In The Ordeal of Change, Eric Hoffer, American philosopher and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1983) said “In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” Timeless words for rapidly changing times.
Let’s Face It, We’re Addicted to Oil
America, let’s face it, we’re so addicted to oil, not only do we divert hundreds of billions of dollars a year from our own communities to obtain it abroad, we devote vast military and political resources to court hostile anti-American regimes, corruption, and instability in countries like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Bottom line: We must simultaneously diversify sources of oil supplies, dramatically slash oil consumption, and increase production of alternative-energy sources to clean up the environment, increase our energy efficiency, protect national security interests, reduce the military and political leverage of OPEC oil, revitalize the U.S. economy, and shrink trade deficits.
It is of vital military and political importance we end our uneasy alliance with the House of Saud and our footprint in the unstable Persian Gulf region. We should start by forming an oil consortium with other non-OPEC nations, including Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Norway, and the United Kingdom to compete directly with OPEC for world oil revenues. We should follow this up by seizing the assets of Petróleos de Venezuela in the United States as compensation for President Hugo Chávez’s seizure of assets of American oil companies operating in his “Bolivarian Republic.” This seizure should include the assets of the CITGO Petroleum Corporation.
Role of Domestic Production and Refining Capacity
We also need to ramp up the domestic production and refining capacity of oil. World energy consumption has surged due to the rapid growth of economies in countries like China and India. It also has surged due to the growing energy needs of non-producing countries like Germany and Japan. This wouldn’t matter one iota if supplies were keeping pace with the growth in demand. Global exploration and development as a percentage of oil-related revenues has fallen well below long-term averages since the early 1990’s. With at least 100 billion barrels of untapped oil reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge of Alaska, the lower 48 states, and off U.S. shores, we are shooting ourselves in the foot by not developing the domestic sources at our disposal. We should start by uncapping the numerous closed oil fields in America’s heartland, creating jobs for Americans and revenues for America. We also need to construct new refineries on closed military bases, on tribal reservations, and on land in defunct communities like Cheshire, OH. In addition to exploiting our untapped oil reserves, we also must exploit our untapped natural gas supplies, whether they’re located on or off shore.
Role of Automotive Technologies and Alternative Fuels
As nearly half our domestic and imported oil is consumed primarily in the form of gasoline to fuel personal vehicles, this is where we need to focus a great deal of our attention and investment dollars. We need to nurture breakthrough automotive technologies and investment in commercially-viable alternative-fuel sources (i.e., ammonia, bio-diesel/bio-fuels, compressed natural gas, gas/electric hybrids, plug-in electrics, etc.) through targeted financial and tax incentives. Credit trading mechanisms that currently enable automakers to “borrow” or “swap” fuel efficiency should be suspended entirely. Instead, we need to put mechanisms in place that reward automakers for producing (and consumers for buying) vehicles that perform better than Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. Whatever mechanisms we put in place should require market-driven increases in the CAFE threshold on an annual basis. We also do not necessarily need to end federal subsidies for “Big Oil,” rather we need to force Big Oil to reinvest these subsidies in retrofitting retail gas station pumps to handle multiple alternative fuels. One thing is certain, OPEC nations, including state-owned sovereign wealth funds, should be prohibited from investing in or controlling our alternative-fuel resources, as it would make no sense for us to allow OPEC to maintain its death grip on our economy as we shift from oil.
Automakers can drive up CAFE thresholds in a couple of ways. One is by substituting the same lighter-weight carbon-fiber composite body panels used by our military for steel. Another is by harnessing kinetic energy from the natural motion, rotation, and vibration of the vehicle and its parts as a supplemental power source.
We also must replace current “flex-fuel” (a.k.a. E85) vehicles with “multi flex-fuel” vehicles capable of using any pure or blended fuel source. This should include bio-diesel/bio-fuels, and not the kind made from valuable food crops, such as corn. Switchgrass or some other source of so-called “cellulosic ethanol” might be a better fit, but we must learn to produce it in a way that doesn’t increase air pollution, global warming, soil erosion, or water pollution, or harm environmentally-sensitive habitats. In addition to excluding valuable food crops, we also must exclude bio-fuels produced on cleared old-growth forest or tropical rainforest lands. To fully move the U.S. away from oil, we must use bio-fuels as an alternative to gasoline rather than as an additive; we also must phase out petro-diesel in favor of bio-diesel. Additionally, we must create a viable national high-speed passenger and freight rail network to ease traffic congestion and improve logistics. Imagine “land ferries” that transport people and their vehicles from point A to point B.
While hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, most of it remains locked up in more complex compounds such as ammonia, methane (natural gas or propane), or water. Not only does it require tremendous amounts of energy to separate the hydrogen from its natural compounds, it requires tremendous amounts of energy to liquefy and condense hydrogen; however, scientists are experimenting with electrolyzers, genetically-engineered bacteria, and various reactive metals that might one day lead to an abundant alternative-fuel source. According to Kevin Mayhood in a June 30, 2008 article in The Columbus Dispatch, Gerardine Botte, director of Ohio University’s Electrochemical Engineering Research Laboratory, is working on a method to pull hydrogen from the ammonia in animal and human urine. This is important for several reasons. First, we already have the infrastructure in place to distribute ammonia to retail gas station pumps, as it’s been used to make fertilizer for decades. Second, separating hydrogen from ammonia does not produce “greenhouse gases” as long as the required electricity comes from a source which produces no greenhouse gases. (The same can be said for gas/electric hybrids and plug-in electrics.) Third, ammonia is more easily liquefied and condensed than hydrogen.
Role of Power Production for Businesses and Homes
In addition to transforming our automotive fleet and fuel-distribution infrastructure, we need to transform power production for our businesses and homes. This can be accomplished through farm-waste power generation, geothermal heating systems, landfill-gas power generation, solar panels, and wind turbines. We’ve already noted that nearly half our domestic and imported oil is consumed primarily in the form of gasoline to fuel personal vehicles. Likewise, nearly one quarter of all electricity we produce is used to light our businesses and homes. We need to scrap incandescent lights in favor of more-efficient compact fluorescent lights and light-emitting diodes, not in phases, but immediately. We also need to invest in dual-fuel furnaces and water heaters, providing the end-user with the power to automatically switch between electricity and natural gas, depending on real-time energy costs. Buildings and homes must be retrofitted to make better use of daylight and heat gain/loss. Imagine advanced roofing materials that are white (to reflect heat) in the Summer to reduce cooling load and black (to absorb heat) in the Winter to reduce heating load. Additionally, new appliances and electronic devices must be developed that do not require “stand-by” power. Finally, we need to deploy wind turbines across The Great Plains from North Dakota to Texas, harnessing the power of an emissions-free, inexhaustible energy source that does not require oil or other fossil fuels, radioactive materials, or water.
Role of U.S. Dollar and Speculation
A large chunk of the price of every barrel of oil can be tied to the strength of the U.S. Dollar and speculation. Government policies should focus on strengthening the U.S. Dollar and reining in rogue speculators with federal oversight. We’ve provided ample opportunity for energy traders to responsibly exercise the rights of a free market, and they’ve squeezed every drop out of our wallets. Remember Enron?
Role of the Environment and Other Issues
Our thirst for oil and other fossil fuels spews enormous quantities of greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants into the atmosphere each year. Every effort we make now to diversify sources of oil supplies, dramatically slash oil consumption, and increase production of alternative-energy sources will enable us to clean up our act and reduce our “carbon footprint.” In addition to the measures mentioned above, we need to develop chemicals, lubricants, plastics, and road pavements that do not require oil as a feedstock. Not only will this dramatically slash oil consumption, it will enable the heat content traditionally locked up in these products to be used elsewhere. For existing oil-based products, we must implement mandatory recycling or reuse programs. It’s senseless for oil to end up in our landfills or to be poured out on our highways. Additionally, we should explore using “energy labels” on foods and other products detailing the amount of energy required (and the CO2 emissions generated) to produce and transport it, with particular emphasis on the amount of oil and its source. Back to wind turbines: it’s hypocritical for environmental “advocates” to vehemently oppose an emissions-free, inexhaustible energy source that does not require oil or other fossil fuels, radioactive materials, or water.