To begin this difficult post, I start with a physics professor’s testimony May 3, 2001 to the Subcommittee on Energy of the Science Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The professor was Albert. A Bartlett, Professor Emeritus at the University of Colorado. His point that I want to use was quite straightforward: We can choose an energy path that relies first on the assumption that we will be able somehow to produce more energy in sufficient quantities for future generations; Or we can choose an energy path that relies first on conservation of energy and doesn’t assume that we can continually increase energy levels for future generations.
Here’s Bartlett’s precisely accurate assessment. “There is a rational way to choose. If the path we choose turns out to be the correct path, then there’s no problem. The problems arise in case the path we choose turns out to be the wrong path. It follows then that we must choose the path that leaves us in the less precarious position in case the path we choose turns out to be the wrong one.
So there are two possible wrong choices that we must compare. If we choose the Conservative Path that assumes finite resources, and our children later find out that resources are really infinite, then no great long-term harm has been done. If we choose the Liberal Path that assumes infinite resources, and our children later find that resources are really finite, then we will have left our descendents in deep trouble.”
Now fast forward to today. Suddenly we’ve discovered that we’re short energy. And it is a situation that is not likely to diminish going forward. What do we do?
According to Bartlett, the wise choice is to make the hard initial decision that first we use less energy (Negawatts). Concurrently, we do what’s also obvious: We initiate a full court press to diversify our energy sources in an effort to meet the long term need to have sustainable, reasonable amounts of energy.
But first and foremost we conserve. That means we loose a lot of the mobility we’re accustomed to, even if curtailing this mobility comes via FDR-like war fiat. In World War II you couldn’t even buy a new car. They weren’t being built because America needed manufacturing for the war, not personal transportation.
Goodbye hot tubs. Hello short showers. Goodbye nice warm rooms. Hello sweaters. Goodbye trucks. Hello composite material vans. Goodbye 200 mile car trips. Hello buses and trains. You get the idea.
The truth is that conservation of energy is the quickest way to reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources. While we scramble like mad to diversify and improve our domestic energy production for the longer term, in the short term we can have a surprisingly dramatic improvement simply by taking a hard-nosed approach to conservation. Emphasis: hard-nosed.
In future posts Beezernotes will go into some detail about where and how we can begin, almost immediately, to be more efficient and reduce our energy use.
This is the over-arching problem facing our world today: Energy. Its debate the next couple months will determine who is the next President. Whomever we choose will have to make some very unpopular decisions at the federal level which will directly impact our daily lives.
If you want to read Prof. Bartlett’s beautifully brief testimony, you can at http://jclahr.com/bartlett/testimony.html
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