However, in-depth analyses of our energy situation often result in "you can't get there from here" as all of the options are examined. This time Chicken Little may be right.
I LIKE TO THINK of myself as an optimist who believes the United States can do anything it commits to do. Therein lies the rub -- commitment. Who among us doubts that the United States could pull off another Manhattan Project or Man on the Moon program?
It isn't that we don't have the talent; rather, we don't have the commitment or the leadership to help supply that commitment. The dilemma we face is as follows.
THE GLOBAL ECONOMY is rooted in oil. The worldwide supply of oil is peaking. Maximum oil production is at hand and future production will decline. Because we are basically chasing harder-to-access oil with energy derived from easier-to-access oil, we eventually get to the point where we are expending an amount of energy equivalent to the amount we are recovering, and at that point we stop oil production.
If we merely pursue the status quo, then long before this time occurs there will be worldwide economic chaos that will make today's economic troubles seem like the good old days.
BECAUSE WE FOCUS on higher gas prices, many don't realize that about one-third of every barrel of oil goes into production of petrochemicals. It is from this class of materials that we derive many of our common goods such as pharmaceuticals, plastics, tires, clothing, plumbing materials, and asphalt.
One could make a convincing argument that if we do increase domestic oil exploration and production, then we should optimize refinery operations for petrochemicals rather than gasoline.
HOW, THEN, CAN we prove Chicken Little wrong?
If it isn't too late, we can start by establishing a no-nonsense energy policy that appropriately incentivizes the development of a different energy basis for our economy. This policy should recognize the potential contributions of different forms of energy production, energy efficiency initiatives and conservation and encourage (mandate?) their implementation.
ALTHOUGH WE SHOULD be open to all reasonable options, the only alternative energy source that could do the heavy lifting required to wean us from oil is nuclear power. Whether it is charging batteries for electric cars or making hydrogen for transportation, huge new electricity demands will be upon us as we graduate from oil, and that will require a massive investment in nuclear power.
Do we have the will and the leadership to make that investment?
Uh-oh! Gotta go. Something big and blue just fell in my backyard.
(Editor's note: The writer is executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness in Aiken.)