...Is There a Meeting Ground?
Contemplating the staggering transition from the oil economy to a new energy economy invites disbelief, however essential this change must be for our own survival. Environmentalists are among those avoiding these issues. Could it be because none of us can trust the implementers not to mess this one up too?
Instead of a tiger in our tank, do we have one by the tail? Not if we're smart.
Many environmentalists have avoided new energy like the plague. No wonder, given our energy policies, derided as "bungled" over the last three decades by Time Magazine. Our 2003 energy policy is the culmination of accelerating industrial and political vested interests which are surely leading us all to extinction either by pollution or by war--or both.
The environmentalists are right: how could anyone trust the energy establishment to manage new energy? How could we simply stand by while big business decides for us whether to go with fossil fuels, nuclear power, solar, wind, biofuels, hydrogen, fuel cells...or new energy? New energy does not appeal to big business because of its simplicity, cheapness, renewability, and decentralized nature.
Their vision is one which will feed the appetite of a large industry in need of business, thus moving towards hydrogen extracted from hydrocarbons, along with fuel cells, to gas up a hungry nation in the future. But is the misappropriation of effort skewed towards the needs of the corporate culture any reason to block promising new possibilities for the rest of us? Why must we accept conventional wisdoms about our energy future, based on the self-interest of industry and government at great cost to the rest of us?
We have three communities objecting to new energy: (1) the powers-that-be, the current energy industry and its cronies in government, combined with the secrecy apparatus seeking weapons use; (2) mainstream scientists, whose interest is best served by defending the familiar old turfs of thermodynamics, nuclear physics, and the denial of the existence of energy from the vacuum of space; and (3) some environmentalists who are scared of the potential misuse of new energy and so deny it or hope it goes away. Most of the rest of us remain in ignorance.
As one environmentalist put it, in a new energy future, we'd have our skies swarming with personal helicopters like locusts, bigger bulldozers and power saws...and even more awesome weapons of mass destruction. We don't want that!
So this begs the question, how can new energy be regulated? Which applications are benign and which have the potential to do great harm to the environment, abused as weapons or overused by over consumption? We need to be selective here, rather than be victims of the winds of corporate and governmental power, thus bringing down the environment ever further.
Where I differ from these environmentalists is that we can proceed towards new energy applications which could be benign by: (1) carefully selecting those sources which can deliver energy on small scales with no weapons potential, and (2) by reasserting public control of our energy choices. Like ordering from a menu in a restaurant, we can order whatever energy system we'd like--in principle.
We may need to limit the amount of wattage available to customers, commensurate with current uses at first, and with later adjustments according to need and to environmental guidelines applied to the full life cycle of the energy sources used.
Examples of qualifying new energy systems include cheap, recyclable solar photovoltaics, small solid state units generating energy from the vacuum of space, and hydrogen plasma cells--each producing up to a few kilowatts of clean electricity from your circuit breaker box or from under your automobile hood.
We simply cannot allow our excesses to spill over to a new energy domain. In my opinion, we have no choice on this: we are going to have to be smart about how we apply new energy and we are going to have to regulate it, like any other energy source. Or would you prefer that an Enron control your use of new energy? Of course not, unless you happen to be one of the few who can profit from the energy oligarchy now controlling things.
Is fear alone going to prevent us from doing what will be necessary to stop us from our crazy dependence on oil, coal, natural gas and nuclear power? Most traditional renewables such as solar and hydrogen can be expensive, intermittent and materials-and-energy-intensive. In our search for cheap, clean and benign energy, we must leave no stone unturned.
Most of all, we can trust neither the existing energy industry nor their governmental cronies to control all this. Their current dominance is killing us all, and so they must be deposed and their technologies phased out. Nor can we allow them exclusive rights over new energy. For our own survival and that of all living systems, we must thank the old systems for having delivered energy and then let them go--entirely. No more corporate welfare and denial of the most promising alternatives will do. We will have to change.
To these ends, the New Energy Movement is compiling a database of new energy concepts with applications which will be clean, cheap, renewable, decentralized and benign. These technologies will comprise a menu from which the public will be able to order. We believe our search will uncover several hundred--perhaps several thousand--previously suppressed technologies which will score high in all respects.
All this is a public issue that demands a new kind of activism that transcends traditional environmentalism. Our very being depends on it.
In a later essay I will discuss what we mean by benign as a criterion for new energy applications, free of the control by those seeking power and profit. I hope this kind of new energy policy will win over environmentalists and we will be well on our way to a zero emission society by 2020.
Brian O'Leary, Ph.D