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How Much Is That In Oil?
Jamais Cascio, 15 Mar 06

iPod_to_oil.jpgThis is brilliant.

Oil Standard is a Greasemonkey plug-in for Firefox that translates prices from dollars to barrels of oil equivalent, based on current spot prices; this means that the oil equivalent price fluctuates daily. "Networked Performance" art website Turbulence created the script, which works exactly as promised. Hit any web page that shows prices in dollars -- Amazon.com, the New York Times stock pages, even your bank account info -- and Oil Standard will show you how many barrels of oil it would take to match that amount of money.

Why did they do it?

Seeing the cost in oil of a new iPod on Amazon.com, or the balance in your bank account is startling. More than just a play on the concept of the 'Gold Standard,' or the old 'Standard Oil' company, this is a glimpse into the moment when oil will replace (or already replaced) gold as the standard by which we trade all other goods and currencies.

To be clear, this isn't telling you how much oil goes into the production of a given item, although that would be pretty cool. Its goal is something quite different: as a reminder of just how important oil is to our economy. I have just one request, though: I want an option to see the prices in kilowatt-hours of wind power instead.

(Via Information Aesthetics)

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Comments

Definitely cool, but speaking of Amazon.com, how about this?

I have a better idea, for all you Amazonion greasemonkeys--every time the script sees a shipping and handling page on a purchase it pops up a window that informs you how much oil is being burned and how much carbon is being emitted to get that much weight from the retailer to your house in the specified amount of time.

Suggestion by Saheli commenting at Snarkmarket.


Posted by: Robin on 15 Mar 06

Education is a beautiful thing.


Posted by: csven on 16 Mar 06

I guess the last sentence was probably a joke, but that wouldn't be too hard.


Posted by: Ben Wendt on 16 Mar 06

"every time the script sees a shipping and handling page on a purchase it pops up a window that informs you how much oil is being burned and how much carbon is being emitted to get that much weight from the retailer to your house in the specified amount of time."

Then maybe it could also pop up how much carbon you'd emit driving to a store to get the same thing.

Mail order is almost certainly more efficient than driving to go get it yourself, since the marginal fuel consumption of a given package in commercial shipping vehicles is minimal.


Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 16 Mar 06

...while the widget is getting press for its conenction to Peak Oil, it's also an interesting conceptual exercise that could be applied in many other ways. Jamais mentions wanting the display to be in KWh of windpower; those who have read "Your Money Or Your Life" might want it to display in "personal work-hours required" (that would mean a slight addition to the widget, of a field where you'd enter your hourly pay rate). But each of these are really just re-visionings - what is it we find to be of worth to us? More and more, we see that "Dollar" is just a placeholder. What are we giving up for what we get? Tool for thought!


Posted by: katuah on 16 Mar 06

That's really interesting. But it raises a question. A smart friend of mine insists that it's pointless to try and reduce oil consumption or CO2 emissions on one side of the world, such as here in the U.S., because the added expense will result in larger capital flows to places like China and India, which will emit more as a result. This sounds like sophistry to me, but I can't budge him. Is there anyone out there who can give me some information capable of opening his mind? Or am I wrong?


Posted by: Kit Stolz on 16 Mar 06

Kit, what added expense? My work is "green" architecture. We routinely design buildings that require 25 to 50 percent of the energy of conventional buildings, and do that with little or no added cost. Researchers like Amory Lovins, Joseph Romm, and others demonstrate the same results for many sectors of the economy. I think your friend is pessimistic about what it costs to be less stupid.


Posted by: David Foley on 16 Mar 06

"A smart friend of mine insists that it's pointless to try and reduce oil consumption or CO2 emissions on one side of the world, such as here in the U.S., because the added expense will result in larger capital flows to places like China and India, which will emit more as a result. This sounds like sophistry to me, but I can't budge him. Is there anyone out there who can give me some information capable of opening his mind?"

That's a boilerplate argument that floats around out there, so I don't think your "smart" friend thought that up himself.

I don't really understand why "larger capital flows" would go to China and India if the US made moves to reduce oil consumption and/or CO2 emissions. Our marginal fuel costs might be higher, but any number of efficiency, conservation, and/or substitution could occur that wouldn't change the overall cost to the economy -- it's probably quite the contrary, as people like Lovins et a have demonstrated.

It's along the same lines of an editorial in the WSJ a couple months back that said we don't save any gas driving hybrids because that just leaves more gas for big SUVs. This is also baloney, since an individual purchase of a hybrid does nothing to the price of gasoline. Gas prices move for lots of reasons, and demand changes sometimes have very little to do with it. And such an argument also neglects the fact that by purchasing hybrid technology, you help to push the technology ahead, make it cheaper, and thus reduce the payback period for a given price of gasoline.

With respect to China and India specifically, nothing we do at this point is going to ramp up their economic growth, which at this stage of their development means more fossil fuel use.

Bottom line is there are many factors involved in issues like this, and a smart person would recognize that and not make simple-minded comments and conclusions like your friend made. So I think his ideological predisposition is guiding his opinion more than anything else.


Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 16 Mar 06

It's a very old argument to say, "Why should I make the effort to do good when it will only help those who are lazy (or worse, those who are actually doing ill)?"

This level of reasoning cannot be considered "smart." Sounds like your friend needs to find some deeper values.


Posted by: Kim on 16 Mar 06

Joseph, I'm not familiar with the WSJ article you're referring to, but the idea that buying a hybrid makes room for an SUV is not as farfetched as it might sound. The problem isn't gas prices, but rather the unintended consequences of the CAFE fuel efficiency laws. I've written about both the problem and about one intriguing potential solution.

Incidentally, I still think buying a hybrid is a good thing.


Posted by: Adam Stein on 16 Mar 06

"Joseph, I'm not familiar with the WSJ article you're referring to, but the idea that buying a hybrid makes room for an SUV is not as farfetched as it might sound. The problem isn't gas prices, but rather the unintended consequences of the CAFE fuel efficiency laws."

I agree CAFE has flaws, but a Prius purchase (for example) won't lead to more gas guzzling SUVs, since they're in different CAFE standard categories. A small point, yes, but the offset can only occur between light trucks or between automobiles. The new light truck subcategories make this even more complicated. And since the biggest gas hogs don't fall under CAFE regs, it's moot with respect to that, too.

But you're right that it's a common dynamic. Same thing happens with congestion. You can never get rid of it, since if enough people stop driving, then the roads start being faster, then more people start driving. Ultimately there either needs to be technology substitution (eg, high-speed PRT for automobiles), long term high fuel prices, and in the end, some form of cap-and-trade system -- if that's deemed as something that people ultimately want.


Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 16 Mar 06

Thanks for the help. It makes sense to me that this may go back to a WSJ editorial. So much sophistry does...


Posted by: Kit Stolz on 17 Mar 06



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