Smog Checks Will End
David Kline

Breathe a sigh of relief.  Smog checks are on the way out.  They are a blip in the scan of history, a modern annoyance.  But it won't be easy.  Kicking cigarettes will seem easy by comparison.

Most of us realize that autos burning fossil fuel are a major source of smog.  Many of us realize that oil is a finite resource.  And  some of us have filled in the dots to arrive at the title of this piece.  

So why is it taking so long for most of us to realize the obvious?

Our primary source of energy has propelled economic and technological developments, bringing benefits for ordinary people, accumulating profits for the privileged few, and causing climate change that is affecting all of us.  But externalized costs of fossil fuel use are difficult to discern amidst disinformation that currently obscures the topic. 

Who would want us not to think about climate disaster concurrent with the death of oil?  Who would try to erase the dots?

Again, it's most of us.  The growing perception amongst some beneficiaries of the oil boom is that corporations now have a stranglehold on practically every aspect of life.  So let's blame the corporations.  But corporations R us.  The legal structure which created and protects them reflects our values, and it limits our individual liability to the amount we invest.  We would rather hope for a good return on investment than think about what it costs.

As soon as we begin to admit that the wells will run dry, the dots fuse into a solid arrow that points directly at our vulnerability -- practically every aspect of life. Take the suburbs, for instance -- vast expanses of land covered with millions of homes, all laid out on the assumption that everyone has one or more cars to get from home to everywhere else.  The lawns are green thanks to fertilizer made from fossil fuel.  Street lights are on at night.  TVs glow in the windows.  Families can heat their homes in winter, cool them in the summer, mow their lawns, trim their hedges, and rely upon potable water pumped directly to their spigots and faucets. 

For those of us who have not banished the thought, ethanol seems ready to curb the threat of complete abandonment.  It would be comforting to believe that it will save the suburbs. But would you believe that it takes about 71% more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than is contained in that gallon of ethanol?  This has been reported by David Pimentel, of the  
M. King Hubbert Center for Petroleum Supply Studies, in his paper, "Energy and Dollar Costs of Ethanol Production With Corn" ( He further states:  "Assuming a net production of 50 gallons of fuel per acre of corn, and assuming that all cars in the United States were fueled with ethanol, a total of approximately 2 billion acres of cropland would be required to provide the corn feedstock.  This amount of acreage is more than 5-times all the cropland that is actually and potentially available for all crops in the future in the United States." 

So ethanol cannot be considered renewable energy. And it survives on political life support.  Without subsidies in tax payer dollars paid  to the ethanol industry, no ethanol would be produced as fuel for automobiles.

 A thoughtful person will conclude that just as smog checks will end, so will suburbia.  A person who takes the benefits of fossil fuel for granted might well be content to shrug this off, or at least put it off:  "Not in my lifetime."  Everyone is in for a shock.  Before the fuel is gone and smog checks end, comes peak oil, the point at which oil production starts to lag behind demand.  Opinions vary about the exact date of peak oil, but they cluster around right now, give or take a few years.   After the peak, oil production deteriorates exponentially, the down side of its past rapid acceleration.  The post peak world will see rapidly increasing prices, shortages and rationing, just to begin with.  For a look at this world, check out "The End of Suburbia."  (ISBN 0-9736947-0-X, at the Santa Clara Library, call # DVD 307.74 E56)

It is difficult to even think about this.  To illustrate, compare smog with smoking, both of which are known to cause lung cancer.  We benefit by their elimination.  But we enjoy what they bring to everyday life.  So the dilemma is solved by not thinking about it.  We are addicted. 

Of course there are important differences.  Smoking is personal smog, with damage confined to the smoker and perhaps a few others nearby.  Burning fossil fuels is impersonal, damaging the whole planet and all beings upon it, and there is nowhere to escape the effects.

Our fossil fueled Dream, replete with robber bankers and their cocaine derivatives, is the envy and model for a world that is compelled to catch up or be trampled.  Costs shoved off the bottom line have become economic and ecological debts payable across generations.  The due date is now and tomorrow, with compound ignorance bringing further increases into the unforeseeable future.  Yes, smog checks will end.  Be glad or be sad, but beware!