Friday, February 03, 2006

Rally Round the Flag of Conservation

In the post before this I said I was listening to the first hour of Science Friday, sort of a response to Dub's energy comments in the SOTU on Tuesday (which did not include the words "global warming" or "peak oil"). Okay, that hour of Science Friday is over now, and I'm feeling utterly psyched by listening to it. Excited even. How about this - did you know that the Air Force is currently the biggest government user of wind power technology? Whole Foods has become the biggest commercial user - an interesting juxtapositon of institutions, the Air Force and Whole Foods!

Peter Tertzakian was as sober as an energy industry financial analyst oughta be, but at the same time I found him inspirational. He talked about understanding the scope of the problem of turning to new and renewable energy sources, that there is no way it will happen overnight or even very quickly. To imagine this could be true is to put the onus for solving the problem on the scientists and techologists, rather than on the consumer. He constantly returned to the idea of conservation currently being the only method of saving energy from fossil fuels that will actually help us in the immediate future. Buying smaller cars, using public transit, working closer to home, driving less - all those tired old Jimmy Carteresque ideas that were pushed in the seventies. Had we picked up on those ideas as a nation and followed them for the past thirty-something years, we wouldn't be in the pickle we find ourselves in today.

Tertzakian's book sounds like a must read, sounds like something we ought to send to the White House so someone can read it to the president. Or summarize it for him, or however he gets his reading material delivered. A Thousand Barrels a Second: The Coming Oil Break Point and the Challenges Facing an Energy Dependent World, is the book. To give you more of an idea, here's the blurb from Publishers Weekly Magazine, the bible of the bookselling industry:

Though written by an energy industry investment analyst and intended primarily for investors, this book makes a convincing, layreader-friendly case that the end of oil is nigh and it's time to get serious about energy alternatives now that the world is at "the dawn of a new energy age" that will pit the U.S. against China in the struggle for oil. Tertzakian provides an excellent primer on oil's history, uses, supply chains and politics, including dozens of charts and graphs to illustrate the bleak outlook for oil's future.

The future of energy, Tertzakian advises, is an amalgamation of increasing dependence on alternative fuels (biofuel, nuclear and green sources) and conservation. He admits conservation is a tough sell for big earners who will be able to afford the $4 per gallon gasoline will inevitably cost, but he notes in the same breath that low- and moderate-income earners and energy inefficient industries will suffer the most. (emphasis added)

His analyses of energy consumption cycles and their breakpoints and rebalancing periods (when a fossil fuel becomes too expensive or difficult to obtain and society must change sources to maintain its economy) lend factual heft to his outlook. Though the author neglects significant facts-such as the influence of the CIA in the fall of Mossadegh in Iran and the threat of global warming-the book should be required reading for policymakers.
Yes, conservatiion is a hard sell for most Americans, but this time around we're all going to have to get serious and start living as though tomorrow was really going to be different. Thinking of it as "the dawn of a new energy age" is what makes it exciting. It's a chance to get it right, at last. One of the speakers on the program, and I think it was Tertzakian, said finding new sources of energy and conserving those we have needs to become a national priority and rallying cry in the same way that national unity and security was in the months after 9/11.

Maybe somebody needs to invent a flag for this movement? A metallic sticker for our bicycles?

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"It is the logic of our times
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