Rick Strahl just wrote an excellent and timely post – now that oil prices are “back to normal” – about energy, alternatives to oil, peak production, and the impact of an unstable supply on the daily lives of most westerners. The first step in any attempt to change our energy consumption habits is to really understand how much a stable, affordable power supply means to us.
Think about it, even if you do nothing more than a little thought experiment with yourself. How would you live if you had to make do with a more primitive society that doesn’t run on power or power that is treated as a luxury rather than an abundant ever available resource as it is now? Or even one that doesn’t run with private cars? Do you live in the suburbs with no way to even get to a store by foot and no public transportation? How will you get to work if your job is in the city that’s 20, 50 or 80 miles away? Will you even have a job? In a drastically shrunken economy that has paid a heavy energy tax that is bound to deflate any economic growth that isn’t likely to come back, do you think you’ll still have a paper pushing job? Or an abstract job like programmer for example? How do you code when there’s no consistent electricity and which business would still need abstract work.
That’s a damn good question and one that, to varying degrees, matters to virtually every American and European worker. A stable, scalable energy industry is one of the primary bedrocks of western civilization.
It’s therefore necessary for citizens to insist that government, at a minimum, nurture an economic environment that allows energy companies to prosper. This means encouraging competition, minimizing regulation, allowing real diversity in the marketplace, and rewarding research and development efforts. It also means, as a careful reading of these requirements implies, staying out of the way of the men, women, and companies that produce the energy we, the consumers, demand.
There is an idea loose in the world that people should reduce their energy use by “turning off” part of their lives. This is an unfortunate Luddite notion and a mistake, culturally and socially speaking. If energy consumption is to be reduced – along with its parallel impact on the natural world – this must be achieved through increases in efficiency of future generations of electronics and through the development of cleaner energy sources. Short of the free world being bombed back to the 1800s or earlier, nothing else will ever reduce energy demand and its effects.
Even now, after just the briefest of lulls in the storm of recent energy price increases, Americans are beginning to re-embrace their darlings of yesteryear, the gas-guzzling SUV. How quickly we forget.