Friday, July 18, 2008

Al Gore: Get electric uilities onto renewable energy within ten years, or else!


Professor Al Gore (“An Inconvenient Truth”) gave us our tongue-lashing yesterday and a dire warning that our way of life in the U.S. and North America could vanish if we don’t turn around the greenhouse gas problem (and probably the oil tipping point problem) quickly. He challenged American electrical utilities to produce all of their electricity with renewable means (wind, solar, and perhaps even ocean tides and even lightning) within ten years.

T. Boone Pickens has been urging something similar, as he has been instrumental in pushing Texas to build wind farms on the high plains to power the (four) big cities to the east. Pickens wants to use natural gas to power automobiles, but most commentators stress building high-mileage plug-in hybrids. Pickens also thinks that the government should declare a national energy emergency. He will appear on ABC Nightline July 18.

Other countries have been innovative. Brazil, which actually has discovered new oil resources off-shore, has gotten its motorists partly off of gasoline with massive sugar cane farming to produce ethanol fuels.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been warning that global warming is a real danger, but still will not impose carbon emissions regulations as long as George W. Bush is president. The EPA warns that teenagers living now will, at middle age, think of their youth as the good old days as summers get much hotter, and huge storms much more frequent. But the physics of the planet’s atmosphere means that most warming will happen at the poles, with rise in sea level from melting of ice caps. Rapid melting of the Greenland glacier could disrupt the Gulf Stream that warms Europe. Rise in sea levels could disproportionately affect poorer countries.

Gore is right in warning about fundamental risks to national security, because of resentment of developed countries consuming resources and polluting the planet. The Canadian group that produced the “End of Suburbia” films advocates that Americans start preparing for a decentralized life style than could have enormous impact on social values, and force individuals into patterns of direct interdependence and socialization that they are not used to. We may learn that our “moral thinking” indeed has flip sides.

In the Washington Post Business section, Steven Pearlstein (“Macbeth and the Market”) talks about “herd behavior” and fundamentals, and the extremely long time horizons it can take fundamentals to work.. Steven Mufson also talks about the “oil bubble speculation.” Oil prices started to drop the past two days because Congress hinted at the idea of regulating speculation and margins, Pearlstein says. It could also have fallen because Bush has formally deregulated offshore drilling, and is pushing Congress to do the same.

There’s something else to say about herd behavior. When you work for somebody else, at least publicly, you have to do what they say and even “say” what they tell you to say. When you have a family to support, you have to go along with the herd, it seems, to be credible. You have to fit in. That’s what people think. (But a rural survivalist family would disagree.) The freewheeling speech on the Internet, with all the individual blogs and social networking profiles, comes from people without “real responsibilities.” Well, there is that impression, that “the privilege of being listened to” should come from real responsibility and social credibility. Does that contribute to herd behavior? Probably. In the decentralized world of “Escape from Suburbia”, perhaps not.

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