Sunday, October 22, 2006

All Kinds of Energy

The Worldwatch Institute ( has released a report entitled "The Renewable Path to Energy Security." It's a comprehensive overview, covering everything from biofuels to geothermal to marine energy. It is a report that every non-expert should at least glance through.

What continues to be frustrating is that a great deal of research in renewable energy sources has been going on for some time in both the public and private sector, yet policy makers worldwide have been, to various degrees, almost lackadaisical in their responses to both the potential problems of relying on fossil fuels, as well as the opportunities that renewables present.

In the United States, certainly in the last six years, the government has been almost criminally negligent--to put it kindly. While we Americans are supposedly in some global battle against the forces of "darkness," the U.S. imports about 13 million barrels of oil each day from some not so stable countries. This represents more than 60% of our total daily production. It's also costing us approximately $300 billion annually.

This is not to say the world has been standing still. The second-largest industry in the world--the insurance industry--has decided that stupidity may be too costly. The industry has slowly changed how it evaluates "risk-assessment." It more and more, for example, assesses how future climate change models may look, and less on current weather patterns. As well, the insurance industry is doing such things as cutting premiums for "green" buildings and giving discounts to people driving hybrid cars. As the insurance industry modifies its priorities other sectors will likely have to follow.

Right now global investments in renewable energy is some $38 billion. It is still a proverbial drop-in-the-bucket but continues to grow. Worldwide, wind and solar power are the fastest growing energy sources.

Jobs in the fossil fuel sector are expected to show little growth, in part because of automation, while significant employment growth is expected in the area of renewable energy over the next 20 years.

But we still have the "yeah, but" reaction more often than not and deservedly so. Until we have a serious nation-state response--meaning a political will--which ultimately means a real funding commitment, leadership, and education, we're indulging in a grand delusion. A survey taken not long ago in the United States indicated that nearly 75% of those polled believed global warming was a serious problem. Yet, this same percentage was equally at a loss as to what causes global warming. Perhaps Europe and Japan are not quite so uncertain but....

Equally important, until we have a coordinated international strategy, which must include China and India, we will remain locked in a narrow "free" market fantasy. So once again it comes down to the familiar question. What are we willing to do?


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