Soft Path

Hard Path




Fuel Cells




In the fallout over the US sideswiping international efforts to control global warming, the White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, was asked whether the new President would call on drivers to reduce fuel consumption in the interests of a cooler, cleaner planet.

"That's a big no," Fleischer told the assembled media at a press conference earlier this year. "The President believes that it's an American way of life, and that it should be the goal of policy makers to protect the American way of life. The American way of life is a blessed one."

According to the Department of Energy, we import 9,665,000 barrels of oil a day. Of that, Saudi Arabia provides 1,726,000 barrels or 18%. Total Arab OPEC production is 2,537,000 barrels or 26%.

Way back, Osama Bin Laden expressed his distaste for US troops in Saudi Arabia, which he considers holy land. We told him to stuff it. We had oil interests in Saudi Arabia that were vital to protect.

During World War II, folks at home rationed gas so the troops on the front lines would have more. I'm sure some people complained bitterly, but I think most went along with it because it was the patriotic thing to do.

So here we are, 60 years later and SUV makers are enjoying record profits, as is the RV industry. The government allows the auto industry to circumvent CAFE standards by calling SUVs trucks, which are not required to adhere to the same standard of fuel efficiency. Who wrote that rule? The auto companies spend millions trying to convince us that we need that Hemi 4x4 PowerWagon. As Americans, we feel as though we ought to be able to drive anything we want and can afford.

Now we find ourselves at war. As I watch the parade of names at the end of the NewsHour, I think that Timothy Smith of Baton Rouge LA, Age 24, 1LT, US Army, IED, was probably a great guy and he will be sorely missed by his family. He was killed not to provide freedom for the Iraqi people, but for the uninterrupted flow of our precious bodily fluid. You wonder whether his parents drive an SUV or did he drive a macho 4x4 with extra big wheels. Are you willing to give up your son to protect the standard of living Ari Fleischer had in mind?

Bush misrepresents the issue. Now that his game is up regarding WMD, he has switched to another reason for fighting the good fight. We need to bring democracy to the Mideast and demonstrate that freedom is God's gift. Come on! Give me a break. It's the oil. We are losing our sons and daughters so that we can continue to be the world's energy glutton. They are fighting for our right to drive SUVs and RVs and live energy intensive lives. Bush didn't create our energy policy, but he is in the driver's seat now. What we have now is the result of decades of congressional action and inaction. Bush is going to be a disaster for the environment. He doesn't understand the issues.

Bush has been able to sell the notion that our mission in Iraq is a worthy one. Freedom is God-given. Our God says that. We are in Iraq to set the Iraqis free. It would be great if the Iraqis were inclined to feel that way, but they think we are trying to jam our God down their throats and occupy their land and their oil resources. We have acted like empire-building bullies to maintain the flow of oil and secure new sources. Americans wince when gas goes over $2.00 a gallon. Now it is at $56 a barrel. What does that gallon really cost when you figure in the cost of our military establishment and now, Homeland Defense costs? What percentage of your income tax goes to preserve our standard of living? The question that we need to ask is this: is the cost worth it? Is your Hummer worth your son?

Why is it that I see the yellow ribbon with Support Our Troops more often on SUVs and full-size pickups, than on standard-size cars?

NOW with Bill Moyers did a great program on Paying for Politics: What Oil Buys

Keep in mind that SUVs, that are responsible for 20% of US emissions of CO2, are the choice of 50% of new vehicle buyers.

There is a wide variety of smaller SUVs and station wagons that get 25MPG or better.  Vehicles of this size would satisfy 90% of the needs of 90% of the buyers. Does it make sense to tote around the additional carrying capacity the porkers offer 350 days of the year? Not only that, the smaller vehicles have to be a lot more fun to drive. When you need a porker, rent one. Ford has introduced the Escape Hybrid. 36MPG city.

Not only do these high-slung, overweight station wagons consume twice the fuel a reasonable vehicle should and emit twice the CO2 but because of their weight, consume more energy in the manufacturing process and presumably are proportionally harder on roads and bridges. 

One answer is the Hypercar. Or the way cool SmartCar. If your reaction is one of revulsion, "oh, I couldn't drive one of those!", consider the benefits. Downsizing our fleet and deploying solar would be good for the economy because it would arrest the flow of dollars going overseas and put people to work building the renewable energy infrastructure. We get to change our politics because we are no longer dependent on the politics of the oil-producers. 


We need to stop burning fossil fuels and convert to a hydrogen economy and do it as quickly as we can.

No matter how the story gets spun, this war is about oil and the quest to maintain a steady flow of our precious bodily fluids. Years ago, I heard that there were weirdoes in Saudi Arabia, who were upset that there were American troops stationed in the Islamic holy land. I have to say that I don't think I would like it if there were foreign troops stationed 2 counties over. My objection wouldn't be on religious grounds though. I'm sure we knew about this resentment, but dismissed it because we are bigger and we're right.

Since we are now at war, wouldn't it be prudent to institute gas rationing? We rationed homeland gas during WW2 to allow more to go to the troops at the front.

So, let's stop importing oil from the Mideast and buy only from our buddies. That would be South America,
Canada, the UK, Norway and Mexico. Divide what we can produce domestically and import from friendly partners by the number of licensed drivers. That's what every driver gets. The new Department of Rationing distributes ration coupons to everyone in an equal amount. Those who need more gas can buy coupons from those who don't at whatever price the seller wishes to charge. We will be less susceptible to terrorist's attacks and do our descendants a big favor. The pain of deploying this plan will be far less than having a rationing plan imposed on us by some wacko.

Rationing would have a downside in that the Mideast oil producers would see the cash spigot close. With no income, what happens to the Saudi royal family? What happens to the other oil producing nations? There is no money to buy weapons of moderate destruction and there is no money to buy food for the folks. Big trouble.

Imagine the economic impact of rationing and energy self-sufficiency. Since we no longer have to protect the oil routes, we can substantially downsize our military. We can stop subsidizing the big energy businesses and use that money to increase our national energy efficiency. We can use a fee-bate mechanism to reward buyers of efficient, lightweight vehicles and punish buyers of oversized, overweight, inefficient vehicles. The program would be revenue neutral because the fee payers provide the rebates. The concept that grew out of the Dinah Shore ads about seeing the USA in your Chevrolet, is now obsolete. If you aren't part of the solution, you are part of the problem. The days of energy intensive lifestyles must end soon. Some would argue that the government has no business regulating what kind of car you drive. That may have been true, but times have changed. The days of the wild west are over, when a man with a gun was king and the government be damned. One of the purposes of the government is to act as the guardian of the commons. Currently, the government is on the payroll of those who care little for the commons and most about their bottom line.


Hoping that Bush will have a science epiphany anytime soon is fruitless. I would love to see a gutsy White House reporter ask Bush, "Sir, are you aware of the Law of Conservation of Matter?" Bush would start doing that mouth thing. "I'll have to get back to you on that one", he'd say. "Next question."

I think my best hope is with the press. If enough of the press understands the dilemma we are in and the need to do something fast to avoid bad stuff, they can get the word out, by writing books and articles, doing interviews and eventually making Bush confront the obvious.

If I were in charge of things, I'd make Amory Lovins the Secretary of Energy. The goal would be to sell the conversion to reduced-energy lifestyle to the American people and create a conversion agenda. With a series of TV firesides, Amory would present the situation to the American people. He would do a PowerPoint presentation of the Law of Conservation of Matter and make a case for the fact that we are quickly adding to the quantity of CO2 in the atmosphere. The CO2 acts as a big blankie, making the earth warmer. The earth finds this insulting and reacts by visiting us with floods, droughts and severe storms. Etcetera.

As a favor to our descendants, we need to put the brakes on and stop the transfer. We need to quickly arrest the use of oil and hitch our wagon to the renewable star.

One of the politically attractive things about the soft path is that it creates jobs. It seems like much of the hardware; photovoltaic panels, hot water panels, pumps and controllers, is  old technology. Sure there are going to be incremental improvements down the road, but the stuff we have now is good. We can make this gear and install it and along with other technologies, make dramatic improvements in the way energy is used. There are companies today who are in the business of designing and installing "smart home" systems. In addition to distributing music throughout the house, computers open vents, turn on fans and extend shade awnings. Most this work is done by local craftsmen.

When a homeowner retrofits his house to make it more energy efficient or adds a solar array for electricity or hot water, those improvements are paid for with a second mortgage. Mortgage payments are tax-deductible. Bills from energy suppliers are not deductible. Do the arithmetic.

Instead of fostering war, we can start to regain some world prestige by doing a big favor for the 3rd world. We would manufacture and distribute what I will call the  USSolarSystem Model M1A1. The basic unit is a photovoltaic cell array measuring 1M x 2M. They would be designed to withstand most gunshot wounds. Included in the system would be the required mounting hardware as well as a family of batteries, pumps, autoclaves, refrigerators and other appropriate devices. By giving 3rd World people the medical and lifestyle benefits of cheap energy, we give them a chance to step out of poverty and build a better life. Imagine the points we would get for that! Da Debel didn't make us do that! The factories to build these devices would provide a solid jobs program for us and others. It is better to have factories making devices that contribute to producing renewable energy than weapon systems.

Republicans like to rail against our welfare system and at the same time support a "strong defense". Go to http://globalsecurity.org/ and click on Military. You can drill down through every weapon system they want you to know about.

The F-14, F-15 and F-18 are old airplanes, but they are still very impressive. Tell me why we need both the F-22 and the Joint Strike Fighter. It's a welfare system for the well-paid, cloaked in national defense and our commitment to be number one in war-fighting systems. For a look at what your tax dollar buys, read this story

We need to be better world citizens. It looks like people all over the world admire America, the concept and America the people. What they have a hard time with is the attitude. The attitude of the government and specifically, George W. Bush. We are seen as bullies.

Strength through Exhaustion

Were diplomats on some kind of magic mushroom weekend when they offered to mentor the Iranian nuclear program? Here is a country that is blessed with 2 abundant energy sources, oil and solar. Our nuclear lobby promoted governmental encouragement of nuclear energy to produce electricity to be distributed on a grid that didn't exist and that would have been expensive to build and make secure. That wasn't very smart, long-term. An investment in solar photovoltaic would have been a far better choice. In a fuel-less Third World, USA Solar Technology can provide villages with all the benefits of small scale systems. These systems would offer a step out of poverty. We can start to regain some of the prestige we once had by offering butter instead of guns.


What would Big Al Queda do if we left the Arabian Peninsula?