Reality Blind - Vol. 1

Transportation and Trucking

Summary: Fully one-third of all energy used in our society is neither heat nor electricity, but liquid fuels that power various vehicles which transport our goods (and us) around the globe to wherever we want to be and wherever we want stuff to be. 186 The main cost of moving things is friction-related energy loss of various kinds. Despite steel-on-steel (railroads) being almost 10x more energy- efficient than rubber-on-concrete (trucks), virtually 100% of final- destination transport in the USA and most nations now occurs using trucks. Large trucks, for now – and likely indefinitely into the future – require liquid fuels, currently diesel and gasoline distilled from crude oil. (Biomass - based fuels and coal liquefaction are both viable as alternatives but have considerable scaling, cost, and environmental issues.) The USA currently has 95,000 miles of railroad track (which are mostly on a 0 to 1% grade, anything higher requires much more energy), and 25,000 miles of waterways. This contrasts with 4,100,000 miles of road 187 – a complex body of asphalt and concrete arteries and veins bringing goods to stores near your home. Trucking is a major, and oft-overlooked, issue related to oil depletion and a decarbonized future in the USA. Because trucks are quicker and more flexible, more convenient and better-suited to a fractal-packing system, and oil was essentially free for a while, trucks replaced trains. The efficiency of trains relies on the aggregate high efficiency of low-friction transport, which is optimized with really long trains, which in turn is optimized for taking big amounts of stuff to central depots, much as is the case with massive ocean container ships. But how does stuff get to long trains and container ships, and where is that stuff generated?


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