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BEST OF 2010: Editorial: Gulf Oil Spill Should Inspire Real Leadership on Alternative Energy


Originally published May, 9, 2010

The horrific tragedy of a massive oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 people on April 20th, will hopefully not soon be forgotten. The loss of  human life, the destruction of our ocean waters, and the decimation of aquatic life in one of our most unique ecosystems, gives us even greater reason to implore our government to make a meaningful commitment to alternative fuels.

I'm not talking about writing checks from the peoples' treasury to Big Corn for the cockamamie scam called corn ethanol. Scientists explained to congress that there was not enough corn in the Untied States, or on the planet for that matter, to satisfy even a small portion of our fuel demand. They also explained that corn is the single most integral crop in our food supply, and that diverting harvests for gasoline would drastically increase domestic food costs and lead to even more starvation in developing countries.

Since corn production relies on diesel-fuel driven heavy equipment, increasing production also increases carbon output, largely offsetting any environmental advantage. Sugar can be converted to ethanol at 1/8th the energy output and is largely replaceable in the food chain. Cellulose and other types of non-integral plant life can also be used to make bio-fuels more efficiently. Congress knew all of this because some of the smartest people in the world told them. Still, they wrote big checks to the people who keep them in office and patted themselves on the back for their commitment to "clean energy".  

Now, not surprisingly, nuclear energy has again become a fashionable "alternative" and one look at who produces and profits from expanding the number of nuclear power plants in the United States (Halliburton is the largest) indicates that our leadership is again selling us a solution that has more to do with satisfying their overlords with the big checkbooks, than demonstrating the sort of courageous leadership that such a monumental challenge requires.
Nuclear energy produces nuclear waste, and no matter what strides have been made in enhancing the safety factor at nuclear power plants, they still leave us with radioactive material that has to safely be stored someplace for a very long time, not to mention the security implications of increasing the proliferation of nuclear materials.

Most scientists seem to be in agreement that developing clean and renewable energy sources will be the number one challenge facing the human race in generations to come. The very fate of life on Earth will ultimately depend on our ability to transition from declining reserves of planet-cooking fossil fuels to clean, sustainable energy. The answer to this dilemma is, and always has been, harnessing the limitless energy of the sun.

We have known this for four decades, yet sadly, we have done a pitiful job of directing an adequate portion of our resources toward the development of solar energy technologies. I've never heard of a "solar spill", a "solar plant meltdown", or a death toll at plants that produce solar panels. I have not heard a single scientist proclaim that sunshine is in danger of "peaking".

However, the United States has had continuous reminders as to the perils of our dependency on fossil fuels. The polar ice caps are continuing to melt. Co2 levels are continuing to rise, and wars are continuously waged in the areas where the greatest reserves of oil lie. The single greatest threat to our national security remains our dependency on an energy source, of which the greatest supplies are found in the most historically unstable regions of our world, and now we are reminded once again of the potential for disaster beyond fighting over and burning it.

Imagine a United States, that four decades ago, would have made the same commitment to solar energy that we had previously made to landing on the moon. Imagine the economic consequences of being the world leader in solar technology, leading the planet in a shift away from fossil fuels, away from economic entanglements in the Middle East, and away from global environmental disaster. The time has come for us to stop imagining, so the world described can become a reality for future generations of Americans.


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