Panic over rising energy costs is something we can’t afford. It would be easy to panic about energy supplies when faced with the 33% gasoline price rise in 16 weeks such as I documented here in the Detroit area. Panic doesn’t put one in the mood to make sound choices, however. Now conservatives, some of whom stand to make a lot of money if their advice is followed, are telling everyone that we in the US need to start drilling for oil on our continental shelves (link) and in previously forbidden parts of Alaska, and that more investment in new fission-based nuclear power plants is needed (link). I believe that, once again, those with profit motives are going to try to play on the fears and desires of average citizens in order to become richer. Fortunately there are many more who have opposed increased oil drilling and more nuclear power plants (link), and with good reasons.
Keeping our oil in the ground makes sense. I can understand why many would oppose drilling for oil in new parts of the U.S. and its coastal waters. I have another reason for joining them, but not one that I have heard cited elsewhere: If we have oil reserves, why “sell them cheap”? We are seeing the value of oil increase rapidly, and projections that it could double in price within another five to ten years. If we can stretch out our oil, continue to get it elsewhere, and make adjustments in our economy to survive, in the future our then-much-more-valuable oil could provide a long-term boost to our economy.
Fission power is not an answer to our current problems. I can also understand why certain political candidates and representatives (and a lot of other people) aren’t in favor of fission-based nuclear power. It produces extremely dangerous waste products, costs a huge amount, and both requires and produces materials that can be used to make some of the most horrible and destructive weapons ever devised. Beyond that, it takes ten years or more to build such a plant. If better technologies capable of providing similar quantities of energy (such as fusion) were to become available in the next ten or twenty years, much of the investment in fission-based nuclear plants would be wasted. For this reason, utilities involved in nuclear power might hold back on new construction anyway.
Bridging the gap between oil and fusion power with alternative energy sources makes a lot of sense. I would rather that we put more funds into renewable energies (solar, wind) and fusion power, which could be producing energy in quantity in as little as two decades (if we’re lucky). The nice thing about electrical power sources is that we already have the electrical distribution infrastructure in place in most countries, and it doesn’t require fossil fuels or extra energy (besides electrical losses) to move the energy around.
Government action is needed in the direction of sustainability, not cheaper oil. I hope we can get governments to take steps to make solar, wind, and natural energy sources economically viable for communities and individuals so that widespread adoption will occur. Making fossil fuels cheaper works against that, however. I realize the big energy companies are going to fight this, as it takes away from their control of the energy market and profitability, but the more decentralized our energy sources are, the more reliable and independent they will be. A system to connect your home to the electrical grid, allowing you to take power out when you need to and contribute power in when you have it to spare, costs not much more than one of the better furnaces. Electric cars are here now for low mileage uses, and battery technology is improving to stretch their range and reduce charging time, making them increasingly practical.
The inevitable transition away from fossil fuels will be easier on everyone if we diversify our sources and plan for the long term now. While a variety of energy sources such as ethanol, natural gas, and hydrogen will be needed in the next two to five decades, optimally efficient energy sources must eventually prevail as fossil fuels become too expensive for daily use by the average person. Hopefully we will have fusion-derived electricity before we have to rely solely on solar, wind, and water power, but, if we don’t, we will need the best solar, wind, and water power systems we can get, and a lot of them. Cheaper oil only stalls this process and increases our risks. Interestingly, in 1986 Dick Cheney, after introducing a bill to impose a tax on imported oil, said “Let us rid ourselves of the fiction that low oil prices are somehow good for the United States.” He was right, but probably not for any good reason.
Make your wishes known where they can do some good. Government is supposed to work for the people, but your representatives only know what they hear, so if you want them to do the right thing you need to tell them what it is. If they only hear from the energy companies they may not do the things that will benefit and protect you. Please contact your elected and appointed representatives and make it clear that we need alternative energy sources, that economic incentives are needed so people will be able to justify investment in home energy sources, and that incentives (and, possibly, regulations) are needed that will motivate energy companies to make such investments easier and more cost effective for individuals. If you don’t make yourself heard by your representatives, you will have no influence at all.
As always, I welcome your comments.
Arctic Drilling Wouldn’t Cool High Oil Prices, May 23, 2008, Marianne Lavelle, US News & World Report
Permit Puts Shell Oil Closer to Arctic Drilling, June 19, 2008, Jeannette J. Lee, The Associated Press via the Anchorage Daily News
EIA/DOE Annual Energy Outlook 2004 with Projection to 2025, Dec. 4, 2004, Ronald R. Cooke, Peak Oil News (How wrong could they be? – Tim)