The continuing worldwide energy crisis

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115706020610295.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of National Security Archive Special Exhibit and www.gwu.edu’, ‘Return of the Fallen: For advocates of continuing business as usual (energy policy), the answer lies in increasing energy supplies and ignoring efficiency. In their view, with fewer environmental restrictions, higher prices, more government incentives, and more aggressive military actions, our energy supply problems will be solved. ‘);

We were recently asked to compare the energy crisis of the 1970s with the current situation and judge whether we would again experience an energy glut with falling prices. While it could happen, if it did, it would once again send the wrong message.

In response to OPEC’s withholding oil from the marketplace, the Carter administration put an aggressive renewable energy and efficiency program in place, establishing the United States as a world leader. With the Reagan administration, many programs were dismantled. Saudi Arabia agreed to flood the marketplace with oil to lower energy prices and undercut the growth of renewable energy and efficiency.

Until recently, energy prices stayed low, and our economy dramatically expanded based on these cheap prices. So, rather than weaning ourselves from oil imports, our dependency increased dramatically as has our vulnerability to a cutoff in oil supplies. This policy has filled the coffers of energy companies and prolonged the decline of our auto industry. What worked as a short-term strategy has left us worse off in the long run, since high energy costs today are destroying industries, government services and family budgets.

The energy crisis and the debate surrounding an appropriate response has changed little over time. Unknowns regarding oil and natural gas available for future use are further clouded by the fact that we are dependent on information provided by foreign oil and natural gas owners and global energy corporations who develop and market energy supplies. Secret meetings of the Cheney-led energy task force populated by energy interests have also concealed information from the public.

Some retired geologists have provided data that indicate peak oil is occurring globally, and a peak in natural gas is occurring in North America. Their basic message is that higher energy prices are here to stay, and society will have to be reorganized to adjust to this new reality. If we do not respond appropriately now, things will only get worse with serious social and economic consequences. As one of the least energy-efficient societies, the United States will be one of the most adversely affected by the loss of cheap energy supplies.

High energy prices create incentives to use energy more efficiently and develop alternative energy sources. For advocates of continuing business as usual, the answer lies in increasing energy supplies and ignoring efficiency. In their view, with fewer environmental restrictions, higher prices, more government incentives, and more aggressive military actions, our energy supply problems will be solved.

Many strategies for finding a replacement for oil involve continuous growth in fossil fuel consumption. Virtually ignored in this approach is the rapidly expanding environmental damage from economic growth in general and increased consumption of fossil fuels in particular. Avoiding an unacceptable level of climate change from fossil fuel consumption will require drastic reductions in carbon releases to the atmosphere. A common estimate is that a 60-to-70 percent reduction is essential by the middle of this century.

As the world increases its use of coal to offset the decline in oil and natural gas, environmental problems will intensify. With no readily available substitute for oil sufficient to support the energy-dependent globalized economy, a conservative strategy would accelerate the transition to efficiency and renewable energy.

Many future energy and environmental scenarios are bleak and immobilizing. Rather than dwell on any disaster scenario and wring our hands in anguish, we are focused on creating an awareness of the energy situation and solutions available to us now.

Our writings, workshops on solar and wind energy, consultations, speeches and radio and television presentations on energy efficiency and renewable energy are efforts to increase public awareness and provide ideas on how individuals, businesses, churches and communities can respond. While we have tried to avoid using fear to arouse the public to action, our activities illustrate our belief in the seriousness of our energy and environmental problems and the vital role efficiency and renewable energy can play in ameliorating them.

Future columns will present ideas from workshops offered at the latest energy fair, considered by many as the best ever.

From the Aug. 30-Sept. 5, 2006, issue

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