The Energy Crunch and What To Do About It
Here is The Progress Report's first exclusive feature by Warren Faulk. Let us know your reactions.
by Warren FaulkI have no idea what the current United States energy policy is but I'll wager that it is beautifully written. Much better than this piece will be. And long. This will not be. And sensible, as I hope my writing will be. And as to implementation, having almost no practical effect. I don't expect to set the weeds on fire but I am going to unburden myself.
I can tell you what the policy should be. It should be to proceed with all deliberate speed toward national energy self sufficiency within five years and to complete the conversion to renewable energy, totally, within ten years.
Ambitious? Yes? Important? More than all the present and future national issues combined.
Why? Because if we don't do it and fast, all the other issues are going to continue to take a back seat to the unholy petroleum issue and if we lose one of these oil fired wars we seem bent on fighting, someone else is going to be pulling all the strings. He will be speaking a language with which most of us are not familiar. He will not like us. He will have a long memory. We will not like what he does to us. His plan for us will not have a nice American ring to it like Marshall Plan. And it will be very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. Doomsday? Not at all. Just a wake up call.
Where do we start? Guess what. We don't start with research and development. That's already done. Don't believe me? Check for yourself. If you have one hour and a computer check these two sources.
Call up webhelp.com . Ask for the definitions of gasohol, methanol and ethanol. Check to see how they compare with traditional gasoline and diesel fuels.
Then type in Dept of Energy and let 'er rip. Spend a few minutes getting an education on the little-discussed topics of solar, wind, geothermal, moving water and ocean energy. Set those aside for the moment. They are huge, but we are in a hurry remember? Now read about BIOENERGY. We are already producing fuels that are replacing gasoline and diesel fuels in small amounts but of good quality. Are there pros and cons? Yes. Are they significant? No. We are already producing all of the types of fuel that we need from agricultural and waste sources. We just need to produce more of it and build/ convert the vehicles we use. Optimize them for operation on alternative, renewable fuels.
Did you know that we have something called the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, operated by our Dept of Energy? These people are red hot. Believe me they already know all we'll need to know for the next few decades. And they are working on some really far out things too. All of it will eventually come to contribute to the long term solution, say 20, 30, 50 years out. But lets get back to my suggested policy statement. We are setting ourselves minumum goals to reach in no more than 5 and 10 years.
What exactly should we do? Well, industry has had plenty of time to do it all already and they haven't done it. Not our own and not foreign industry in friendly nations. Germany could become a supplier. Canada too. Perhaps others. Nobody has stepped up to do so. I don't think anybody is going to, even though they have the capability. There isn't any point in trying to point fingers. That won't fix the problem.
We can do it ourselves. Need some historical examples? Most of us have at least read about the beginnings of the space race. The Russians scared the pants off us in 1957 and gave us a clear incentive. Looking back, I'm not so sure it was as important as it seemed at the time. Nevertheless, it served to get us in high gear. The public got behind the idea of a race, Congress took the lid off the budget, the President made a clear and concise policy statement and we blew the doors off.
Further back the government sponsored the Civil Conservation Corps program. Lots of young American men learned to work and worked in these camps. For many the choices were between working in the camps and unemployment. My father was one of these youngsters. He learned to be a lumberjack, a cook, a boxer, a conservationist and a leader of men. He sent a paycheck home. He was largely trained when war came a few years later, so there was an unexpected benefit.
Were these programs expensive? Sure. Perfect solutions? No. Essential? Probably not. I say we need a government run program to implement the alternative/ renewable energy capability that we already have. There. I said it.
Oooh,the government! I hear you. Snap out of it! This is important. Sooner or later our national survival will depend on what we do about energy. It is a ticking time bomb and we do not know the setting on the clock.
With a clear, concise statement of policy and strong public backing, we can draw a joint staff from the Departments of Energy, Transportation , Defense and Agriculture along with NASA and perhaps others. Treat this thing like a matter of survival of life as we know it. Write and implement a plan in weeks or even days and finish the job on schedule. Phase I: Energy self sufficiency by 2005 and Phase II: Full conversion to alternative/renewable forms of energy by 2010.
Will it be expensive? Not in relative terms. Losing a war -- that would be my idea of expensive. Fighting a big war and winning, that would be expensive. How much would it cost? I have no idea. Did we know how much the space program was going to cost? Didn't have a clue. Didn't care. We were on a mission. We had zeal. We did it.
Who would benefit? Well certainly all of us would benefit by surviving if nothing else. Citizens of nations with like mind would benefit because we would share with them and yes, sell to them, so we win twice. It gets better. The demand for agricultural products to use as fuels would skyrocket, putting our best people back into producing crops. Probably 10 to 20% of us would be farming again, rather than the 1 to 2% who farm now. Side benefits would sprout everywhere. The children born and raised on these farms would become tremendous assets. They would have a good foundation for almost anything. No pipe dream here. We've already seen the proof of this many times over. The byproducts from production of fuels would be fodder for our livestock. Detroit would experience a boom. We'd need a whole new inventory of vehicles, conversion kits for those we decide to keep from present stocks, some new military vehicles. Lots of new engines for aircraft and ships.
Pollution as we know it would pretty much go away. These fuels are relatively clean. We wouldn't have crude oil being shipped and sometimes spilled all over the world. We could keep on buying the crude oil and ship it over here. Neighborly thing to do. Keep somebody else from using it for something we don't want it used for. This will reprise the German practice of buying our coal during the 1930's while sitting on huge coal reserves in their own Ruhr valley and that of the Japanese buying up all available scrap metal around the world before attacking Pearl Harbor. Might be some unique lubrication job down the centuries that will require petroleum. (Did you know that some WW I aircraft used the oil of the castor bean as engine lubricant?)
Who would lose? Very few. Some industrialists wedded to the petroleum industry would lose monetarily at least in the short run. Even they would benefit in terms of quality of life in the short and long run. For everyone else in America it's a win, win situation. Near full employment, a cleaner environment, new challenges. All our friends would win. The big losers stand to be the high rollers in foreign oil . Certainly the two bit dictators who come and go would be taken down a peg. Even that cloud may have a silver lining. They could slow down production and spread the inevitable failure of their single "crop" economy out over a longer time. Use the time to figure out how they are going to eat when it does run out.
Good place for them to start their research is in solar and wind energy production. They seem to be well supplied with potential. Maybe they can sell electricity to someone who didn't get smart as soon as we did. And have we got some technology packages for sale?
So the government sets the tone, builds the organization, hires the companies that want to work. Good old Americans do the work. Patent holders would get paid for what they do, not what they prevent or hide. If necessary we will just void their patents. Take them over for the public good, much as we might take land to build a road. Joe Six Pack can skip the next 3 or 4 wars. There won't be the usual reason for them.
Isolationist? Not me. I'm all for trade, tourism, foreign aid and cultural exchanges. It's war that I don't like and the best way to avoid war is to be a good neighbor to those who'll let you and very publicly, the baddest apple on the tree to everyone else.
It took me 59 years of life experience, one hour of computer assisted research using only two search queries and about six hours to write the above. I have no doubt it is flawed in some way and that some will chose to pick at it. Well pick away, but work for the central theme while you pick... please...for the lamp is lit and the oil is burning.
-- Warren Faulk, Smarr, Georgia, USA
Progress Report fans will recognize Mr. Faulk from his occasional letters to the editor. Look at the letters to the editor page often; you'll see a lot of interesting reactions and followups to article s that appear here.
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