Belaboring the Obvious

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The naysayers in this country...

... repeatedly state that producing even 10% of the nation's energy requirements with alternative energy is unrealistic. Scotland, as reported by the UK Guardian in this article, has already exceeded its 2011 goal of producing 31% of the nation's power with alternatives (principally wind power).

While there's been a big jump in wind power in the Southwest (particularly in west Texas), there's so much unexplored scientific territory due to a failure of the national government to invest in R&D, equal to the actual need, that the field is still wide open. Take, for instance, the near-complete absence of research into wave and tidal power by a country with an enormous amount of coastline--west coast, east coast, Great Lakes and Gulf coast. Moreover, the coasts are the places with the greatest population density and energy requirements.

As Europe proceeds with its evolution away from a carbon-based energy system, the U.S. goes on in a business-as-usual fashion, largely because it is hobbled by an election funding/lobbying system which invites both corruption and stasis, and because of a military funding system which ignores the actual threats to national security in favor of imagined threats far in the future, and is perpetuated by the same corrupt system.

Europe has maintained economic viability, despite the imagined scourge of democratic socialism, by encouraging innovation and exporting high-quality manufactured goods, as well as emphasizing a quality over quantity domestic consumption model which has had the additional benefit of discouraging the waste and planned obsolescence of the current dominant model in the United States. If Europe continues to make progress on alternative energy implementation, U.S. businesses may find themselves, ten or twenty years from now, at a competitive disadvantage due to energy fuel costs (either alone or in concert with the roughly 100% higher health-care costs prevalent in the U.S. as compared to European nations).

There are always breakthroughs yet to happen, but the United States won't make them if it won't commit the financial and intellectual resources to the task. (A little-considered aspect of military spending, for example, is that the United States spends about 60% of its research dollars on military projects which, inevitably, are obscured by secrecy for long periods of time, and an old adage in R&D is that talent follows the money. If the best minds in the country are devoted to building a better ray gun, for example, they aren't thinking about new energy production.)

If we get left behind on energy research and technology (which can only exacerbate all the current economic problems associated with financialization of the economy because we continue to pretend that the big banks are creating wealth), it will be the fault of no one but us. It's no accident that we consume 25% of the world's energy and produce 25% of world's GDP. The two statistics are intimately linked. That we continue to spend 50% of world military spending in order to corral diminishing fossil energy supplies for the greater profit of our multinational energy corporations is not a sign that we're doing something right. Quite the opposite.


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