Bridges not Dams

In the April 13, 2009, edition of Newsweek Magazine Newt Gingrich wrote, “Let’s be clear: our energy crisis is not due to a lack of American energy resources. We have more coal than any other country in the world. There are 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lying undeveloped offshore. Shale-oil reservoirs in parts of Colorado and Utah could hold upwards of 1 trillion barrels of oil—more than three times the proven reserves in Saudi Arabia. Nuclear power is a clean source of energy that produces zero carbon emissions. Instead America is suffering fro an artificial energy crisis. What America needs is a rational energy policy that utilizes all our homegrown energy resources….”

I love ya, Speaker Gingrich, but you’re dead wrong. If I’m feeling generous in voicing my disagreement I think it might be most accurate to say we don’t have an “imminent” energy crisis. The lesson we must learn from the development of the problematic petroleum and power source paradigm we find ourselves in today is NOT that oil is bad. Rather, the lesson is that any energy paradigm that is dependent on finite resources is not sustainable and will ultimately require another fix, another solution, another investment, another crisis of resources.

On this Gingrich is right: we are a resource rich nation. To wit, we currently have 264 billion tons of coal; enough to last 225 years at current rates of usage. I won’t nit pick the actual availability of and the cost to bring to market the many resources Gingrich also mentions in Newsweek. However, I will point out the land-cost of exploiting those resources. Mining, drilling, and digging for those resources will tear up land that we may need for crops as our population grows. The land that isn’t useable for agriculture could support infrastructure needed for an increasing population base. Mr. Gingrich proposes a liberal use of our land resources and by liberal I mean wasteful and careless given what we’ve learned in the last century.

The vast quantity of available resources isn’t the issue. The issue is that his solution—exploit our existing resources to solve today’s energy problems—doesn’t address the energy crisis. The energy crisis is not TODAY’S problem. It is tomorrow’s problem. If we know today that we will have a coal problem in 225 years then we have a coal problem today. Yes, we have 225 years to solve it, but we can’t allow ourselves to press on, business as usual, acting as if there is no problem and never will be. Business as usual is bad business.

We are better than that. We are smarter, more thoughtful, and more considerate of future generations than to pass the buck to our great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandchildren. Perpetuating the status quo isn’t the kind of progressive, values based innovation I expect from the former Speaker.

What would be? In order to discover what the future of global energy might be and how we can get there, let’s start with the end in mind. Few people seem to be talking about a 100 year plan, or a 200 year plan: let me postulate one vision for the future, expanding on technologies that already exist, if only in their infancy. I envision a world in which enormous solar arrays deployed in space efficiently collect the suns rays 24 hours a day and beam power via lasers or microwaves to rectifying antennas and transmitting stations on earth. These transmitting stations wirelessly transmit that energy like radio waves and wireless networks transmitted today. Electricity will be ubiquitous and accessible. Our cars, and power-requiring devices will simply connect to the electricity the way our radios and telephones do today. We will pull our cars out of the garage and they will connect, or plug in, like wireless technology today and simply “go.” All the world’s citizens will have electricity from a completely ecologically renewable source.

With that vision of the future in place, how do we get there? Speaker Gingrich is correct about utilizing these resources; but not as the end game; not as the solution. These resources are a bridge to the future. We can, and should, utilize all of our available resources to improve our foreign policy options and to provide the US with marketable resources that we can sell in order to fund healthcare, social security and education.

The US needs to develop a diversified energy portfolio in the short term and Speaker Gingrich correctly identifies many of the resources at our disposal to do just that. In fact, this is already taking place throughout the country. These measures need to continue—not just on a national and strategic level, but also for individuals. Individual homes should begin to develop their own diversified energy portfolios; combinations of demand reduction and energy efficiency measures, then solar, wind, geothermal HVAC. We are a century or more away from achieving a completely renewable and sustainable source of power and distribution system. Until that time, we can intelligently create new infrastructure, design our cities and structure our lifestyles to facilitate achievement of a sustainable energy future.

By not referring to our resources as what they need to be–bridges to a future the world can live with–Gingrich instead turns our resources into dams–instruments used to hold back progress.

Published in: on April 18, 2009 at 8:45 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

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