Sunday, May 25, 2008

Energy as a demand problem, not a supply one

Very odd article in the NYT today; like many writers, this one has focused on the imperative to alter the way we generate and consume energy. Except here the writer takes a very supply-side look at things and suggests that the only way out of our current situation is to generate more energy, at the expense of everything else. Here’s his conclusion:

BUT most of all, we treat this as a true crisis. As my pal Glenn Beck, the conservative commentator, says, we need a new moon-shot mentality here. We need to turn coal into oil into gasoline, to use nuclear power wherever we can, and to brush aside the concerns of the beautiful people who live on coastal pastures (like me). And we need to drill on the continental shelf, even near where movie stars live. This must be done, on an emergency basis. If we keep acting as if the landscape were more important than human life, we will make ourselves the serfs of the oil producers and eventually reduce our country to poverty and anarchy.

In that long message sent to Congress 35 years ago, there was an outline of what we needed to do on coal-to-oil and shale-to-oil, as well as wind, solar and wave power. For a generation plus, we have done next to nothing. The hour is late. The clock of destiny is ticking out, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said. Let’s roll.

So here are my thoughts:

1) Yes, we are in a crisis

2) Agree, need a “moon-shot” mentality to address the issue. Others have been saying this for years, if not decades, but I’m glad that Glenn Beck (whoever that is) is on board.

3) Sure, we need to find new sources of energy and no good idea should cast aside. But I find it hard to believe that all good ideas mean necessarily destroying the environment around us. The various dichotomies of “economy vs. the environment” or “human life vs. landscape” are entirely false and are the basis of the “do-nothing” attitude that the writer seems to be against.

The writer tries to trivialize concern over our natural environment by saying that only those concerned are “beautiful people” or “movie stars.” These are the meaningless arguments of people who look at the energy crisis as a supply problem rather than a demand one. By looking at the problem from a demand perspective, we can take steps to reduce our consumption of energy and thereby lowering the price of oil and not destroying everything else around us.

Sure this will take a long time, but last I checked getting an oil-field up and running takes a few years as well. Beside, if we destroy landscapes in search of energy, and then we tap-out that new energy source because demand has not been curbed, what will we be left with. (Indeed, new energy sources will probably increase demand because it will bring prices down and eliminate any incentive to conserve, so we will use up energy and destroy our landscapes and an increasing rate. I don’t see how this in any way benefits human life.)

4) Earlier in the article, the writer makes reference to the gas-war anarchy of the “Mad Max” movies, hence his comment “and eventually reduce our country to poverty and anarchy.” I hate paying +$4 at the pump and I hate that my way of life is dependant on doing so (but I, like other thoughtful people, are seeking substitutes), but I don’t see this leading our country to anything close to resembling poverty and anarchy. I see it resulting in innovation and new technologies. Current economics is giving way to a rise in alternative energies and new ways of using energy more efficiently. Sure, it is a messy process (see my notes on ethanol) but the market works, and I don’t see anarchy anywhere on the horizon.

The aritcle is called "Running Out of Fuel, but Not Out of Ideas". The writer hasn't come up with any new ideas of his own, but at least has tried to be somewhat environmental by recycling old ideas, even if they are tired and discredited.

I’m kinda amazed this weak article got past NYT editors.

Everybody’s Business - Running Out of Fuel, but Not Out of Ideas -

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