If you get nothing else from this post, please understand that energy is not a political issue. It has been co-opted by the political parties to push specific narratives and it has been kicked around by non-profits and conglomerates alike looking for leverage. But the energy debate that we the people see now in the media, is largely the creation of the political branding machine.
The central issue in the energy debate is not left versus right, business versus the environment, or God versus science; it is rather the notion of progress versus procrastination. We stumbled, very recently, onto a fossil fuel powered lifestyle. Less than the age of our rather young republic, the fossil fuel era has a shelf life. Given the acceptance of its side-effects, the coal era could last for many hundreds of years. Oil is another story, and most of the petroleum industry thinks that story will have run its course before our republic doubles its current age. Our great-grandchildren will be dealing with oil shortages and the decline of every industry still attached to the substance known as black gold.
So here we sit, as a nation, with no clear path for moving forward. We have debated alternative energy, sustainable energy, renewable energy, and Star Trek energy for literally decades. Excluding geothermal, all energy sources are derived from the Sun. A nation driven by the efficiency of its business enterprise chooses to power said enterprise in the most inefficient manner; dig up substances that captured solar energy millions of years ago, rather than capturing the solar energy of its direct effects (wind energy) on the surface. On this path as well, we have empowered the worst despots in history through the investment of oil purchases.
Thomas Friedman calls them petrodictators, and he produced a graph in his book “Hot, Flat, and Crowded”, that demonstrated a striking pattern. As the world price of oil moved up, the shenanigans in places like Iran, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, and Venezuela accelerated. Idiots like Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gained power through oil. The Saudi oil barons as well, are able to transfer massive sums to individuals running extremist madrassas; schools that exist in the vacuums of broken states like Pakistan and teach anti-Western “desert Islam”. And then there are the oil spills.
There are a number of excellent reasons for we the people to push the marketplace into a sustainable energy strategy. If one chooses to ignore the science of climate change, the threat to national security, the expense and risk of intercontinental value chains, or the direct risks of pollution; there is always the reality of resource exhaustion to fall back on. So why doesn’t the United States have a coherent national energy strategy? The Rational Middle can list three principal reasons:
- Americans have become lazy
- Americans don’t like change
- Americans have become childish
Thank God that we the people didn’t approach Hitler the way we look at energy. The most darkly humorous thing I hear is the idea that we would be “bankrupting our grandchildren by taking on this challenge!!” So we choose to stick our heads in the oil-soaked sand and ignore the problem. When our grandchildren are forced to pay for a new energy model, at prices adjusted for a century of inflation and a desperation mark-up, I am sure they will thank us. Pro-business types that have never calculated the present-value of a project, don’t understand national debt and currency strategies, and fail to see the necessity of infrastructure investment, make me somewhat nauseous.
We the people hate change. Building a new energy grid in support of solar and wind generation would take a large and lengthy tax schedule; monies that would immediately find their way into the hands of millions of independent contractors, large construction firms, and every auxiliary or service business in the nation. Wildcatters would quickly adapt to building solar stations and wind farms, and the entire process would spawn a new economy. But change makes us cry, and we the people are comfortable with our coal-fired homes. Besides, all of those miners in coal country would lose their jobs.
Which brings me to childish. The childish element in all of this is the entire environmental movement. Not for trying desperately to warn the world of species loss and deforestation. Not for bringing the United States silly things like clean water and clean air (it does amuse me when conservatives laugh about Montezuma’s revenge on their Mexican vacation and then complain about the U.S. nanny state and its obtrusive regulations). I accuse the environmental movement of denying these problems their human face. I accuse the environmental movement of pushing renewable energy under the auspices of a panacea; free energy for all.
Is it a wonder that voters in energy producing states, and officers in energy producing companies, look suspiciously at environmentalists? Major firms have spent trillions of dollars over the last century plus building our grid; and they have current capital investments in the billions. People have a compelling argument when they fight for a way of life in Appalachia or the Gulf Coast. Sometimes I wonder whether the manner of engagement we Americans have adopted is not more relevant than the individual problems we are engaging on. By way of example, if we the people had, 40 years ago, began an aggressive plan to find equally impactful economic uses for the tobacco fields and processing firms of the Carolinas, would not our end results have been better?
If we the people want to step up to the challenge of energy, then we need the engagement of business, individuals, and the energy providers. A plan must provide for market-based and incremental movement into new capital investment. A plan must be detached from the competing individual interests, and developed first and foremost as a national initiative for clean energy. It was liberal interests that delayed the wind farm recently approved for the coast of Massachusetts. Clean energy and transportation are goals sufficient in and for themselves; they don’t need linkage to disparate problems for their justification.
Ours is a nation with a history of taking on the biggest challenges and the most impossible dreams. Building a new model for energy and transportation isn’t exactly going to the Moon. Lets get it done!
The Rational Middle is listening…