April 12, 2005

We have the technology

Posted by Mary Madigan

After 9/11, when it became apparent that oil producing nations in the Middle East just might have had something to do with the attacks, I believed that the best way for American civilians to fight terrorism was to develop alternative sources of energy.

That idea is catching on. Roger Simon is thinking about buying a hybrid.* He says:

I don't care if you define yourself as a “liberal” or a “conservative” (I gave up on that yawner some time ago), you shouldn't want to see the likes of Chavez and the House of Saud and the rest of the petro-scum continue to have leverage on all of us. I think one of the mistakes the administration made in fighting the War on Terror is underestimating the propaganda value alone in getting the public behind energy conservation. Is this area their critics are right.
Glenn Reynolds is also thinking about buying a hybrid – and he’s talking about Green Power. He says:
..everyone keeps telling me that hydrogen cars will be our salvation. The problem is that hydrogen isn't that easy to come by, and requires a lot of electricity to make. And if the electricity comes from big coal- or oil-fired plants, you haven't really done much. Stewart Brand of Whole Earth Catalog fame is predicting a turnabout in attitudes:
Years ago, environmentalists hated cars and wanted to ban them. Then physicist Amory Lovins came along, saw that the automobile was the perfect leverage point for large-scale energy conservation, and set about designing and promoting drastically more efficient cars.

Gas-electric hybrid vehicles are now on the road, performing public good. The United States, Lovins says, can be the Saudi Arabia of nega-watts: Americans are so wasteful of energy that their conservation efforts can have an enormous effect. Single-handedly, Lovins converted the environmental movement from loathing of the auto industry to fruitful engagement with it.

Some Friends of the Earth are beginning to embrace technology – even nuclear technology. From Wired Magazine’s Green vs. Green:
From Greenpeace to the Green Party, some of the most prominent environmental groups today made their reputations in the 1970s as opponents of nuclear power. So it was no wonder that greens were vexed last summer when prime minister Tony Blair proposed a new generation of nuclear power plants for Britain to confront the problem of climate change. But what galled them even more was the response to Blair from Hugh Montefiore, a former Anglican bishop and longtime trustee of Friends of the Earth. Writing in the British journal The Tablet in October, Montefiore committed what colleagues viewed as the ultimate betrayal: “I have now come to the conclusion that the solution [to global warming] is to make more use of nuclear energy.” When Montefiore told fellow trustees that he planned to speak out, they made him resign his post.

Montefiore isn't the only dyed-in-the-wool green who has been exiled for advocating nuclear power. Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore left the organization after embracing atomic energy. British biologist James Lovelock, whose Gaia theory was an environmental watchword before he turned pro-nuke, is now persona non grata within the movement. “There are members of my former organization who would agree with me but have not gone public about the matter,” Montefiore laments. “If only we had a few more people who would stick their necks out, it would help.”

In Wired’s Nuclear Now! authors Peter Schwartz and Spencer Reiss say:
We should be shooting to match France, which gets 77 percent of its electricity from nukes. It's past time for a decisive leap out of the hydrocarbon era, time to send King Coal and, soon after, Big Oil shambling off to their well-deserved final resting places - maybe on a nostalgic old steam locomotive.

Besides, wouldn't it be a blast to barrel down the freeway in a hydrogen Hummer with a clean conscience as your copilot? Or not to feel like a planet killer every time you flick on the A/C? That's how the future could be, if only we would get over our fear of the nuclear bogeyman and forge ahead - for real this time - into the atomic age.

The granola crowd likes to talk about conservation and efficiency, and surely substantial gains can be made in those areas. But energy is not a luxury people can do without, like a gym membership or hair gel. The developed world built its wealth on cheap power - burning firewood, coal, petroleum, and natural gas, with carbon emissions the inevitable byproduct.

Judith Weiss of Kesher Talk has been talking about Thermal depolymerization. She says:
TDP does the same thing the earth does when it turns organic matter into oil, but a lot faster, using standard refinery components and techniques. The technology is not quite competitive - barrel for barrel or ton for ton - with existing energy sources, but if all the secondary costs and benefits (transportation, waste disposal, pollution and disease control, compatibility with existing energy infrastructure, vulnerability to terrorism, etc.) were factored in, it would look more competitive than other energy alternatives:
If we factored in all of the costs, we would also have to factor in the costs of dealing with the Saudi support of terrorism (a net loss of many, many, many billions), and the costs of dealing with other oil-producing terror supporters, as well as regimes like Venuzuela’s Chavez. When compared with the costs of terror and the other uses of this geopolitical weapon, alternate energy sources are priceless.

Outside magazine is promoting the new techno-friendly environmentalism.

In the old days, trying to live with an environmental conscience could be tricky, if not downright unpleasant—filled with hard-to-find organic bulgur salads, tiresome carpools, and scratchy hemp ponchos. But there's good news for greenies everywhere: You no longer have to live like John the Baptist to contribute to a healthier planet. Being kind to the earth has never been more hip, luxe, delicious, and deprivation-free. Simply put, a growing commitment to do no harm is transforming culture and commerce, making it possible to play hard and live well while living responsibly.
What about traditional alternatives like conservation, solar and wind energy? I think we should work on developing many, alternatives, not just a few. If some technologies don’t work in America for one reason or another, they could work somewhere else. America has been protecting the world’s energy needs, not just our own. Any reduction in those needs is a good thing.

As Judith says:

TDP might be commercially feasible now in countries where oil is much more expensive, concerns about livestock waste are more pressing, and economic vulnerability to fluctuating oil prices is greater. Also, in many developing areas with poor infrastructure or transportation, local energy production makes more sense than importing oil or gas or coal. We are in a global economy, and any reduction in reliance on Middle East oil, anywhere, helps everybody.
Sharing these newly developed technologies is profitable for us, profitable for all consumers and bad for oil-producers like Chavez and the Sauds. Talk about a win-win situation.

• We’ve had a Prius since 2001. It's a great car – excellent milage, good handling, and it always impresses the parking lot attendants. As far as acceleration goes, don’t pull out in front of fast-moving trucks, but otherwise, it’s good on the highway.

Posted by Mary Madigan at April 12, 2005 9:30 PM

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