A Science for Everyone, Community

Energy’s Unyielding Numbers

I’m a positivist – which basically says my science is confined to numbers.  Since I’m also a stats guy, it means my numbers aren’t always precise – the world is usually plus or minus.  That’s OK.  Then there is the problem of units of measurement.  They need to be consistent.

So here’s a local set of numbers – Eureka is about 50 miles of deadhead run from highway 2.   A gallon of gas provides enough energy to move a ton of material about 50 miles by truck, or about 200 miles by rail.  Folks fortunate enough to use barges and water can move that same ton about 500 miles – but Koocanusa just isn’t set up for commercial traffic.  A century ago Fortine Creek was commercial navigation – logs moved downstream to the mill in Eureka – but we don’t have commercial waterways like the Great Lakes, the Mississippi, Ohio, lower Missouri, etc.

Basically the economics of energy mean that our retail prices have to be higher than Kalispell.  As fuel prices increase, that 50 miles of deadhead run costs twice – once to get the munchies to the grocery store in Eureka, and once to get the empty truck back.  That same economics of energy isolates us further from the county seat in Libby – 37 is a deadhead route either way, while Libby and Troy are on Highway 2.

At Trego, I’m 50 miles from Walmart.  Eureka is 30% further.  Stryker is 10% closer in terms of energy.  The equations don’t change.  They affect our shopping patterns.  They affect our ability to market local products.  This chart  shows the energy equivalents in terms of gallons of gas:

Gasoline Gallon Equivalents

Fuel TypeUnit of MeasureBTUs/UnitGallon Equivalent
Gasoline (regular)gallon114,1001.00 gallon
Diesel #2gallon129,5000.88 gallons
Biodiesel (B100)gallon118,3000.96 gallons
Biodiesel (B20)gallon127,2500.90 gallons
Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)cubic foot900126.67 cu. ft.
Liquid Natural Gas (LNG)gallon75,0001.52 gallons
Propane (LPG)gallon84,3001.35 gallons
Ethanol (E100)gallon76,1001.50 gallons
Ethanol (E85)gallon81,8001.39 gallons
Methanol (M100)gallon56,8002.01 gallons
Methanol (M85)gallon65,4001.74 gallons
Electricitykilowatt hour (Kwh)3,40033.56 Kwhs

I’d make a wild guess that it takes somewhere around 100 gallons of gasoline equivalent to run a logging operation for a day.  The cost of fuel for a truck was a management decision when that log truck could run to American Timber (Olney), Ksanka (Fortine) or Owens & Hurst (Eureka).  With fewer mills, more distant, energy costs reduce the value of our main product.  Increased energy costs effectively reduce the value of labor as they increase the cost of living.

Electric vehicles for transportation?  We’ll know when the cost of fuel has begun to match the cost of electric vehicles when we see Lincoln Electric linemen driving electric trucks.  As long as our electric co-op finds it cost-effective to use gasoline and diesel, they operate as an indicator – heck, they buy fossil fuels at retail or close to it, and buy electricity wholesale.  The numbers may not be precise when I type at my kitchen table – but they are good enough for the calculations I need.

The cost of housing increased dramatically with inmigration – unlike our boomtown days with the highway and railroad relocation and the tunnel, private investment isn’t moving in to supply more housing quickly.  I see what may be the beginning of a trend – long-time residents selling and moving away.  I’ve looked at what happens when an area moves into the recreation dependent and retirement destination classifications.  The first noticeable step is long-time locals moving into jobs that serve the new landowners in new houses – the folks who are replacing them.

Community, Demography

How unhealthy is loneliness?

Are isolation and loneliness actually bad for our health? Do they increase the risk of dying?

Short answer: Well, it isn’t good for you. How harmful probably depends on the extent and your age. Risk of dying? That’s a bit more complicated.

This isn’t actually a new question, even if it is a topic of increasing interest lately. Since it isn’t a new question, there’s actually plenty of existing research to look at. There are a few major difficulties to keep in mind:

  • Experiments in this area are rare, primarily due to ethical concerns.
  • Loneliness is difficult to measure (it doesn’t have a number like blood pressure).
  • Determining if something is a cause is surprisingly difficult.

One of the different categories studied is age. Loneliness in children has been studied separately than in adults.

Children: We know isolation is extremely problematic in children. Large studies on this are limited, but there were some early ones done comparing children raised in orphanages to those in prisons, and some subsequent studies isolating baby monkeys. There have been some case studies done of individual children that have been raised in isolation as well. At any rate, it’s a bad thing. It certainly substantially impairs normal social development, and studies suggest cognitive damage as well.

Adults: One very popular study used a biobank in the UK (Follow-up study was easier to find and more recent, so here’s that link). They found a slight excess risk of death (i.e. hazard factor) in the socially isolated, even when they accounted for other factors, such as age. This is somewhat complicated by the question of whether or not being socially isolated happens due to underlying health conditions.

How severe are the effects of loneliness?

While it’s a bit difficult to determine if it increases the likelihood of dying, the health effects are significant. The researcher’s term for loneliness is perceived social isolation (PSI). For adults it comes with a greater risk of depression, inflammation, and cardiovascular disorders. There certainly appears to be a link between loneliness and poor health, but precisely how/why is less clear.

Given the current widespread social experiment taking place, the future should hold many more studies on the topic.

Social experiment? There are some experiments one simply cannot do, for ethical reasons or practical limitations. The current situation of shutdowns, quarantines, and social distancing wouldn’t be practical to implement as an experiment on the scale we’re currently seeing it. But, as it is being implemented, we can certainly expect the data out of it to be studied. After all, it’s not the sort of experiment any scientist could dream of implementing- and, with so many states and countries doing things differently, there’s going to be lots of data to compare. It is, effectively an experiment, and if it is one with more variables and design flaws than a scientist would include, well, no scientist could have done it.