Energy: There is no silver bullet

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:

“But the President also believes that the American people’s use of energy is a reflection of the strength of our economy, of the way of life that the American people have come to enjoy.”

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.

2 Responses to “Energy: There is no silver bullet”

  1. Isarian says:

    The American people’s use of energy IS a reflection of the strength of our economy, the way of life we’ve come to enjoy – a way of life that is stripping the world of resources and that has polluted it to the point of needing decades to centuries of recovery.

    I do wonder if it would be better for an oil crunch to happen, and for the world to be forced into becoming a conserver society/nations. It would be great to have the silver bullet, but perhaps better and healthier (for individual lives and the world at large) to learn to live slower, steadier lives without it.

  2. Barry Teater says:

    I agree with the author wholeheartedly. I see such enormous waste of energy in the United States. When I visit a big city, I groan at all of the empty offices needlessly lit up at night. And when I fly at night, I see all of those empty parking lots and deserted streets lit up. How many people leave TVs running when they’re not watching them? How many people try to warm or cool their houses to the perfect temperature when it is far easier to heat or cool your body with a little more or less clothing? How many people run clothes dryers when a little fresh air and sunshine will do the job? How much gasoline could be saved by walking or riding a bike to nearby places?

    If Americans would learn to tighten up their wasteful habits, our energy needs could be halved overnight. Unfortunately, energy has been so cheap and plentiful that we have foundered on it. We need more discipline and smarts in our personal use of energy before we go looking for more oil.

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