the ‘n’ word

Today’s Times editorial page is calling for the creation of a meaningful energy strategy and I wholeheartedly endorse that broad proposition. While we can argue long and hard on the details, I think it is well past time for serious measures.

If America has an Achilles heal, then it is her rapacious energy appetite. Those of us who lived though the Arab Oil Embargo should understand the peril of dependency on foreign sources of oil. And certainly if one cares about the world we leave our children, we should be concerned about long term reliance on oil whatever its source. One can only hope that the current run up in gasoline prices will get a few people’s attention.

It should: these price increases have come even without any serious interruption to crude supply.

While I am concerned about the environment, it is the national security aspect of the crude supply that screams out for government action with the loudest voice. We have reached a place where extreme political unrest in places like Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Mexico could throw the world economy into a devastating abyss.

These places are not exactly epitomes of institutional stability. It is time for Americans to demand better than this.

It would not be so irresponsible on the part of our “leaders” if it were not for the fact that alternatives are available. None of them are as cost effective in the short run, but here is an example of where the market simply does not work. The probability discounted future cost of a breakdown in oil supplies is scarcely factored into any balance sheet in the World, though that will start to change as insurance premiums rise further with the increasing probability of realizing some of these risks. The problem with the insurance cost feedback loop is it is too slow for the purposes of national defense: the time to act was thirty years ago. Any further delay is simply compounding foolishness.

What we need now and not thirty more years hence is a multi-pronged attack that approaches various alternative energy sources in a serious way. In the short run this means exploring efficient use of our abundant natural gas reserves, conservation measures such as an improved automobiles, and revisiting nuclear power.

There, I said it. I used the “n” word.

I am not suggesting that nuclear power is some cure-all, but rather that it could be an important part of a better future if we approached the topic as rational beings rather than emotional ones. I suppose that is probably a bit of a stretch goal for this politicized society in which we live.

We desperately need to be pouring money into more research on alternative fuels. There have been exciting developments in the last five years in the areas of photovoltaics and biomass to name but a couple. The fascinating thing about many of these more futuristic possibilities is that in addition to the supply potential, the energy sources are much more decentralized. This is fascinating because decentralization will bring infinitely greater energy security than is imaginable with the more conventional large-scale energy sources destined to dominate the next quarter century.

What a great legacy we could we leave our children by bequeathing energy security.

Undoubtedly calls for a serious energy policy will go unheeded due to the lack of public demand and the vested antagonistic interests of those who hold the reins of power. If the seventies did not shock people into reality, I doubt the present situation will either. We know with disturbing certainty the alternative: the coming military budgets will be gruesome thing to behold.

Almost as gruesome as the imperialist acts that our greed and intellectual sloth will compel us into.