Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Nonsense with Nicholls

“What Jevons failed to take into account was that higher prices would inevitably lead the market to find alternatives to coal — ie oil.”

Possibly the dumbest post, ever.
Really, it staggers the mind that someone can actually be this catastrophically stupid and ill-informed.

First of all, the development of the commercial petroleum industry didn’t arise as an “alternative” to coal. Until the spread of the automobile in the early 20th century, the major uses of petroleum were as buggy-wheel grease and kerosene lamp fuel. But quite aside from that, and contrary to Nicholl’s ridiculous assertion, coal prices were actually falling during the period in question. For example, in 1830 anthracite coal sold for about $11 per ton. Ten years later, the price had dropped to $7 per ton and by 1860 anthracite sold for about $5.50 a ton. Improved mining methods and the emergence of coke as a major fuel source resulted in record amounts of coal being raised with production nearing 80 million tons by 1880. Even so, coal prices remained relatively low. To a large extent, it was cheap coal that that helped America’s rapidly industrializing economy.

The parallel between the present “oil crisis” (largely driven by wild commodity speculation and market uncertainty) and the peaking of British coal extraction imagined by Jevons is superficial and tenuous at best.

Update: Nicholls responds in the comments with a bit of snark, stating: “It’s Jevons who talked about rising coal prices, not me.” Oh, but sadly, he’s wrong yet again. Jevons contended that improving energy efficiency typically REDUCED energy costs and thereby increased rather than decreased energy use — something that’s essential to his “paradox” and key to understanding his speculative theories about the “peaking” of coal.