Lots of talk in the news about alternative energy. I’m skeptical of Bush’s newfound passion for clean energy (much less his oops, I didn’t mean to cut funding and force dozens of layoffs at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory explanation), but money for renewables is money for renewables. That’s certainly better than no money spent investigating true long-term solutions. I’m equally skeptical about the “let’s get off of Mideast Oil” rationale, but as usual, Dilbert says it best.
What worries me even more is that we’re not also going to focus on reducing consumption. In the long-term, I’m pretty optimistic – there is tons of energy to be had from renewable resources, and I do believe we’ll figure out ways to harness it in relatively benign ways. But most of the alternatives being bandied about aren’t magical solutions without downsides. Solar panels take considerable energy to create, install, and maintain. Dams destroy fisheries and ecosystems. Biofuels use arable land, and sometimes actual food products, along with the pesticides and water use that come with any large-scale agribusiness. Thus, overly simplistic statements from the President like, “All of a sudden, you know, we may be in the energy business by being able to grow grass on the ranch! And have it harvested and converted into energy. That’s what’s close to happening,” simply aren’t encouraging for those who care about things other than poking Saudi Arabia in the eye.
In the lifetime of anyone reading this article, we will do massive damage to the world, both environmentally and politically, by regarding thoughtless, uncontrolled, and heavily subsidized energy use as the major underpinning of our happiness. Before recent events, this is exactly what the President believed. When asked at a press conference about conservation, his press secretary stated it baldly:
Has he really changed his mind? The SUV presidential motocades toodling around DC make me think not. It isn’t weak to minimize and conserve, but that’s certainly not the message being sent. We don’t need to freeze to death. We don’t have to give up going places. It is at least worth considering that living a more creative life rather than solving problems through greater energy use would actually increase our overall satisfaction. That’s the American way in my book.