The energy squeeze is on

Last Thursday evening, we listened to an impassioned presentation by Mike Tidwell, author of Bayou Farewell. He claims, “We all live in New Orleans now” since the intense storms and damage there will be a recurring problem globally. He is alarmed by President George W. Bush’s refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol, and insists significant reductions in greenhouse gases must occur within this decade to avoid the disastrous effects of global warming.

We also picked up the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine and reflected on Daniel Yergin’s writing, “Ensuring Energy Security.” Yergin is the author of The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power.

According to Yergin, a recent study by Cambridge Energy Research Associates suggests energy supplies could increase as much as 20 percent over the short term. A natural gas boom is also occurring in the West, which will increase supplies. For Yergin, the problem is not geological but political and economic. As new supplies come from fewer countries than they do today, security concerns will intensify

Yergin reminds us that future energy shocks could occur at any moment. Chavez has threatened to cut supplies in response to any actions against his regime. Nigerian militants have vowed to cut output by 1 million barrels per day. This month’s expected showdown with Iran over its nuclear power policies and its desire to establish its own energy bourse (exchange) could dramatically disrupt energy supplies. The recent car bomb attempt to damage oil processing facilities in Saudi Arabia adds to the uncertainty. Our energy output from the Gulf of Mexico is not expected to fully recover before the next hurricane season arrives this summer.

Energy security will be affecting our lives for years to come. Newt Gingrich believes Americans should prepare for a 70-year war. Tight supplies, high prices and the war in Iraq highlight energy security issues. Terrorism, political instabilities in some exporting countries, increased competition for supplies stimulated by growing demand from China and India, and the central role energy plays in our world add to the concern.

The concept of peak oil gained visibility with a recent editorial in The New York Times acknowledging that peak oil is “almost certainly correct.” A recent news item in the Wall Street Journal pointed out that only three of the 11 OPEC countries are able to produce more oil than they currently do. While peak oil will happen at some point, disagreement still exists on when it will occur. Some experts claim it already has occurred while others believe the peak is further off. Jim Kunstler believes we are facing “The Long Emergency,” which will force a painful, dramatic global economic reorganization. Amory Lovins insists an energy transition is already under way, and appropriate government policies can accelerate a far less painful reduction in oil consumption.

For us, the important question is not peak oil but what role efficiency and renewable energy will play in our energy future. We have powerful reasons to accelerate a transition to a more sustainable energy system: the likelihood of prolonged resource wars; energy security; global warming; dramatic swings in energy prices and supplies; and an opportunity to rebuild the economic base of American society.

The quickest response to any energy shortage is to use less of it. Using less calls for behavioral change, not technological change. It can be achieved today by doing simple things like turning down heating levels and putting on sweaters. Drive less and walk, bike and carpool more.

Considering the size of our energy demand, a major transition to more efficient transportation and renewable energy could take 10 to 20 years.

Any transition must start today. Solutions are available, and sustainable energy investments are dramatically increasing around the globe.

While the energy situation is serious and could intensify, the major reason we are in this dilemma is that our government pursued economic growth via cheap energy prices, and we all went along for the ride.

From the March 15-21, 2006, issue

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