Dirigibles may do the Heavy Lifting in Alaska

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 28th, 2013

Week in Review

If you’ve watched Ice Road Truckers you’ve learned that it isn’t easy to move freight in Arctic regions.  Like Alaska.  Because there aren’t a lot of roads or bridges in Arctic regions.  Hence the ice roads.  Crossing rivers, lakes and oceans in the winter when they’re frozen over.  But even these roads cover only a fraction of Alaska’s sprawling country.  Which is why the airplane dominates in Alaska.  To move freight.  And people.  Making for some really high transportation costs.  Raising the costs of everything the good people of Alaska buy (see Hometown U: Could blimps find a place in Alaska skies? by Kathleen McCoy, Hometown U, posted 7/27/2013 on Anchorage Daily News).

Rob Harper at AUTC [Alaska University Transportation Center] pointed me to a new study the Center and UAA’s Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) partnered on, looking at the effect of higher transportation fuel prices. He called it a true eye-opener on the ever-rising cost of moving goods to and around Alaska. Every household and business is affected. No one thinks fuel prices will go down again.

ISER economists have often looked at spiking heat and electricity costs, but this was a first attempt to document higher transportation costs rippling through Alaska’s economy. In 2010, economist Ginny Fay and her study colleagues reported, Alaska’s per capita energy consumption was triple the national average.

Alaska fuel prices increased more than 25 percent between 2009 and 2010. Consumers responded by buying fewer cars and airplane tickets. They also paid higher prices for everything they did buy, from food to clothing…

Industries that use the most fuel are the hardest hit. In Alaska, that’s aviation, which uses 90 percent of it, Fay wrote.

And this in a state that exports oil.  But while they may be rich in oil reserves they have no refinery capacity.  Which means refined aviation fuel, diesel and gasoline has to be brought into Alaska.  And unlike the lower 48, that get their refined petroleum products via pipelines, Alaska must rely on more costly modes of transportation.  Shipping it over land or over water in smaller batches at greater prices.

Here’s where those slow, graceful dirigibles wedge their way back into our conversation. Being lighter than air thanks to nonflammable helium, and moving much slower than planes, they consume a lot less fuel. One research study for the military in 2009 compared an hour of flight time in an F-16 ($8,000) to an hour of flight time in a dirigible (less than $500).

Traditional air cargo is the most expensive way to move freight on a fuel-cost-per-ton-mile basis. Fay’s analysis showed that rail is cheapest, followed by trucks, then barge, ships and ferries. But Alaska only has 500 miles of rail. Our ships and barges often leave the state less than full, raising the cost per ton-mile. And we only have two roads, one north and one south. Most of Alaska is nowhere near a road or a coastline. So we’re back to air cargo.

Rail is the cheapest way to move heavy freight because of steel wheels on steel rails.  There’s very little friction so locomotives can pull a very long train consist full of heavy freight.  And they move fast.  Day or night.  In any kind of weather.  So they can quickly carry revenue-producing freight nearly around the clock.  Trucks are fast like trains but carry far less per load.  And whereas railroads change out train crews to keep trains rolling around the clock most long-haul trucks are privately owned.  And when the driver reaches his legal limit of driving time per day he or she has to park their rig and rest for a mandatory rest period.  Thus reducing the revenue-miles of trucks compared to trains.

Barges, ships and ferries can carry larger loads than trucks but loading and unloading takes time.  Time they can’t earn revenue.  Also, they travel slower than trains or trucks.  Limiting the amount of revenue-earning trips they can make.  Whereas air cargo is the fastest way to move cargo.  Allowing many revenue-earning trips.  But the planes flying in Alaska carry a fraction of the cargo trains, trucks, barges, ships and ferries can carry.  Greatly increasing the fuel-cost-per-ton-mile.  Which makes the dirigible such an attractive alternative in Arctic regions like Alaska.

The dirigible doesn’t need a road or waterway.  It can travel year round weather permitting.  It’s slow but because it burns so little fuel the cost per trip is nothing compared to an airplane.  It can’t carry as much as a train, barge or ship but it can go where a train, barge or ship can’t.  And it can travel as the crow flies.  A straight line between two points.  Something that only an airplane can do.  But it can do it for a far lower fuel-cost-per-ton-mile than an airplane.

There is little downside of using a dirigible to ship freight in these inhospitable Arctic regions.  Unless you’re a fan of Ice Road Trucking.  For a dirigible could probably carry anything a truck can carry.  And without a road, paved or ice, to boot.  Putting the ice road truckers out of business.

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Food Scarcities and High Food Prices are Government-Made Crises

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 21st, 2013

Week in Review

The world’s population is growing.  And it’s threatening our food supplies.  Or so say the experts on population.  But what’s interesting is that the populations in the advanced economies of the world which are generally food exporters have fallen.  Apart from the United States these countries are having so few babies that they won’t be able to replace their parent’s generation.  So these countries will see a decline in population.  Yet the world’s population is growing.  So who’s growing the world’s population?   And threatening the world’s food supplies?

Primarily the less-advanced economies.   The food importers.  Like the countries of Africa.  Afghanistan.  Yemen.  And the Palestinian Territories.  Many of which have the lowest life expectancies.  And the highest child mortality rates.  So, the countries that can feed the world aren’t having enough babies to replace the current generation.  While the countries that have the highest fertility rates are also suffering from the shortest life expectancies due to those high child mortality rates.   So it’s hard to see where the food crisis is.

Once upon a time food was so scarce that famines were commonplace.  A lot of wars were fought to prevent famine.  One of the reasons Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union was for food.  To make Europe’s breadbasket, the Ukraine, a part of the Third Reich.  Today the advanced economies have so much food that they’re making gasoline out of it.  So if there is any food shortage it must be manmade.  And anything manmade can be unmade.  But until we do food prices will rise (see Food prices forecast to treble as world population soars by Steve Hawkes posted 7/21/2013 on The Telegraph).

Professor Tim Benton, head of Global Food Security working group, added there could be shortages in the UK in the future as the emerging middle class in south-east Asia sparks a revolution in “food flows” such as the trade in grain and soya around the world…

The shock forecast came as the chief executive of Tesco, Philip Clarke, warned the era of cheap food was over because of the forecast surge in demand.

In an interview over the weekend, the supermarket chief said: “Over the long run I think food prices and the proportion of income spent on food may well be going up…”

Food inflation in the UK has been running around 4 per cent for much of the year, and is among the highest in the EU after poor harvests last year and the rising cost of feed.

Here’s a thought.  If food is becoming so scarce why don’t stop using it for energy?  Let’s use fossil fuels that we can’t eat for energy.  And use food for food.  By mandating that we add ethanol to gasoline we diverted corn from the food chain already suffering from a depleted corn crop thanks to Midwest droughts.  Raising corn prices.  And meat, poultry and dairy prices.  As cows and chicken eat corn.  So if we stop artificially raising the price of corn feed we stop raising the price of everything downstream of corn in the food chain.  Crazy talk, I know.  But sometimes you just have to think outside of the box.

And here’s another thought.  Let’s do everything we can to bring energy costs down.  Let’s drill for more oil.  Let’s build that Keystone XL pipeline.  Let’s frack like there’s no tomorrow.  Because high fuel prices cause high food prices.  Everything we grow and raise has to travel great distances before landing on our kitchen tables.  By tractor, by truck, by train by ship.  Means of conveyance with internal combustion engines that burn a petroleum product.  From the farm to the silo to the grain elevator to the rail terminal to the mill to the food processing plant to the wholesale distributor to the grocery store.  Every mile of every trip from the farm to our kitchen table burns a petroleum product.  Every mile we burn fuel bringing food to our tables adds to the price tag in the grocery store.  Higher fuel costs even reduce what families can spend in those grocery stores.  For the higher gas prices are the greater amount of their paycheck go into their gas tanks.  Leaving less to buy food with.

And speaking of energy let’s dig up that coal and use it for what it’s best for.  Burning.  To produce steam.  To spin turbines.  That spin electric generators.  And let’s end the war on coal.  And make it less costly to generate electric power.  Because when food isn’t moving it’s using electric power.  For electric power runs our grain elevators, our mills, our food processing plants, our wholesale distributors and our grocery stores.

There are a lot of manmade causes making food scarcer and more costly.  If we care about feeding the world we should focus on the manmade causes.  For we can do something about those.  Unlike a drought.  But petroleum and coal can even lessen the impact of the occasional drought.  We can ship food from areas not suffering from drought to areas suffering from drought.  And we can use the electric power generated from burning coal to store food surpluses in refrigerated warehouses.

The only food crisis we have is manmade.  Or, rather, government-made.  Where government officials take more and more control of the private economy to fight the myth of manmade global warming.  Whose solution to save the planet is a simple one.  Save the planet.  Kill the people.

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