April 2, 2012
I filled up my gas tank in my 2007 Toyota Camry on Monday. From late last week when I was in Lawrenceville, the price at the awesome RaceTrac on Pike Street was "down" to $3.769 per gallon. I filled up my five-gallon gas tank for my lawnmower at an independently owned Chevron station. It was $3.859 per gallon.
At what point do we get serious on reforming our energy consumption?
Somehow this issue seems to have become political. Extreme conservatives seem to want to poke every hole in the ground for every carbon-based fuel we can find. Extreme liberals want to make everything solar and wind tomorrow. Somewhere in between, I think the rest of us reside.
What I think really hurts us as a country right now is the long economic recovery from the Great Recession. Fewer people working means less tax income and more unemployment benefits. Ah, the great Catch-22 of deficit reduction during high unemployment. The math really doesn't work without starting to cut into some bone.
Changing our energy policy can have a great effect on our jobs situation. If we allow more safe oil, coal and methane -- "natural gas" is a pet peeve term of mine -- exploration, that means jobs here. But we shouldn't do it at the expense of normal health standards or by pumping hazardous materials into the ground that set tap water on fire. Surely the people of Cleveland can tell you that fiery water is not good.
I truly believe that renewable energy is our future, and not the distant future. All of the carbon released from the old fossil fuels harms our environment greatly. But I am a realist. I know we can't just change our ways overnight. That's why I support President Barack Obama and anybody else who champions an "all of the above" strategy.
I'm a huge astronomy nut, and when I hear about the amount of energy the sun puts out every minute -- easily enough to satisfy demands for years -- I wonder why we haven't tapped this extremely abundant resource. Now I know solar panel technology isn't at the cost-benefit ratio to really make a difference. However, think about cellphones in 1990. Think about the Internet in 1990. Think about cameras in 1990s. Those three sectors have evolved greatly since then. They're all one device now for many people.
Let's start by continuing to expand safe fossil fuel exploration around the U.S. Make sure our government departments that oversee safety are doing their jobs to avoid another Deepwater Horizon incident. But as part of that, take away subsidies for oil companies. The major oil companies are among the most profitable in history, and we give them special breaks. Considering they're swimming in gold and we're paying nearly $4 per gallon in Georgia, I don't think it's going to hurt them.
Next, use that money to help research and development on alternative energy, including nuclear. Yes, I know nuclear can have catastrophic consequences, but so does everything else we use now. The Gulf of Mexico and other places have been poisoned by oil spills. Coal miners die just trying to make a living. Hydraulic fracturing -- fracking -- poisons water. Most of us drive cars and eat unhealthy food daily knowing they could lead to our death. But we take that risk as part of life.
We need to push these industries to help rebuild important manufacturing jobs lost during the recession. China is pushing hard on building solar panels. We have already lost so many industries to China that it would be a shame for this one to go the same way.
All of this is a sensible solution that can lead to more jobs, cleaner energy, and energy produced more at home than imported from countries with whom we likely wouldn't engage without the abundance of oil.
After America's manned space program achieved about 20 minutes of spaceflight, President John F. Kennedy gave his famous "We choose to go to the moon" speech. His ambition on that project and the dedication of countless Americans led to the world changing forever. If we could create an Apollo program for transitioning our energy policy and give it the proper resources, imagine the great change we could accomplish on Earth.
Michael Buckelew is a member of the digital team for SCNI, parent company of the Gwinnett Daily Post.