I think we all agree that our dependence on foreign oil makes us vulnerable to economic and political manipulation by oil rich countries, most specifically Middle Eastern countries who are experiencing lots of turmoil or who are openly hostile to the United States. Iran’s recent threats to close the Strait of Hormuz are a case in point. We also can see that, because of globalization, there is more competition for the oil that is available for sale, which in turn, increases our vulnerability.
There are solutions being offered which are both appealing and unappealing. They offer us the possibility of continuing our current consumption levels for a while and they offer less dependence on foreign oil sources. We can also see the difficulties inherent in almost all of these technologies. Offshore drilling will never be viewed in the same way after the BP oil spill, and nuclear energy, always problematic, has given us new cause for concern after the tsunami in Japan. The pipeline carrying oil from the oil sands in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico (the Keystone Pipeline) is problematic because of the potential for contaminating the water supply of at least one state (Nebraska) (and don’t assume the possibility is so remote that it shouldn’t concern us). Hydrofracking uses thousands of gallons of fresh water which is no longer fresh when they are finished with it. Our water resources are more important than our oil resources to our survival on earth. And there will not be any more dinosaurs as far as we know so we will not be encountering a brand new layer of fossil fuels anytime soon. Aren’t we planning to leave any resources for future generations? We seem more concerned about not leaving debt for our grandchildren than we do about leaving them with a barren earth.
It has been suggested that by combining all of our energy sources and adding solar, coal, and wind we will be able to meet our needs and become increasingly energy independent. But at the level of individual citizens there has been little impact on our energy sources or our energy consumption levels. If we can afford it we can choose to try solar or wind energy, we can make our homes more energy efficient and buy hybrid or electric cars. However, a larger sector of the population cannot afford to choose any of these energy alternatives. Our power companies are trying to help by offering us energy that comes from a combination of sources, but we need a way to avoid some of the more questionable types of energy acquisition, like oil sands and hydrofracking.
The only suggestions I have to make sound quite frivolous. What if we paid a small tax into an alternative energy fund until there is enough money to buy each family in America some “old school” energy alternatives, like a wood-burning Aga for every kitchen and fireplaces or wood stoves for other rooms in the house? What if we could subsidize a switch to all electric cars? But I guess burning wood is very hard on the environment also and makes for a greater frequency of house fires. Producing electricity requires fuel which leads us back to the same problems we have now. What kind of fuel, how much, and where will it come from? Perhaps this approach would provide enough savings until someone comes up with the next fuel that is as convenient and comfortable as fossil fuels have been.
All right, I know we know we will not be able to give up our fossil fuel addiction right away; life without central heating and cooling is quite uncomfortable. We know we will probably not be able to stop pipelines and fracking, so I guess we will have to just try to get the best possible protections. I just can’t help being very nervous about our fresh water supplies. Will the universe save us by giving someone “a eureka moment” to reveal a safe, new alternative energy source? It doesn’t look like it will happen right away which leads us back to cobbling together a system that works as well as possible.