Tuesday, July 22

Fear-Based Energy Policy

There is significant evidence that tells us that global climate change is real and sufficient science to safely say that human beings have had much to do with it. But, even if man were to be totally devoid of responsibility, there is ample evidence that shows that greenhouse gases, e.g., the particles of carbon dioxide per million, have increased and there are actions that could reduce or, at worst, not allow the level to increase.

Add to this that oil production, has already peaked (or will peak by 2020) due to the limited potential for future finds and increased demand. Whether this is true is certainly debatable, but in all cases, the production for oil slips precipitously by 2050.

The hopeful person would see this as an opportunity to introduce new energy technologies, increase those technologies that already are known to work, and reduce those technologies that contribute to CO2/greenhouse gas increases. At the very least, it should be an opportunity revisit public energy policy for long-term solutions, rather than short-term political gains.

However, in reality, economic forces and politics that are "fear-based" are in place. These are the voices that say that we can't possibly replace an oil-based economy with clean, renewable energy--and certainly not in ten years, as Al Gore is famously promoting. These voices also tell us that we must dig for oil everywhere we can to be spared the disaster that not doing so will surely rain down on us. Even those who are playing both sides of the fence, like oilman T. Boone Pickens, who has said that the current energy situation is not one we can "dig our way out of" is promoting natural gas as a car fuel, despite the continuing problems that methane (aka natural gas) would bring in the form of greenhouse gases.

The voices of true laissez faire/let the market work harbingers do not want to allow public policy to interfere with the invisible hand (which effortlessly guides the economy to cause change as economic forces declare). However, is anyone sincerely willing to play Russian Roulette with the survival of humanity? Is anyone truly Malthusian enough to wait for the invisible hand of economic forces to thin the herd?

And what of the transitionalists, like Pickens, who say that we need to transition away from fossil fuels and that natural gas, for one, is an important transitional fuel. If we don't move in this way, the argument goes, we will plunge our economy into a disarray that we can not hope to recover from.

But is it true, particularly if we accept that the type of renewable-based energy programs could be in place in ten years, that such a transition is necessary? In other words, if we only pursue the renewable energy path, would we be worse off in ten years than if we chose the path of gradualism and, perhaps, slow the trajectory for energy redevelopment to a more "reasonable" timetable?

The answer is yes only if we are talking about the world economies as static. Perhaps gradualism would be better than doing nothing in this unreal case. However, with the economies of Asia booming, particularly in India and China, the increased output of greenhouse gases put us--the global "us"--in real danger. So, the answer has to be no. Transitionalism will not a good use of time nor resources.

The best case is for an agreement to be drawn between the mega-economic states to make the 10 year plan work and to provide resources and incentives for it to happen. If we believe that the US can't do it alone, we must diplomatically join the forces that already see the benefits of working cooperatively.

Unfortunately for the USA, an election year gambit by the Republicans (and frankly, some Blue Dog Democrats) says we need to do more drilling and to bring the cost of oil down for the next ten years, which plays to some voters' fears that we cannot "do nothing" and be able to take care of ourselves and families. As we have learned the hard way, voters do not like change if it affects them in the wallet. It is sad how the public can be "feared" into war over oil, but can't be "feared" into preventing it by changing our habits where it comes to oil consumption.

Gordon Gecko of "Wall Street" fame may have believed that "greed is good", but that's not a lie we can afford to believe any more than we can afford to be led by fear tactics.

1 comment:

Moshe said...

The best case is for an agreement to be drawn between the mega-economic states to make the 10 year plan work and to provide resources and incentives for it to happen. If we believe that the US can't do it alone, we must diplomatically join the forces that already see the benefits of working cooperatively.