30th April  2004


I stayed with a friend in Fort Worth.  I do not believe that there is "backpacker" style accommodation in Texas.

Fort Worth & Dallas are adjoining cities, like Parramatta-Sydney.  Together they have a population of 5.6 million, which exceeds that of Houston (at 4.3 million, nominally the fourth largest city in the USA, and somewhere in size between Sydney and Melbourne).  The USA has three levels of government, and this can result in seeming paradoxes.

For instance, the population of San Francisco is about 750,000 people.  However the San Francisco region has a population of 7,000,000.

Texas and Australia have about the same population, (Texas has 21 million, Australia has 20 million).  Both places have a couple of cities around 4-5 million, and a couple of other cities around 1 million.  Texas has temperature ranges similar to those found in most of Australia.  For example Fort Worth has a climate somewhat better than Melbourne (which admittedly, is not saying much:).  Houseton probably has a temperature range and humidity similar to Sydney (15C=40F to 35C=95F).  and humidity up to 90%.

Some of the things I noticed about Texas were unexpected.  In Australia we have a media that is very much what Americans call "Liberal", meaning the media does not, by and large, support conservative politicians.  So I had been led to believe that Texas was an environmental catastrophe.

I first began to suspect that there might have been a little bit of biassed reporting when I saw the river that runs through Fort Worth.  In California, around LA, even between LA and San Francisco, rivers are concrete troughs.  In Fort Worth (And Austin and Houseton) the rivers in the middle of cities have grassy banks, and are tree lined.

Travelling through the countryside, the lesson was reinforced.  No clouds of smog, (like LA) no erosion, just flat, green fields, lots of corn.  In central Texas the annual rainfall seems to be around 750mm (30") to 1000mm (40").  Of course the gulf of Mexico provides the occasional Hurricane and Tornado.  The only instance of questionable environmental practice that I saw was the siting of refineries at Corpus Christi.  Corpus Christi is a coastal city on the gulf of Mexico.  Apart from that, the environment appeared pristine.  If there were offshore oil wells they were not evident from the coast.

I met native Texans in Austin.  Austin is the capital of Texas, and like our own national capital, Canberra, it is dominated by radicals (liberals).  One thing we had no difficulty agreeing on was our envy for the Californians, and their ability to sack an unsatisfactory governor.  I argued (and I think might have partly convinced them) that more important than the Democrat - Republican divide was the issue of constitutional reform.

I must say that Americans are quite passionate about politics.  In Australia is that it doesn't matter that much who gets control of the treasury, we are all still f****d, except if an election is due.  I would dearly love the power to dismiss a government in mid-term.  I would immediately vote for whoever offered a meaningful constitutional reform referendum to that effect.

Fat chance.  Look at what happened when politicians offered us a president (the problem is, they chose the president, not us).

A car is a necessity in Texas.  The transport system in FW is slow, infrequent and does not service many destinations. 

Texans are friendly, (Texas means "friend") but, like San Franciscans, they are territorial.  In both San Francisco I have been refused permission to share a coffee table, even when the restaurant was full.  LA was much less territorial.

- OIL -

Most of the arab world believe that oil is the reason for Iraq.  (That is, when it isn't a zionist conspiracy).  Others note that the demand appears to be outstripping supply.  Currently the price of petrol (gas) in the US is US$2.00 per gallon, which (at an exchange rate of US$0.70c = AU$1.00) means about AU 70c a litre.

Simply put, an industrial civilization uses energy.  At the moment, the cheapest energy is produced by combustion of hydrocarbons mined as gas, liquid or solid (LPG, oil or coal).  A motor weighing about 40Kg will produce 5 KW and run on about a litre of oil based fuel per hour.  Oil is mostly found in and about the middle east, gas is found in many places, including offshore Australia, coal exists as extensive deposits in the USA, Europe and smaller quantities elsewhere.   Oil is the most convenient of these, it can readily be refined into liquids having an energy density of about 40MJ/Kg.

Another potential source of liquid hydrocarbons is oil shale, of which there are extensive deposits in Australia.  If oil ever reaches a price greater than about $70/barrel, these shale deposits will become economically exploitable.

Some doomsayers are attempting to make a quick fortune by selling books that predict that the release of carbon from fuels is warming our world & destroying our weather.  American scientists have found that precipitation in the Colorado catchment of the Boulder dam that supplies water to the LA Megaplex, and New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado (and a couple of other states) is returning, after a few decades, to the historic levels that existed for the past few centuries.

Other doomsayers are attempting to make their fortune by selling books that predict that the price of oil will shortly pass $100/barrel because the demand curve is rising against limited supplies.

I would like to point out that if the second named doomsayers are correct, then the first named doomsayers need worry no further - there will shortly be no liquid hydrocarbons left to burn.  And of course the second named doomsayers are wrong, because oil is not the only fuel that our technological society can use for transportation.  Here is a list of alternatives:

  1. Coal can be used to produce a liquid hydrocarbon fuel.  Refining will be more expensive than oil, but the resources in the US would supply world energy needs for the next 200 years.
  2. Shale can be used to produce a liquid hydrocarbon fuel.  Deposits of shale are greater than oil
  3. Water can be cracked (using photocells, coal, or other energy sources) to produce hydrogen.

Hydrogen is clean burning and environmentally friendly, in that it produces no carbon pollution.  (burnt in air there may be nitrogen compounds).