By Michael Rau
August 4, 2008
Our topic today is somewhat loftier than usual. I want to talk about green technology.
Before I go any further, I want to disclose that I am an unabashed tree-hugger, have been my whole life.
But whether or not you are environmentally conscientious on a personal level is irrelevant.
Anyone who pays for energy in any form has a stake in whether or not we make the right decisions about our future energy resources. Our children and their children will benefit or suffer from our actions.
Sadly, this discussion is only taking place now because of skyrocketing petroleum prices. Fortunately, a few far-sighted people who, like myself vividly remember the energy crisis of the 1970s, quietly continued developing technologies that today are utterly viable. So we now have the opportunity to push beyond the primitive science behind burning carbon-based fuels to produce energy.
I won't claim to be an expert, but I know a lot about green technology. I've been studying it for 30 years. So when I say that I support Al Gore's plan to produce all domestic electricity from renewable resources in 10 years, I do so, not because of my personal sense of environmental stewardship, but because I know it's a completely achievable goal, both technologically and economically.
Electricity is one of the easiest phenomena in nature to generate. I can come up with at least 10 environmentally sound methods in use now. I wish I had the space to tell you about all of them, but it would take pages.
Right now, it is considerably more costly per kilowatt/hour to produce electricity with those methods than from carbon-fueled power plants, but consider this: The higher cost is borne up front, and once in operation, power generation using green methods requires little or no fuel, meaning operational costs are radically lower.
But more significantly, the biggest issue in terms of higher costs is simply one of economy-of-scale. The cost of any technology plummets once mass production kicks in. The more these green technologies are developed and produced, the less they'll cost.
The problem in moving in this direction is tied to the complex geopolitics of petroleum.
The oil and coal industries are among the most politically powerful in history. They have deep pockets and powerful friends in Washington. Their actions affect every other industry, and they have no compunction about manipulating the market to increase their profits.
In addition, the global nature of petroleum production and the politics of dealing with oil-producing countries means that a country like Saudi Arabia can exert tremendous influence over the U.S. economy. If these same companies started moving towards becoming energy producers instead of just carbon fuel producers, they would reap the profits and insure their viability indefinitely.
Think I'm crazy? At least one oilman doesn't. T. Boone Pickens is a legend among Texas oilmen. Pickens has acted in what I consider to be the most logical, responsible and honorable manner possible in terms of energy entrepreneurship. He's taking his fortune and investing it in green technology, in this case electricity generation through wind power. But Pickens has taken it up a notch by spending his own money to promote his plan, appropriately called "The Pickens Plan," on TV and online (http://www.thepickensplan.com).
Within his musings, Pickens makes it very clear that he considers our addiction to foreign oil to be a grave threat to our national security. He believes no amount of new domestic drilling will offset this addiction. In the seven to 10 years necessary to see the first drop of oil from any new domestic drilling, we can eliminate the need for at least five times more oil than it would ever produce by moving to electricity produced from renewable resources.
So, even if you feel no sense of responsibility in terms of being a good steward of your home planet, you should still embrace green technology. There's infinite profit potential, which should appeal to the hard-core capitalists. Plus, our national security gains tremendous protection from foreign influence. With this in mind, I challenge anyone to come up with a valid reason why we shouldn't move toward energy independence — something we will never again be able to achieve with carbon-based fuels.
We have the technology. The only question is, do we have the will to stand up to powerful interests that stubbornly resist change even when the stakes are so high?
Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, go to http://dailypress.asoundidea.com.
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