wisdom.

“[T]he impact of any new drilling will be insignificant – promising savings of only pennies per gallon many years down the road.” The impact of new drilling will be more oil. That can’t be insignificant, based on her later comments. Besides, I thought long-term planning was a good thing.

“[T]hanks to the two oilmen in the White House, consumers are now paying $4 a gallon for gas.” Nice dig there. “Bush and Cheney are oilmen! Evil! EVIL!” *cue the ominous roll of thunder* If they really had such a huge influence over the oil industry, don’t you think President Bush and Vice President Cheney would have pulled every string they had to get Evil Big Oil to reduce the consumer price of oil and gas?

“[W]hat the President is calling for is drilling as close as three miles off of America’s pristine beaches and in other protected areas.” I’ve been to some of those “pristine” beaches, and they ain’t all that pristine. Besides, would you rather pump oil from areas close to the U.S., or ship it via monstrously huge supertankers like the Exxon Valdez? A broken pipeline can be shut down much faster than a supertanker run aground can be fixed. But Speaker Pelosi really doesn’t care about protected areas like the Arctic National Mosquito Refuge in Alaska as much as she cares about catering to her “Drill Nothing Never” constituents.

“The President has failed in his economic policy, and now he wants to say, ‘but for drilling in protected areas offshore, our economy would be thriving and the price of gas would be lower.’” Democrats often complain that drilling will take 10 years or more before producing any oil. The unspoken ending to that phrase is, “so why bother drilling?” Well, if we had started drilling in ANWR back in 1998, we’d have ANWR oil bringing down gas prices right now. If everyone had the same short-sighted mindset, why would people bother to work on a college degree, which takes years before producing any work benefits? Why have children, when it will take decades before they become self-sufficient? But here’s what’s interesting: liberals are more than happy to hold off doing anything with proven oil technology that will take a known quantity of time to obtain–the “decade” they keep chanting about–but they are willing to wait indefinitely for some new, unproven energy alternative to sweep us off our feet and carry us into a glorious future. I like to daydream about swan-diving into Scrooge McDuck’s bank vault, too, but then I wake up and go to work. My daydream won’t pay today’s bills or put food on the table.

“the New Direction Congress” Oops, looks like the website got that wrong. She really meant to say “the No Drilling Congress.” There, that’s fixed.

“Today, the No Drilling Congress will vote on legislation to bring down gas prices by taking crucial steps to curb excessive speculation in the energy futures market.” Oil futures are already heavily regulated. There is no need to regulate the market further, but as always with liberals, capitalism makes a good scapegoat to beat while chanting the “Drill Nothing Never” mantra.

“The President himself could lower prices by drawing down a small portion of our government oil stockpile, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.” Here’s a clue for Madam Speaker: the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is for emergencies like making sure there is sufficient oil for the military and critical operations if a war or natural disaster were to disrupt supplies. By the way, did you notice the logical inconsistency here? Speaker Pelosi claims that a small draw-down of oil from the SPR would result in a drop in consumer oil prices, while at the same time maintaining that drilling for oil won’t do so. She can’t have it both ways. But she, and the rest of the Democrats in Congress, are doing whatever they can to keep the price of oil high, primarily by blocking any attempt to increase domestic oil supply, in the hopes that the people will begin to clamor for the magic pixie dust of unknown and unproven energy technology. A one-time pump of a few million barrels of oil from the SPR might temporarily lower the price of gas, but that doesn’t compare to having oil fields consistently pumping out millions of barrels of oil each and every day.

“The No Drilling Congress will continue to bring forth responsible proposals to increase supply…” Really? How about letting America drill for its own oil? Oh, right, the key word is “responsible” proposals, and that means only what she considers responsible. In other words, no oil men need apply, only those with daydream technology.

“… reduce prices …” You can reduce prices by increasing supplies, reducing demand, or doing both. Apparently the strategy of increasing supplies is off the table to Madam “Ain’t Drilling Here” Speaker.

“… protect consumers …” Protect consumers from what? Higher oil and gas prices? *snort* Liberals love being the Nanny State, telling the childish voters what they can and can’t do.

“… transition America to a clean, renewable energy independent future.” These are inspiring-sounding words and they probably felt great rolling off Speaker Pelosi’s tongue, but until that magic “renewable” energy moment happens, how about we drill like crazy to get all the energy we need from our current resources? We could be successful in reaching a “clean, energy independent future” if we had enough energy to power the technology that will presumably make renewable energy possible.

Speaker Pelosi wants the high price of oil to cut both ways. She denies that drilling for a consistent source of oil would bring down prices, but she calls for a one-time release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to, um, bring down prices. Of course, the real reason why Democrats are so adamant about not allowing Americans to use their own energy reserves is that they believe Americans will only act to find cleaner, more environmentally friendly energy when the high price of gas has them so mired down that they can’t function any more. When that happens, of course, they’ll look to the Democrats to save them from themselves–and the Democrats, as always, will act in their best interests. OK, my tongue’s out of my cheek now. I have to assume Speaker Pelosi doesn’t expect to see a major change in the oil futures market with a one-time pull of oil from the SPR, but she can point to the temporarily lowered price of gas and say to the voters, “Look, the Democrats made that happen.” Then she can use that leverage to push her own plan of championing “clean” and “responsible” energy ideas, as the price of oil is pushed steadily upward again.

I’d like to have Speaker Pelosi come water my front yard, and then see what she would do when I deliberately put a kink in the hose. I imagine she’d demand that I stop deliberately shutting off the water so she could finish the job. Then I’d lecture at her that water is a precious, limited resource, and even if I unkinked the hose it would take a good long while for the water to reach her. Instead we should work together to find some better, cleaner, more responsible way to get the job done. Think she’d buy it?

Occasionally my niece, who is 11, will ask me how she can get money to buy presents for people. I usually reply there are three basic ways to accumulate money: earn, sell, and save. Since she is a pre-teen, her resources in this area are pretty much limited to earning babysitting money, selling her old toys at a garage sale, and saving her allowance.

For our thought experiment, let’s focus on a 20-something with a goal of putting $2,000 into the bank as fast as she can. She also has the same three options: earn, sell, and save. Since she is in her 20s, she may have a degree that may help her find a well-paying job. To increase her earned income, she could take on a second job or do piecework on the side. Based on her age and ability, earning money will probably be the fastest way to reach her goal. On the other hand, if she doesn’t have marketable skills, a degree, or experience, she may be limited to taking lower-paying part-time jobs.

She also has the option to sell items she owns. Anything with value (or perceived value) can be put up for sale on an auction site such as eBay. There is no guarantee that her items will sell, but it’s probably easier to sell items than to work. And assuming that she’s selling good stuff and needing to sell it quickly, she may not get full value for her items, and she may choose to spend more money later to recover them. Other than auction sites, there are other venues–consignment stores, pawn shops and yard sales–where she could sell used clothes, books, DVDs, and CDs, but usually at a significantly lower price than what she paid for them.

The last of the three option is to save. This works best when there is a significant amount being spent, but every dollar saved is an extra dollar closer to the goal. Since our imaginary person has a definable and short-term goal, she can opt to cut her spending to the bone. It is cheaper to cook food at home than it is to dine out. Packing brown-bag leftovers is cheaper than buying lunch at work. Reading a book or checking out a movie from the library costs less than going to see that new movie in the theater. She could even go as far as adjusting her air conditioner or heater to a more energy-saving setting, but savings from utility bills could take a while to appear, so this strategy might be better suited to a long-term savings goal. But it’s still an option.

The options of earn, sell, and save pretty much cover the ways our hypothetical woman could reach her goal of putting $2,000 in the bank. Since she has a definite goal in mind, it would be both silly and inefficient if she decided to eliminate one or two of these options. If she were serious about reaching her goal as quickly as possible, why would she purposely postpone her goal by limiting her savings options? If she really wanted to reach the goal as fast as she could, she would take advantage of all the opportunities open to her to earn, sell, and save money.

Have you noticed that I always wrote it as “earn, sell, and save” rather than listing them as “earn, sell, or save”? I did that on purpose because I am including all the options that work toward this goal, rather than excluding options. That is what I mean by thinking inclusively rather than exclusively. When there are multiple ways to reach a goal, it behooves us to include them all rather than arbitrarily excluding some.

So how does this apply to the current energy crunch?

We need energy–indeed, we need massive amounts to sustain our current way of life. We could easily reduce the energy we consume if we were willing to revert to a 1908 lifestyle instead of a 2008 one. The Model T was first sold in 1908, but since cars are evil polluting beasts from hell–or so environmentalists tell us–we’d have to do without cars. We’d also have to do without bras and zippers, since both were invented in 1913. Oh, the horror! But frankly, I’d rather not live an Amish lifestyle. I like the convenience of central heating and air, and modern dentistry is a blessing. The mass production and modern farming techniques that clothe and feed the world’s billions require an unbelievable amount of energy to maintain, and to fuel our energy demand, we should think inclusively rather than exclusively.

I’ve been listening to the people who are screaming for a change in our energy usage, and I have noticed that they almost always think exclusively. They don’t want us to drill for oil or natural gas. They don’t want us to dig for coal. They don’t want us to build nuclear power plants. They don’t want us to build dams for hydroelectric power. They don’t even want us to build wind farms. The only thing left is solar energy, but the same BANANA[1] attitude that stops us from drilling in the desolate arctic wasteland known as ANWR will stop us from dedicating the many square miles of desolate southwest desert that we’d need to really get solar energy going.

I recently saw a commercial by T. Boone Pickens who said that our current energy state is “one emergency we can’t drill our way out of.” His plan calls for using wind energy, natural gas, and biofuels to make the U.S. energy independent. But there is no mention on his page about the other options–solar, nuclear, and hydroelectric power. Why is Pickens being exclusive rather than inclusive when it comes to seeking out and utilizing energy sources? I hear people talk about solar and wind power as being avenues worth pursuing, but they nearly always exclude oil, and they shudder at the very thought of nuclear power. Why exclude some of these possible energy sources when we need all the energy we can get?

When I hear or read “We can’t drill our way out of this problem,” I have a strong reason to believe that person has identified certain energy sources as “good” or “bad”. I don’t see it that way; to me, they are all just energy sources. As I see it, every drop of oil we drill here in the U.S. is one drop we don’t have to import. Likewise, every drop of oil we don’t need to use because of natural gas, solar, hydroelectric, nuclear, coal, or wind power is also one drop we don’t have to import. It’s a win-win situation, so why not get all the energy we can from all the sources we can?

Let’s think inclusively about energy, rather than being exclusive. Let’s drill for oil and natural gas AND dig for coal AND build nuclear power plants AND build hydroelectric dams AND build wind farms AND build solar arrays AND conserve where it makes sense AND develop new energy sources AND invent more efficient uses of our energy. Now that’s a worthwhile goal I could get behind.

[1] BANANA — Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything

A common biology lesson deals with how energy is passed from one layer of creatures to another, as demonstrated by the graphic on the right. The yellow bar is 1000 pixels tall, representing the energy that comes from the sun. The next bar is only 100 pixels tall, and this represents the energy taken from the sun by plants for their own use. The next bar is 10 pixels tall, representing the energy which herbivores get from the plants they eat. The final bar is 1 pixel tall, representing carnivores and the energy the get from the animals they eat. I could go on a few more levels, but it’s hard to draw a bar only a tenth of a pixel tall. Each level only gains about 10% of the energy from the layer below.

Vegetarians often use this principle to illustrate how much more efficient it would be if we switched from the carnivorous level to a plant-based diet. Doing so would mean that we would have a tenfold increase of energy available to us. But there’s one big problem with this idea — a carrot just doesn’t barbecue as well as a steak. The carrots slip right through the bars and onto the coals.

Ignoring grilling carrots for the nonce, the laws of thermodynamics explain how energy moves from one layer of life to another and why the energy levels keep dropping in each layer. While an in-depth discussion of thermodynamics is way beyond the scope of this article, it’s still worth taking a quick look at the principle.

1st Law of Thermodynamics — energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed.
2nd Law of Thermodynamics — the disorder in an isolated system will never decrease.
3rd Law of Thermodynamics — absolute zero, the absence of any kinetic energy, cannot be reached, only approached closely.

Since that’s a little dry, here’s how C. P. Snow, a British scientist, described these three laws:

1st Law — you cannot win
2nd Law — you cannot break even
3rd Law — you cannot leave the game

The laws of thermodynamics tell us that any time we do work, we are converting energy from one form to another. Dams take potential energy and convert it into kinetic and electrical energy. Cars take chemical energy and convert it into kinetic energy. That’s the 1st law in action. The 2nd law explains that each time energy is converted, at least some energy is lost in the process. No car engine can convert gasoline into kinetic energy (the vroom) with complete efficiency. Some of the energy from the gasoline is turned into noise and waste heat, neither of which is used. The same thing happens in living machines like you and me. As we eat our grilled steak and carrots, we imperfectly convert that chemical energy into new skin, muscles, and 5K runs.

The 2nd Law describes entropy. Entropy is the spreading out of energy in a system, going from more organized and useful energy into disorganized and less-useful energy. There is no way to reverse this trend other than on a small scale, and doing so will still increase the overall disorder and energy change in the total system.

Bored already? Have you remembered why you didn’t like science classes? Now for the kicker — these laws, but most especially the 2nd Law, apply to life, as the diagram above shows. On average, only 10% of the energy from one layer makes it into useful energy for the next layer. This loss of energy also applies to people, nations, and organizations.

So what is the most efficient way to move money (that’s financial energy for you and me) from one person to another? Notice the trend below:

– You give $100 to someone.
– The Federal Government taxes $100 from you and gives money to someone.
– The Federal Government taxes $100 from you, gives money to a state welfare department, which hands money to the local welfare department, who hands money to someone.

Do you see the extra layers appearing? Remember, as money moves from one layer to another, this movement costs money. So as this $100 passes through the layers of bureaucracy, some is skimmed off to pay for salaries, the buildings and maintenance, and petty cash expenditures. Of our original imaginary $100 taxed from you, the end recipient on welfare gets less than $25. That means over $75 of your hard-earned tax money was lost in pushing your taxes from one department to another. In other words, for every one welfare person you help with your taxes, you have funded three bureaucrats. Gives you a nice warm fuzzy feeling, doesn’t it?

This is one reason why I instinctively favor smaller government over larger government. Smaller organizations cost less to staff, not only in numbers of people on the payroll, but because with fewer layers of bureaucracy there is less entropy as money (energy) passes through. We do need government and the services it provides, but these services come at a cost, both seen and unseen. This is why Thomas Jefferson was correct when he said, “That government is best which governs least.” This is true even on a thermodynamic level.

Some people discuss and fantasize over a world-wide government that would make world-wide laws and policies just as the Federal Government currently makes national laws and policies. But I cannot look on this idea with as much eagerness, because the principles of thermodynamics tell me that adding this extra layer of bureaucracy will sap even more of our financial energy. Knowing how inefficient government already is, why would I want to add yet another layer?

I see no benefit of a world-wide government that would outweigh the cost of having it in the first place.