Monday, December 28, 2009

Developing answers to the oil shortage

From the 28 December 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

For the past month this column has focused on the limited supplies of and unlimited demand for oil. The future looks bleak with an oil shortage that we as a nation seem ill prepared to handle. But, given that our public and private sectors can gain a sense of urgency and take a more dedicated approach than we have in the development of new technologies and new energy sources, we can overcome what could be a significant obstacle to the betterment of our standard of living for years to come.

To put this complex issue into simple terms, here are 4 ways in which we can guarantee a brighter future for America by limiting the impact that oil has on our personal, corporate and national finances while ensuring that we have access to transportation, something that is instrumental to the pursuits of a free people…

Develop young minds: In America we do a very poor job of rewarding our brightest students who in turn have the potential to reward our society. Instead, we invest as much time and money in the most under-performing schools and students as we do in the cream of the crop. The next great scientist is more often than not lost in the shuffle as we teach him or her at the same level and with the same techniques as the lost causes who are in the same classroom. We need to do as other nations – both developed and developing – do and devote a greater amount of our resources to the gifted students. Investing in their minds is an investment in our tomorrow. The oil shortage is just one of many problems that need to be addressed in the coming decades and the best way to handle them is by making sure we have the keenest scientific minds prepared to work their magic.

Develop alternative oils: Mention alternative energy to the average motorist and the first thing that comes to mind is corn-based ethanol. That’s because at this time it’s basically the only alt oil available in volume. But, if there’s anything we’ve learned over the past 4 years it’s that corn ethanol is one of the federal government’s worst investments in recent memory: Who in their right mind would promote a fuel that is created from crucial foodstuff in a process that is as un-green as the crude it is supposed to replace? As a nation we are better off focusing on the continued evolution of processes that create ethanols from algae and cellulosic biomass, processes that are close to fruition but still a handful of years away from practicality.

Develop alternative technologies:
There’s a reason why the Big Three – and especially General Motors - suffered so greatly before and during the Great Recession. They weren’t innovative enough. When the oil crisis came on strong in 2007 the products offered (inefficient large cars and SUVs) did not meet the needs of their customers who found themselves strapped for cash as gasoline consumed their paychecks. Had the companies had the forethought during and after the oil crises of the 1970s they would have designed cars capable of 60 to 80 miles per gallon of gasoline. But, they stuck with the status quo and some even say they suppressed new technologies (if that’s the case, the federal government, who owns about 60% of GM, should do society a huge favor and unearth those top-secret innovations from the bowels of the organization). The automakers need to think bigger than they have and put more money and mind towards the development of super-fuel-efficient cars and those that are powered by natural gas, hydrogen fuel cells or electricity.

Develop more nuclear plants: In order to make the electric automobile a sustainable option we need an unlimited supply of electricity on the cheap (as does our economy as a whole in order to keep up with population and economic growth). The most-efficient and cheapest way to meet our needs is with nuclear energy. And, despite general American sentiment to the contrary, nuclear energy is clean and safe. There’s a reason why a green-conscious country like France gets so much of its electricity from nuclear power (79 percent).

Through these and other tactics we can survive the oil shortage. Let’s not stop at ending our dependence on foreign oil as many in the political class say we should; let’s end our dependence on oil, both foreign and domestic. Solving problems as significant as this is old hat to America. We’ve been faced with threats of various sorts before and we’ve beaten them using the work ethic and ingenuity that has set us apart from all other societies both past and present.

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