Monday, May 08, 2006

Let's Get Our Energy Eggs out of the Oily Saudi Basket

Renewable energy = national security

Clean Edge has an interview with James Woolsey (who Grist has also interviewed), past director of the CIA and now co-chairman of the Committee on Present Danger, about how Osama really does love your SUV.

Bob Baer's book Sleeping With the Devil discusses how terrorists taking out the sulfur-cleaning towers in northeastern Saudi Arabia could take six million barrels per day off the market for up to a year, which would wreak economic devastation on our country. The United States borrows about $2 billion per day to finance our consumption. One billion of that is money for oil, and the Mid East is home for two-thirds of that oil. We are living on top of a volcano as long as we are that dependent on foreign oil.

The only question would be whether Osama - with close ties of his own to Saudi oil interests - would consider such an action. There are many terrorist groups that might consider such a high-payoff action and of course, any number of small nations that do not have the strategic reach to attack us directly, and are desperate for leverage against potential US "standoff-type" attacks. You may confidently assume both Iran and North Korea have targeted these facilities already, along with Pakistan and India. I find it astonishing that various milbloggers and national security bloggers tend to underestimate our reliance on oil as a strategic, national-security liability, and I cannot help but think it due in large part to their reflexive opposition to "liberal" and "green" issues.

This underlines the stark danger of politicizing National Security issues.

But the bushite talk shows and blogs are far more interested in blaming the gas crisis on Clinton (believe it or not) than noticing the economic effects of three buck a gallon gas. They are more interested in blaming 'treehuggers' for not allowing drilling in ANWAR - which is in no sense a solution, long-term or otherwise - than considering the value of a diversified energy portfolio.

While the necessity for widespread, diversified energy production from a wide variety of sources is obvious, it is not something that fits within the vertically-integrated, "single-crop" models of the international conglomerates that manage and control our energy and agricultural sectors - and the current battle of oil vs. ethanol indicates that the effective debate is between lobbyists for those competing interests.

While it would be foolish and counterproductive to suggest that either agrabiz OR the current oil, gas and coal interests be shut out domestic energy and fuel production by ideological fiat, it seems to me that a few simple twiddles in existing energy policy would be immensely helpful toward the end of making our energy supply less vulnerable to manipulation.

It would also be very helpful to make supply manipulation a serious federal offense, domestically, and a recognized "causus belli" internationally.

Nonetheless, whether or not the intent is economic warfare, or pure greed, the better path is to be in a position where the nation as a whole may simply snicker at such ineffective ploys.

Conservation, of course, has to be the first line of defense - for it's the single, cheapest and simplest way to reduce overall demand for light sweet crude - reducing the demand for home heating oil. We can do this simply by changing zoning laws, and placing requirements on title transfers to require upgrades in insulation and energy efficiency - with compensatory tax credits.

We should also look more seriously at zoning laws to embrace new building technologies that are more energy-efficient. Zoning variances for such technology make financing expensive.

And for properties with the potential for high solar, wind or geothermal capture, people should be encouraged to invest in generating capacity. That would mean requiring electrical utilities to run reverse metering and paying for generated energy.

We also need to look at the vulnerability of the domestic food supply, both in terms of how concentrated it is, and in terms of average distance.

Ideally, each city should produce 30% or more of it's own perishables - and hydroponics technology makes that attractively possible, both on rooftops and on urban interstitial spaces, such as abandoned railroad lines.

This would considerably lower the energy price of the average food basket, and sharply reduce the demand for long-distance shipping of perishable goods. As much as I love the vine-ripened tomatoes grown in gigantic greenhouses in Delta, British Columbia. It is absurd that here in sun-kissed Nevada; we do not have vast greenhouses of our own surrounding Reno and Las Vegas.

We also need to start looking at agricultural pollution as an untapped energy resource. Hog manure, for instance, is a rich source of methane; methane that could be used directly as fuel, as energy to process crops into biodiesel or methanol, or as part of a process to render hog waste into sterile fertilizer, with an energy byproduct.

Every gallon of petroleum that is either not consumed or replaced by alternative fuels has a multiplier effect, exerting downward pressure on fuel costs and, of course, extending the resource itself. Making more petroleum available for uses that cannot yet be addressed by alternatives.

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