I've been working on a new music project this past week. The song is close to complete, but I still need to finalize the lyrics and lay down the vocal tracks. The song is entitled "Walk Away", and it deals with our nation's dependance on oil and non-renewable energy. I'm hoping to wrap up the song some time this week, and hope to have it available for download before the end of the weekend. I put together some release notes on the motivation for the song, so I thought I'd post them here:
This song is about walking away from oil. Sure, we have witnessed great progress in science and technology over the past two hundred years, but it hasn’t come without a cost. We have consumed the majority of the Earth’s fossil fuels in an alarmingly short period of time. The rate of economic growth, prosperity and luxury witnessed during the twenty-first century is clearly unsustainable.
There will still be fossil fuels around for a short while—the experts don’t really have an exact answer on when we will start running out, but it is generally accepted that as a global economy, we will reach peak oil production within the next twenty years, if we haven’t already. As the economies of China and India continue to grow at double-digit rates, the demand for oil will only continue to grow. In the short term, this means higher prices for imported goods, groceries, and at the pump, along with greater revenues for oil companies.
But, I digress. The absolute truth behind this story is that eventually, the world’s oil resources will not be able to meet the demands of the global economy. If we don’t prepare in advance for this change, the result will be devastating – hunger and starvation, inequality, and large-scale global wars over the remaining energy resources on this planet. We have already witnessed the beginning with the Iraqi war and the turmoil over the decision to drill for oil in ANWR.
The simple truth is that it is irresponsible for our society to simply ignore this issue or pretend it doesn’t exist. To do so is to pass the problem off to our children, who will be, quite simply, less equipped to deal with the problem.
So, what can we do? As individuals, there is little we can do – Sure, we can all do our part to conserve energy where we can. However, this is an issue that must be dealt with at the highest levels. It starts with awareness and changing attitudes. We simply cannot use the excuse that says “As Americans, we have grown accustomed to our individualistic, high energy-expenditure lifestyles”. Remember that our children and future generations need to share the planet and resources that we are using today.
I mentioned changing attitudes—specifically, I am targeting the fundamentalist, nearly religious, zeal that is exhibited among defenders of the free market ideology. Don’t get me wrong – the free market is a wonderful invention—elegant in its simplicity, and one of the driving forces behind the industrial revolution of the American Dream. When market forces are treated an absolute ideal and truth, the entire system begins to crumble under its own weight.
The classic argument against massive adoption of alternative energy resources, particularly solar and wind, is that to do so is simply too expensive. The argument is that, as the supply of fossil fuels dwindles, the cost of oil and gas will eventually become prohibitively expensive, and market forces will cause our economy to naturally begin adapting to large-scale usage of alternative energy resources. This line of thinking is unfortunate, simplistic and foolhardy. As we begin to reach peak oil production, demand for the remaining fossil energy resources on this planet will rapidly begin to outweigh supply, resulting in unnecessary war and suffering.
The primary difference cited is the relatively lower cost of conventional fuel to that of solar or wind. This is where the fallacy of the absolute belief in market forces comes in to play. The free market does not represent an absolute truth—but, rather, a tool developed by mankind in order to encourage the efficient distribution and supply of goods and services. The market cost of fuel does not represent the true cost to society. The cost of oil we pay at the pump does not weigh in the cost of the Iraqi war, the cost of the devastation to our environment, the cost of global warming, and the cost of continuing to rely on an energy resource that will eventually run out.
Another change that we must undergo is a rethinking of the American political climate. Politics has become a dirty word in America—does it have to be so? In its ideal, entering a life of public servitude should be an action deserving and honor. Sadly, this is far from the truth. The level of deception, corruption and illegitimacy in American politics is lamentable.
The entire notion of campaign contributions and the lobbyist industry are entirely regrettable, with little or no positive contribution to society. Politics in America has become a campaign of individual motivation and self-preservation, where pandering to corporate interests in order to finance the next re-election campaign is routine, and integrity the exception.
How do we expect our politicians to make decisions that are in our nation’s best interests when their campaigns are bankrolled by lobbyists for the oil industry? The energy industry, as a whole, contributed $2.8 million dollars into the Bush Administration’s campaign. In return for millions of dollars in campaign contributions, corporations like Halliburton and Bechtel have been rewarded with Billions of dollars in reconstruction contracts in Iraq.
The cleanest form of renewable energy on our planet is the sun. An essentially infinite amount of solar energy can be harvested from the sun. Collecting the amount of solar energy required to power our nation, however, is a daunting task. The truth is that we consume a massive amount of energy in this nation. The sun provides an estimated 1.4 KWH/Square Meter to the Earth, but an average of only about 1 KWH/Square Meter is actually collectable, due to variances in weather and cloud coverage. Some areas of the country, such as Arizona, are much better equipped to collect solar energy than others.
Theoretically, if we covered a geographical area of land the size of the state of Arizona in solar panels, we could power the entire energy grid. Unfortunately, this solution is far separated from reality. For one, the nation would still require a significant level of power generation at nighttime, during storms, and in the winter. Secondly, there is no way to efficiently conduct electricity from the Southwest all the way up to the Northeast corner of the country. Efficient use of wind, tidal, and hydroelectricity in the Northeast may help alleviate this problem.
No one has said that switching to a renewable energy infrastructure was going to be easy, but we need to develop a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to the situation. How do we do that? By encouraging the development and usage of renewable energy resources, and discouraging the use of non-renewable fossil fuels. What are the current limiting factors?
In order to encourage the adoption of renewable energy resources, our government needs to develop an energy policy based on actively seeking the development of renewable energy resources, and limiting wasteful usage of energy. Here are some suggestions:
- Increase national spending on research and development of alternative energy. Our nation’s Renewable Energy budget is roughly $200 million, and is under threat to be further reduced by the Bush Administration. In contrast, the yearly budget of the military-industrial complex is a mind-bogglingly astonishing sum of over $420 Billion. If the money used to finance the Iraq War were instead earmarked to developing renewable energies, the idea of developing a renewable energy infrastructure would be much more attainable.
- Tax breaks for renewable energy use, electric cars, Hybrid cars, single car families, carpooling, busing, and biking. Increased budget allocation for the development of mass transportation services, higher quality bussing services, and high speed trains.
- Increased taxes on gas prices – This does not seem like something that would be very popular here in the United States. In much of the rest of the developed world, individuals rely much more heavily on mass transportation, like trains and busses. Most developed nations outside the US have much higher gas taxes, and, as a result, rely less heavily on gas. Increased taxes at the pump, combined with tax breaks for using mass transportation would go a long way in encouraging more efficient use of our resources.
What I’d like you to take away from all of this:
- ANWR can only supply approximately 3% of our national energy supply for a fifteen year period. It is not a panacea. The net effect of drilling for oil in ANWR at this point it to temporarily alleviate the high gas prices for a short period of time. Doing so will simply hinder the development of a national renewable energy infrastructure. If we instead focus on developing a renewable energy infrastructure, the ANWR resources will still be there for us if we really need them as a last resort.
- Developing a national renewable energy infrastructure is not going to be an easy or a cheap affair. A great deal of expense is needed in the field of research and development, and the wide-scale deployment of industrial-scale solar cells and wind generators is going to require a formidable expense. Maintenance and upkeep of these deployments will also significant expense. Due to the relatively higher economic cost of renewable technologies to that of conventional energy, we have several courses of action to encourage their development. A combination of economic incentives and tax breaks for the development of renewable energy and added surcharges for continuing to rely on oil and gas. Since the final sale price of oil and gas does not include the hidden costs of the Iraq War, the environmental devastation, and the implicit cost of continuing to remain dependant on a resource that will one day run out, market manipulation is the only way that renewable technologies can compete on a level playing field. Before you discount this as an idea without merit, seriously consider that the Iraqi war should most likely be considered a form of market manipulation.
- The decision to equate a political campaign contribution with free speech was a lamentable idea at best. The decision to treat a corporation as an individual was equally so. Taken together, the concept of Corporate Campaign Contributions is, ultimately, insane. As far as I know, we had no previous model to work from, so I think we should treat the whole concept as a grand experiment, and start over again. That’s how I view democracy—as a continual and on-going grand experiment. If we don’t learn from our past mistakes, our nation will simply will not continue to be a successful. The moment we decide to accept cash payments as form of free speech, we lose the benefit of a level playing field. When those with the greatest financial success have a louder voice than the rest, we no longer have a fair and equitable society. It is quite obvious that such a system favors the rich and the wealthy, and promotes an aristocracy. When you add the removal of the estate tax into the equation, the regressive Bush tax cuts, and the elimination of the fairness doctrine, you should quickly realize that the balance of power has tipped decisively in favor of the rich. Instead of a campaign ad driven popularity contest, election results should be based on ideas.
- Developing a renewable energy infrastructure will not be cheap. How can we solve our nation’s fiscal problems, and also focus on developing a renewable energy infrastructure? There are easy answers. Roll back the Bush Tax Cuts, which were never a good idea, and really only benefit the richest two per cent of our population. Renew the estate tax, which basically only affected those who leave behind massive quantities of wealth. Cut back our nation’s military spending—The United States spend ten times more than any other nation on the military-industrial complex. Make these changes would be enough to get our nation’s economy back on track, balance the budget, and have enough left over to begin seriously developing a renewable energy infrastructure.
- In George W. Bush’s recent press conference, he announced that the US will address the impending energy crisis by building additional coal plants, oil refineries, and increasingly relying on coal and nuclear energy. This administration simply doesn’t get it. They continually state that we must lessen our reliance on foreign oil. That is part of the equation, but nowhere near a complete solution. We must reduce our reliance on both foreign and domestic oil – We must make a plan for eventually phasing out all reliance on fossil fuels. Building new coal and oil plants at this point is a massive waste of resources, which would be better used in research and development of renewable energies.
In the end, I am suggesting a few changes that would go a long way towards developing an economy that is less dependent on non-renewable energy resources. I don’t have all the answers, but the sooner we quit treating our national energy policy like a game of global domination, the more likely it is that we will be prepared for the impending energy crisis when it does occur.