Archive for the ‘Climate’ Category

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ObamaCar Replacement Batteries Cost $34,000 According to GM Dealers

March 9, 2014

Here’s the good news about the ObamaCar known as the Chevy Volt: There haven’t been any reported fires connected with the ObamaCar since the company recalled 8,000 of the electric vehicles—that’s one in six vehicles.

That is no fires, if you don’t count the people who’ve been “fired” from the Volt production line as sales continue to make Obama’s “one million” electric car promise just another broken dream in a crooked scheme.

Obama promised that by the time he finished as president, he’d put a million electric cars on the road.

Thankfully, he won’t quite make it.  No telling how much it would cost to put a million on the road after calculating the costs of putting 60,000 on the road.

So far the GM has manufactured only about 62,000 cars, if you count sales of the European model the Ampera.

“Sales of the Volt meanwhile fell 25.6 percent from February 2013 to 1,210 units last month,” says the GM Authority blog. “And while the Volt still holds on to the overall sales lead over the Leaf, Volt sales appear to be slowing in 2014. In January, Chevrolet moved 918 units of the Volt, down from 1,140 in January 2013 and 2,392 in December 2013.”

And despite slashing the price by $5,000, 2013 saw fewer Volt sales than 2012.

“The Volt saw a boost upwards from a November slump and sold 2,392 units in December,” says AutoblogGreen. “That puts the plug-in hybrid’s annual total at 23,094, just down from the 23,461 sold in 2012.”

If Ralph Nader contended that the Corvair was “unsafe at any speed,” then I contend that the ObamaCar demand has reached it’s apex and is “unwanted at any price.”

That might be because no one can actually tell buyers what it might cost to replace the batteries in the car.

Continues the AutoblogGreen:

We called up Keyes Chevrolet in Los Angeles and were quoted a broad price range of between $3,400 and $34,000 to replace a “drive motor replacement battery” in a 2012 Volt. Tellingly, perhaps, the dealer we spoke with was not sure what replacing a ‘drive motor replacement battery’ (and the ‘Grade B’ version, at that) entails, and told us we’d have to bring a Volt in to see what’s wrong with the pack to get a real estimate. We got the same confusion and numbers to replace the battery from Berger Chevrolet in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We asked GM to clarify what this $34,000 charge includes, but that information was not forthcoming.

GM’s hilarious official response to this was a non denial denial: “The high end of what you provided is not consistent with what we would expect the customer to pay,” says Kevin Kelly, manager of electrification technology communications for General Motors.

And that’s the ObamaCar problem.

GM actually has manager responsible for “electrification technology communications”?

So THAT’s where the $11 billion…and more… went in the auto bailout that taxpayers got stuck for.

Divide by two, carry the one and… for only $215,696 per battery taxpayers could provide FREE batteries to every Chevy Volt owner.

That is if they could rely on a plant to manufacture the things.   Because here’s where it gets really silly.

GM expected sales of the Chevy Volt to be so robust that they got the government to “invest” $150 million in a third party manufacturing plant owned by Korean company LG Chem that can produce 50,000 to 600,000 batteries per year.

For a car that’s selling only 25,000 per year? And supposedly has batteries that last 8 years or 100,000 miles?

And still they can’t quite nail down how much it will cost to replace the batteries in the Chevy Volt.

And that’s the great telltale: We know, despite denials from the White House and GM, that the Chevy Volt really is an ObamaCarm designed by the softest minds in the federal hierarchy.

And its problem isn’t its power source.  No.  Its problem is the same that all great, signature ObamaProducts have.  Its problem is simple math.  It doesn’t add up.

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2012 in review

December 31, 2012

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 810 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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2011 in review

January 1, 2012

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,700 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 28 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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The “Dirty Little Secret Behind the Chevy Volt”…. The Rest of the Story

May 20, 2011

The “Dirty Little Secret Behind the Chevy Volt”…. The Rest of the Story

Patrick Michaels is a senior fellow in Environmental Studies at the Cato Institute and the editor of the forthcoming Climate Coup: Global Warming’s Invasion of our Government and our Lives, as well as the author of several other books on global warming.

His Forbes column on the Chevy Volt is a case study in the nexus between big government corruption and big business rent-seeking.

Michaels briefly recaps the well-known consumer fraud in which GM has touted the Volt as an all-electric mass production vehicle on the supposed basis of which its sales receive a $7, 500 taxpayer subsidy, which still renders it overpriced and unmarketable.

Michaels notes that “sales are anemic: 326 in December, 321 in January, and 281 in February.”

There seems to be a trend here.

Michaels adds that GM has announced a production run of 100,000 in the first two years and asks what appears to be a rhetorical question: “Who is going to buy all these cars?”

But wait! Keep hope alive! There is a positive answer to the question.

Jeffrey Immelt’s GE will buy a boatload of those uneconomic GM cars. Here the case study opens onto the inevitable political angle: Recently, President Obama selected General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt to chair his Economic Advisory Board.

GE is also awash in windmills waiting to be subsidized so they can provide unreliable, expensive power. Consequently, and soon after his appointment, Immelt announced that GE will buy 50,000 Volts in the next two years, or half the total produced.

Assuming the corporation qualifies for the same tax credit, we (you and me) just shelled out $375, 000, 000 to a company to buy cars that no one else wants, so that GM will not tank and produce even more cars that no one wants. And this guy is the chair of Obama’s Economic Advisory Board?

But of course. Michaels includes this hilarious detail in his case study:

In a telling attempt to preserve battery power, the heater is exceedingly weak. Consumer Reports their tests averaged a paltry 25 miles of electric-only running, in part because it was testing in cold Connecticut. (The [GM] engineer at the Auto Show said cold weather would have little effect.) It will be interesting to see what the range is on a hot, traffic-jammed summer day, when the air conditioner will really tax the batteries. When the gas engine came on, Consumer Reports got about 30 miles to the gallon of premium fuel; which, in terms of additional cost of high-test gas, drives the effective mileage closer to 27 mpg. A conventional Honda Accord, which seats 5 (instead of the Volt’s 4), gets 34 mpg on the highway, and costs less than half of what CR paid, even with the tax break.

The story of the GM Volt deserves a place in the Harvard Business School curriculum….but of course, it won’t. It’s a classic tale of the GOVERNMENT deciding what the public needs, not the marketplace.

Freedom is lost gradually by an uninterested, uninformed, and uninvolved people.

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Debunking Five Myths About Gas Prices

April 7, 2011

By Robert Rapier

Posted on Apr. 06, 2011

(http://www.energytribune.com//articles.cfm/7055/Debunking-Five-Myths-About-Gas-Prices)

Ed. note: This piece was first published on Robert Rapier’s R-Squared Energy Blog.

This past week I had an article published in the Washington Post called Five Myths about Gas Prices.

I will discuss each particular myth in detail below, but the five myths I addressed were:

Fighting in Libya is sending gas prices higher.
Tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is a smart way to reduce gas prices.
Oil companies produce less in the spring to make gas prices increase.
The Obama administration is driving up gas prices.
Americans can’t live without cheap gas.
Because such articles go through an editing process and must conform to limits on the length of the article, some topics couldn’t be addressed in sufficient detail. Sometimes during the editing process there is a disagreement over what is and is not a pertinent piece of information. This can result in some misunderstanding of the information I am trying to convey.

The article received 153 comments in just a couple of days, after which commenting was closed. Some of the common complaints were that I didn’t sufficiently explain an issue, or that I omitted certain issues. For instance, one person stated that the issue of seasonal blends is more complex than I stated. That’s true, which is why I have written entire articles on the subject. Some people complained that I left out the role of speculators. Actually, I didn’t, and ironically this was one of the myths that I had been asked to look into. My response was that it wasn’t a myth; that speculation does play a role in oil prices.

Some people believe strongly in myths, and when one is busting their cherished myths they can get angry and view you as a liar and a purveyor of misinformation. I suppose for them that justifies the nastiness that sometimes shows up in the comments. Many people seem to need a culprit to blame for high gas prices, but the issue is more complicated than that.

Needless to say, some of the responses were amusing. On speculation, some people suggested that due to my role in the oil industry, of course I was happy to deflect attention away from price gougers and speculators. After all, I am a typical George Bush conservative, and a former oil industry employee who is blind to the dangers of our fossil fuel dependence. On the other hand, some said that since I presently work on renewable energy, of course I am against expanded drilling because that benefits my company. After all, I am a typical Al Gore liberal who knows nothing about the oil industry and believes biomass can replace our current levels of oil consumption. Some people apparently felt that these ad hominem arguments excused them from having to argue the actual points of the article.

So I decided to reproduce the article, but fill in some of the gaps that opened up during the editing process and led to some of the comments. Ultimately, some people will still view this through filters that place most of the blame for high gas prices on ExxonMobil, speculators, or misguided environmentalists. For those people, this expanded article isn’t going to help much. For the people who understand that this is a complex issue, you may find some utility in the expanded version below. As appropriate, I will add commentary that seeks to address some of the common complaints/questions about the article in italics as RR: Comment…

Five Myths about Gas Prices – The Unabridged Version

Gasoline prices have been steadily climbing for several months, and Americans are feeling the pain at the pump. The possible culprits (from greedy oil execs to Mideast turmoil) are as plentiful as the proposed solutions (more offshore drilling, green energy or government reserves). But what is really driving prices up? And what, if anything, can be done about it? Let’s take a moment to fill up on information about our fuel.

1. Fighting in Libya is sending gas prices higher.

Libya is not a big enough global oil supplier for the battles there to have a meaningful effect on gas prices. In the 1970s and early 1980s, Libya was a major U.S. supplier, selling us around 700,000 barrels of oil per day. But today, we import less than 50,000 barrels per day from Libya — a tiny fraction of the 9.2 million barrels per day the United States imported in 2010. Worldwide, the story is no different: Of the 86 million barrels consumed globally each day, less than 2 percent come from Moammar Gaddafi’s regime.

So why are gas prices up? Though Gaddafi’s fate is largely irrelevant to the oil market, unrest throughout the greater Middle East is not. The Persian Gulf region produces almost 24 million barrels of oil per day, more than 25 percent of global oil consumption. The Arab spring that has brought protests to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Yemen makes markets nervous, and when markets fret over a possible disruption to oil supplies, gas prices rise — whether the disruption materializes or not.

RR: However, as I explained in a radio interview that I did with KSL news-radio in Salt Lake City, there isn’t a lot of excess global capacity relative to a decade ago. Therefore, the ramifications of taking even 2% off the world market will be disproportionate when there aren’t a number of suppliers who can step up and fill that void with increased production. We are drawing down our oil reserves even as demand is increasing, and that more than any other factor explains the rise in fuel prices over the past decade.

Further, many people complained that I didn’t address speculators at all in the essay. If you understand what speculation is, then you can see that I did address it under this first myth. The fact that oil prices would spike on the basis of what is happening in Libya is based on speculation around several themes. This has also been referred to as a -fear premium- because it is based on the fear that the outage will be extensive, that other producers won’t be able to fill the supply gap, and/or that the unrest spreads across this important oil-producing region. But a price increase based on fear is one based on speculation-which also isn’t to say that the speculation won’t materialize.

2. Tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is a smart way to reduce gas prices.

The U.S. government maintains a 727 million-barrel oil reserve — 38 days’ worth at current levels of consumption — to protect against potential supply disruptions. But just about every time prices rise, politicians want to access the oil in the reserve to increase supply and bring prices back down. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), for instance, has been calling for oil releases from the SPR for more than a decade. In a letter to President Bill Clinton in 1999, he requested the release of several hundred thousand barrels a day from the SPR because oil prices had made a “meteoric ascent to nearly $25 per barrel.” He even introduced legislation to make it easier for the Administration to tap into the SPR in order to combat rising prices.

Had Clinton dipped into the reserve then, as Schumer requested, we almost certainly would have gotten a raw deal as prices continued to climb over the next decade. What if that $25-per-barrel oil could be replenished only at $75 per barrel? Tapping the SPR makes the government an oil speculator, and any nation running record deficits that becomes a commodity trader is playing a dangerous game.

The SPR exists to buy time in a true supply emergency. If we use it as a political tool to keep voters happy by attempting to stem rising gas prices, we may be forced to buy back oil at even higher prices, or we may be left with an insufficient supply in a real crisis.

RR: Elsewhere, and again on the radio interview with KSL news-radio, I explained the difference between high gas prices and a true emergency. Before my radio interview, I had filled up my car at a gas station in Hawaii. I paid $4.67 per gallon of gasoline. While prices like that will cause additional financial hardship for many, at least the gasoline was available for purchase. We take this for granted; there is always gasoline at the service station when we need it. When you pull into the gas station and there is no gasoline at any price, then that could start to qualify as an emergency.

Fuel shortages have happened in the U.S. before, and could happen again for a variety of reasons. If a major source of U.S. oil imports was cut off, shortages could quickly develop. The SPR could then be tapped to ease those shortages, and if it appeared that they would be extensive it would buy time to implement emergency measures such as rationing. So the SPR is an insurance policy, and if that insurance is used up just because politicians are hoping to influence the price of oil, we may find ourselves lacking insurance in a time of crisis.

3. Oil companies produce less in the spring to make gas prices increase.

Almost every year, gasoline prices rise in the spring. This is usually preceded by falling gasoline inventories and reduced refinery outputs, leading many to believe that oil companies are constraining supplies to drive prices higher.

But there is a valid reason this happens; indeed it is written into the law. In the spring refiners have to switch from winter blends of gasoline to summer blends. This is based on EPA regulations designed to reduce air pollution in the summer.

Butane plays the biggest role. Butane is a cheap ingredient relative to most components in gasoline, but it boils at low temperatures. In winter, this isn’t a big problem so refiners are able to put more butane into the gasoline. But in summer, butane evaporates from gas, polluting the air while leaving us with less fuel in the tank than we paid for. As temperatures rise, refineries replace butane with more costly ingredients and draw down winter inventories just as beach season begins. So summer gasoline blends cost more to make, and supplies are more constrained since butane is off limits.

An additional factor is that during this seasonal gasoline transition, refineries often do annual maintenance. The timing is driven by a combination of improving weather and moderate demand prior to the start of summer driving season. So the production of gasoline generally falls in the months before summer, leading many to incorrectly conclude that there is a corporate conspiracy at work.

But the same thing takes place in the fall. During the transition to winter gasoline, maintenance takes place and inventories are drawn down. The differences are that this is leading into a season of lower demand, and cheaper butane is coming back into the gasoline blends. So the fall transition doesn’t have the same impact on prices.

RR: For more details on seasonal gasoline changes see my essays Refining 101: Winter Gasoline and Why Summer Gasoline Means Higher Prices.

4. The Obama administration is driving up gas prices.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says EPA regulations are a “back-door national energy tax” that pushes prices up. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin says the White House drilling moratorium shows President Obama’s “culpability in the high gas prices hurting Americans.”

Blaming the president for rising gas prices is nothing new, and it’s a bipartisan tactic. In 2004, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) blamed President George W. Bush for higher gas prices because he continued to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as oil prices climbed.

Just one problem: Even if more domestic access is suddenly granted, it won’t do much to control current prices. The U.S. government has estimated that there are 18 billion barrels of oil in the outer continental shelf of the lower 48 states that are off limits to development. That may sound like a lot, but it is only about 2.5 years of supply for the United States, and it would take several years to allocate leases and drill exploratory wells. Even if the estimated 10 billion barrels of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge were available for development, today’s policy decisions would have no impact on gasoline supplies for as much as a decade. Obama can’t dictate what you’ll pay for premium tomorrow.

RR: This one elicited a number of hostile responses, many from people who apparently think we can in fact drill our way to energy independence if not for the meddling of environmentalists who work to keep domestic supplies off limits to development. The premise of this point is straightforward, but it apparently strained the comprehension abilities of some. At issue is whether Obama’s policies are impacting gasoline prices. My point is that estimates indicate that there isn’t all that much oil there in the first place relative to our consumption, and even if it is all opened up for development today the supplies won’t hit the market for several years. So what Obama does or doesn’t do today with respect to development isn’t impacting gas prices today.

The single biggest misconception on this point involved readers adding their own additional interpretations to what I said. Since I am pointing out that it would take years to develop and thus won’t impact today’s gasoline prices (which I did write) then I am saying we shouldn’t develop our resources at all (which of course I didn’t write). The latter misinterpretation was often accompanied by a few liberal insults about my inability to think about the future, or about ulterior motives for not developing our resources.

5. Americans can’t live without cheap gas.

Yes, Americans love to drive, and Americans love cheap gas. But across an ocean, there’s a continent filled with people a lot like us who’ve lived with high gas prices for years. They’re called Europeans.

While U.S. gasoline heads toward $4 per gallon, Europeans have been paying much higher prices for years because of high taxes on fuel. This month in Britain, gas hit 6 pounds, or about $9.76, per gallon. Because gas is so dear, Europe’s per capita energy use is half that of the United States, leaving Europe less vulnerable to oil price shocks yet not undermining its citizens’ standard of living.

The United States, built on cheap oil, is much less densely populated than the Old World, with more wide-open spaces to traverse. But that doesn’t mean we can’t embrace some of the things that have helped Europeans keep their gasoline bills down — such as high-speed rail, public transportation and green energy.

In fact, Americans have shown that they can adjust their behavior when faced with sticker shock at the pump. As gas prices rose from $2.31 per gallon in 2005 to $3.30 per gallon in 2008, sales of the Toyota Prius eclipsed those of the Ford Explorer, and public transit use reached a 50-year high. When it costs $30 to fill up a Geo Metro with regular, all options are on the table.

RR: This one also elicited strong responses, mostly along the lines of “I don’t care what Europeans do. We are Americans.” One person pointed out “yeah, but what you don’t say is that European prices are high because of high taxes.”; I concluded that this person couldn’t read. Other responses were that Europeans had transportation options that we don’t have here in the U.S., apparently never stopping to wonder why they have some of these options.

I believe that when you are faced with a complex problem, one of the first things you want to do is to see how others have approached the problem. You may decide that their solution isn’t applicable to your situation, but you may find that it is at least partially applicable. In the case of European gas prices, their solution is at a minimum partially applicable. After all, what kinds of cars do you see on European roads? Almost no pickups, very few SUVs, and very few gas guzzlers period. They are behaving exactly as we would in the U.S. after a sustained period of high gas prices. So the most significant thing you can do personally to limit the impact of high gas prices on your budget is to do as the Europeans do: Get fuel efficient.

Conclusions (not in the original article)

It is always an adventure to see my writing exposed to a broad cross-section, many of whom don’t know the first thing about me. The ratio of uninformed comment and just generally insulting comments runs much higher than when I write in familiar locales. Too many people dismiss factual statements on the basis of ad hominem arguments, and I never cease to be amazed at the number of people who will extrapolate what I write, and then attack that extrapolation.

A large number of people also believed that I had ulterior motives for writing this article. At the end of the day, what I am trying to do has nothing to do with any personal financial agenda. Some will believe that, some won’t, but I want to state it clearly in any case. What I want to do is to bring a higher level of understanding to our energy issues so we can make more informed energy decisions. Based on some of the comments, we still have a steep hill to climb, and until more people climb that hill we will continue to have politicians trying to use the SPR as a political tool to appease angry, but uninformed voters.

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Pull the Plug on Electric Car Subsidies

March 25, 2011

Friday, 25 March 2011 12:58 Margo Thorning, The Wall Street Journal

If after 180 years, electric cars are still not a commercial success, it’s time to put the brakes on taxpayer subsidies and get on the road toward policies that protect the environment in economically responsible ways.

There are a lot of attractive things about plug-in electric vehicles. They’re clean. Much of the assembly and many of the parts are made in the USA. And then there’s the cool factor, provided by the futuristic look.

But before even more taxpayer dollars flow into subsidies for these PEVs, we should look under the hood to see if continued support is warranted.

Electric vehicles have been with us for almost 180 years. The first, an electric carriage created by an inventor named Robert Anderson, made its appearance in Scotland in 1832. By 1907 the American company Cutler-Hammer was advertising electric vehicles and the first electric charging station. Since that time Americans have seen tremendous innovations is everything from air travel to microwaves, yet there has been little progress converting consumers from gasoline-powered cars to vehicles powered by rechargeable batteries.

One hundred years after the Cutler-Hammer electric car, today’s plug-in electric vehicles receive failing grades from consumers and consumer advocates.

Consumer Reports doesn’t have good early reviews for Chevrolet’s flagship entry into electric vehicles. A top editor from the publication said the Chevy Volt, which has both a plug-in battery and a gasoline engine “isn’t particularly efficient as an electric vehicle and it’s not particularly good as a gas vehicle either in terms of fuel economy.” He concluded that it just “doesn’t make an awful lot of sense.”

He’s right when you consider the cost and performance of PEVs, starting with the batteries, which require major breakthroughs before they will be ready for prime time. A battery for a small vehicle like the Nissan Leaf can cost about $20,000 and still only put out a range of 80 miles on a good day (range is affected by hot and cold weather) before requiring a recharge that takes eight to 10 hours. Even then, those batteries may only last six to eight years, leaving consumers with a vehicle that has little resale value.

Home installation of a recharging unit costs between $900 and $2,100. And don’t forget workplace and retail recharging stations, which will be necessary.

Slick TV ads boast PEVs’ supposed environmental benefits, but what they don’t tell you is that a substantial increase in the numbers of them on the road will require upgrading the nation’s electricity infrastructure. Since half of all U.S. electricity is generated by coal, which produces greenhouse emissions, PEVs may not be any better than hybrid electric vehicles that do not need to be plugged in. Meanwhile, new technology for gasoline-powered vehicles has substantially increased miles per gallon, to as much as 35-50 mpg for several smaller vehicles.

If you’re looking for a car that makes good economic sense in these tough times, PEVs simply don’t make the grade. Unless crude oil prices rise close to $300 per barrel and battery costs fall by 75%, a PEV is more expensive than a gasoline-powered vehicle.

Despite these significant flaws, the government is determined to jump-start sales for plug-ins by putting taxpayers on the hook. The $7,500 federal tax credit per PEV is nothing more than a federal subsidy that will add to the deficit. There are also federal tax credits for installing charging stations in homes and businesses and for building battery factories and upgrading the electric grid. The administration’s goal—one million PEVs on the road by 2015— could cost taxpayers $7.5 billion. Outlays for recharging infrastructure will add billions more.

We all support the idea of protecting the environment—and PEVs may very well be a solution when battery technology improves and cost declines. But for now, hybrid electric vehicles, which combine a gasoline engine with a battery recharged during operation, are much more practical than PEVs.

If after 180 years, PEVs are still not a commercial success, it’s time to put the brakes on taxpayer subsidies and get on the road toward policies that protect the environment in economically responsible ways.

Ms. Thorning is the executive vice president and chief economist at the American Council for Capital Formation.

The Wall Street Journal, 25 March 2011

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After Each Disaster Japan Rebuilds Bigger And Better

March 15, 2011

Tuesday, 15 March 2011 10:47 Lesley Downer, The Daily Telegraph

Throughout the history of Japan, its cities have been destroyed again and again by war, fire and earthquake. After each catastrophe, the Japanese have rebuilt, bigger and better. One hopes and expects that they will do the same again.

In Japan, you are constantly made aware of the power of nature. Summer is hot and steamy; in September there are typhoons; and during the rainy season in June it feels as if someone has tipped a bath of water over your head. But the most powerful force of all is the seismic activity.
Earthquakes and tremors are part of life in Japan and part of the forces that shape the landscape. The country is said to be geologically young, still in the process of forming. One of the results is the spectacular volcanoes, among them Mount Fuji, eternally smoking, and Mount Sakurajima, which belches black ash over the southern city of Kagoshima; when the ash is really bad, the inhabitants put up their umbrellas.

All over the country, hot water bubbles out of the earth, full of health-giving minerals. For the Japanese, taking the waters is the equivalent of our going to the seaside. There are also sand baths where you can be buried in hot volcanic earth. At Mount Osore, in the north of the main island, sulphur oozes out, staining the rocks yellow. It’s all part of the geological volatility, the opposite of our unchanging British landscape. Unlike the Japanese, we don’t expect geological upheaval; and living in these very different landscapes creates different attitudes to life.

Since the Kobe earthquake in 1995, the Japanese have done even more to make their buildings as earthquake-proof as possible. There have been scandals in other countries – China springs to mind – about unscrupulous builders producing buildings that collapse like a pack of cards, but in Japan there is no such cutting of corners. There are regular earthquake drills and all schoolchildren are taught what to do. People say that Japan is like a big village where everyone takes care of everyone else. This may have declined in recent years, but at a time of stress it re-emerges.

Living with the constant threat of earthquake, the Japanese have created an orderly society, which perhaps makes it easier to cope with the violence and unpredictability of nature. You really can set your watch by the bullet train. If you’re a second late, you will miss it, and if you leave your child on the platform (as a friend of mine did), it will pull out without him and not stop for three hours.

It’s also safe; the crime rate is very low and there is a much higher level of policing than in the UK, with policemen stationed in police boxes (like Doctor Who’s phone box). Local police know all of the families on their beat and regularly drop in on potential troublemakers and yakuza gangsters.

When you live in Japan, you learn to do things properly. I was once told off in a health club for standing up while showering instead of kneeling, as the Japanese do. The point was that showering on one’s knees is a form of discipline; it should not be done half-heartedly.

The principle is that whatever you do, you do it right. The tea ceremony is a bit like tai chi, making tea using only the most precise and economical movements. The same applies whether you’re walking in a kimono; removing your shoes in the entrance way and turning them around to face forwards, neatly lined up side by side; tying your chopstick envelope in a knot and resting your chopsticks on it; and, of course, wearing the correct slippers for the hallway and the toilet slippers in the toilet. Life is an agglomeration of small rules which together ensure order is maintained. Japanese street cleaners are proud of their jobs. Rather than resenting not having a better job, they make sure their streets are really clean.

The traditional dichotomy is between honne and tatemae – setting aside your true feelings in order to keep up appearances and not lose face, or making anyone else lose face. It is considered uncouth to express anger. I remember seeing a traffic accident in Japan, after which the people involved bowed, smiled and apologised to each other. They didn’t fly into a rage.

Another concept that springs to mind in the context of the earthquake is gaman – enduring. In the depths of winter in many provincial homes, the only heating is a kotatsu, a low table with an electric heater underneath and a quilt over the top, under which you put your legs. The theory is that if your legs and stomach are warm, the rest of you will be fine. And in summer people roast. If the weather is cold, you are cold; if the weather is hot, you are hot.

Perhaps this orderliness goes some way towards explaining why there have been no scenes of shouting, anguish or disorder coming out of northern Japan, and certainly no scenes of looting. Though having lived in Japan, I’d rather ask why such scenes happen in other countries, just as I wonder why our trains can’t run as promptly as the Japanese ones do.

Japanese culture makes room for disorder, too. As everyone knows, salarymen (office workers) get drunk in the evening and let off steam; then they pass out. Hostess clubs – or, if you’re incredibly rich and influential, geisha houses – are where you go to let off steam. The man who is very buttoned up in his working life can get away with anything while drunk. In fact, it’s considered rather suspect not to go drinking with one’s colleagues. Disorder and order are the Shinto and the Zen sides of Japanese culture.

The culture itself celebrates transience. This week I received an email telling me that the southern section of the bullet train was up and running again after the earthquake; it also mentioned that the cherry blossoms would be blooming from March 29. Lasting only a single day, they are seen as a poignant symbol of the impermanence of things.

The Japanese have applied some of the lessons they learnt in the Kobe earthquake. As well as improving building regulations, the government sent in the armed forces straight away, whereas in Kobe there was still public antipathy towards using the military; in fact, the powerful Yamaguchi-gumi crime syndicate won acclaim for going in with blankets, food and water long before the armed forces arrived.

The country’s politicians are a notoriously flaky bunch but the prime minister, Naoto Kan, may find that the earthquake revives the fortunes of his government, whose poll rating recently plummeted to below 20 per cent. On the very day of the earthquake, he had been forced to issue a statement saying that he would not resign over an illegal donations scandal that has engulfed his party. Now he has made a rather Churchillian speech, a passionate call for unity and resilience, the qualities that lifted Japan from its post-war despair. “Japan is facing its worst crisis in the 65 years since the war,” he said in a televised message to the public. “All the people [in] Japan face a test to see if we can overcome it. I believe we can.”

The Japanese certainly have a huge task ahead of them – and the damage to nuclear power stations adds another dimension of fear – though, unlike us, they are not unused to rebuilding. There is, for example, a tradition of rebuilding the great Shinto shrines: every 20 years they are torn down and built afresh in new wood, exactly as they were. They are both old and new; thousands of years old yet also brand spanking new.

Throughout the history of Japan, its wooden cities have been destroyed again and again by war, fire and earthquake. In the civil war of the 1860s, culminating in the Meiji Restoration, the north of the country, which has suffered the brunt of the earthquake, was virtually flattened. The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 reduced Tokyo to a sea of ash and rubble, and in the Second World War, American firebombing flattened the entire country, sparing only the cultural capital of Kyoto. Then came the Kobe earthquake of 1995.

Each time, the Japanese have rebuilt, bigger and better. One hopes and expects that they will do the same again.

The Daily Telegraph, 15 March 2011