Jun 162010

The president wrapped up his address Tuesday night by asking Americans to pray for the victims — both human and environmental — of the BP oil spill. I thought it was a strange way to end his first Oval Office address during a national emergency insofar as praying makes the situation appear too big for conventional solutions. As though all that remains between us and a sea of oil is the Hail Mary.

Bob Cesca, Huffington Post

Okay, so I can support the underlying thesis of this piece, in that Americans as a whole are indulgent, entitled and perhaps a bit lazy, but the “no sacrifice” thing? I’ve personally sacrificed, and know of many others who have as well. In fact, I think as we’ve seen our jobs slowly sold off to the lowest foreign bidder, sacrifice has become more and more a part of life for the American middle class.

So, how about a little less naïve and biased take on this issue? How about asking for some sacrifice from those who have the most, from those who have pocketed all of the profits in a nation where we do the right thing for the few even though it’s the wrong thing for the many? I’ll not argue against the notion that Americans should be more energy conscious and  conserve more, but I will ask at what point do we stop asking average Americans to get by with less while the most wealthy amongst us continue to prosper?

Mr. Cesca seems to think that personal sacrifice on the part of average Americans is the only path we can take. He suggests that people “organize a car pool, eat less beef, live closer to work and ride a bike.” He goes on to state that, “These aren’t complicated things to do, but they do require a little effort” — what unmitigated prattle! Moving takes a “little effort?” And hey, if that job you moved for evaporates, just move again.

I’ll agree with Mr. Cesca that President Obama’s speech was lack luster, and that offering prayer as part of the solution does evoke images of a Hail Mary. But rather than ask for personal sacrifice, I believe that President Obama should have used his bully pulpit to call us to a new age of American energy independence. I believe that he should ask for sacrifice, but that sacrifice should come from those who have profited for far too long on the American addiction to oil.

What we need from President Obama is a bold energy policy that invests federal funds into solving the issue for once and for all. Americans don’t need to move closer to work. America needs to catch up with the rest of the civilized world and invest in public transportation. And we don’t need to all ride bikes. We need cars that run on alternative fuels.

I believe that all Americans should be asking themselves, that if we can spend a trillion dollars on two wars that do nothing for the American people, and another trillion bailing out greedy Wall Street banks, and a third trillion in stimulus, where the bulk went merely to temporarily sustain consumer spending, then why can’t we invest in our energy future? How about a trillion dollar investment in energy?

We’ve already taken some positive steps under Obama, in that we’ve raised mileage requirements and invested in battery technology, but even these efforts just skim the surface. As I see it, further investment in initiatives to reduce fossil fuel dependency is win/win.

We don’t have much choice for generation of electricity short term except for nuclear. Coal is far too dirty, and “clean coal” is not only the most expensive form of generation but also presents serious CO2 storage issues. Wind is clean, cheap and renewable, and its use should be expanded, but estimates set its gross capacity at only 20 percent of demand. Nuclear is predominant outside of the U.S. and has proven to be both safe and cost effective. Construction costs have already decreased dramatically and would drop even further as demand increased. What’s needed is a serious push into reprocessing of waste, which can safely recycle 97 percent of used fuel, and streamlining of the bureaucratic process for permits.

Our other big issue is transportation, which accounts for 28 percent of our total energy consumption and a whopping 70 percent of petroleum based use. While I hate to agree with T. Boone Pickens, I think our best short term solution may be natural gas. It’s plentiful in the U.S., it’s cheap, its CO2 footprint is significantly smaller than oil, and overall emissions for CNG cars are on a par with the best hybrids.

Of course, there are issues with natural gas that must be addressed, whether or not there’s a major expansion in its use. The environmental impact of the present hydraulic fracturing technique used to extract natural gas is completely unacceptable, but this issue is solvable, albeit at a cost to profit margins.

Couple these short term efforts with serious investment into R&D and we’ve paved the way into a bright green energy future. We are already very close to breakthroughs in solar technology which could raise the efficiency of panels from 40 percent to as high as 80 percent. Hydrogen may still have a chance in transportation, and there’s always still hope for fusion. What’s needed is the concerted national focus that President Obama could bring if only he was willing to call on the vested interests to finally make the sacrifice.

No conversation about energy is complete without mentioning efficient use. Even in this day and age, estimates set our national level of wasted energy above 50 percent. We need more efficient homes and appliances and efforts to improve energy efficiency throughout industry.

Taken together, these efforts could form an energy policy that would eliminate our dependency on foreign oil, create millions of needed jobs, and save on energy costs and emissions, while at the same time spurring new technologies to boost American exports. The vested interests that have long held our nation hostage for the continuance of their profits lose . . . but America wins.

President Obama has thus far shared a rather blurry, potential mirage of a vision for our energy future. What we need now is for him to stand up amongst the great leaders of our nation who called the nation together for a united purpose. He needs to act more like FDR and call it the way it is. He needs to be more like JFK and bind us to the national good. We don’t need decades to achieve a green energy independence — we just need a leader with the courage to stand against the special interests and the resolve to get the job done. The American people will stand up and cheer for that leader.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

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