My Daughter

My Daughter
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Friday, February 25, 2005

Steering the Energy Economy

Global society is in the grip of a system of economic and political power that views human suffering and impending environmental collapse as incidental to profits and costs. In the abstract from the book, Winning the Oil End Game, we find the following quote, “The route we suggest for the transition beyond oil will expand customer choice and wealth, and will be led by business for profit.” Big business supports a strategy that integrates techno-fixes to displace oil by using oil twice as efficiently, substituting biofuels, saved natural gas, and hydrogen.

Sounds pretty good on the surface until you consider it addresses the symptoms rather than the disease—all in an effort to perpetuate the American love affair with the automobile and the truck. It does not address conservation, necessary lifestyle changes, mass transit, population reduction or many other reforms that are part and parcel to sustainability. It falsely assumes that increases in efficiency will not be abused by more use-Jevon's Paradox. It is a blueprint to maintain the status quo, profits, and to pacify the masses. It fails completely to address the underlying causes of the energy crisis. Flat earth economics that believe in infinite growth in a finite world will not lead us to a sustainable future.

Governments need to invest massively in energy conservation and renewable energy technologies and building design, by diverting tax breaks and subsidies from, in particular, the fossil fuel and nuclear energy industries. However, former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham called yesterday for a doubling of U.S. nuclear power by 2030. In the US, construction of some 100 new coal-fired power plants is now in various stages of development. SUV’s and Hummers continue to plow the motorways at 80 mph. Suburbia continues its' sprawl. While no single energy source is ready to take the place of fossil fuels, their diminishing availability may be offset by a regimen of conservation and a combination of alternative energy sources. This will not solve the problem, however. As long as population continues to grow, conservation is futile and the use of any combination of resources that permits continued population growth can only postpone the day of reckoning.

My view is that the best response to peak oil is to change the American way of life. This will certainly mean more walking and cycling, and less driving. There will be reduced sizes of meals, houses, and cars. We must learn to do with less, not more. Sustainability in the 21st century will entail finding a fine balance with nature that allows for the longest existence of mankind at a level of equity and dignity befitting our species. To help preserve our ecosystem is our duty, and responsibility, as stewards of the earth. If we don’t help steer the direction of our energy economy, our children, and the generations beyond them, will no doubt sit in judgment of our failure to read the writing on the wall, especially knowing that we chose to look the other way.

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