Jack Fairweather at PostGlobal

Jack Fairweather

Washington, D.C., USA

Jack Fairweather was the Daily Telegraph's Baghdad and Gulf correspondent for four years, winning the UK's award for war reporting. He is currently based in Washington, D.C. He writes for the Atlantic Monthly, Mother Jones, and Harper's Magazine, and regularly reports from across the Middle East. Close.

Jack Fairweather

Washington, D.C., USA

Jack Fairweather was the Daily Telegraph's Baghdad and Gulf correspondent for four years, winning the UK's award for war reporting. He is currently based in Washington, D.C. He writes for the Atlantic Monthly, Mother Jones, and Harper's Magazine, and regularly reports from across the Middle East. more »

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Digging Toward Economic Decline

What would happen if America took what it spends on energy "security" and spent it on energy efficiency?

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All Comments (61)

Chris Hinners:

The Athabasca tar sands, as they are officially named in Canada, are easily the biggest white elephant the energy industry has ever seen. Plan A to fuel the extraction process involved building a huge pipeline to redirect newly-exploited gas resevres from the MacKenzie Delta just east of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge down to the tar sands project. This is the last of Canada's significant natural gas holdings, and over a decade has been spent on the courts getting the Inuit people to agree to ANY pipeline being built on their lands. Cooler heads recently prevailed and persuaded the powers that be to reserve this gas for heating homes, hot water, etc. DOH! So Plan B entails building not one, but two (that's how much heat it takes to steam-extract tar in sub-zero climates!) nuclear reactors to fuel the project. OK, so we get to enjoy modern convenience for another decade or two and then encase the radioactive waste in concrete for "someone else" to deal with. As the sands are excavated and processed, there remains the issue of what to do with the toxic water. At present, this toxic waste is pumped into the empty (and unlined) tar sand quarries while "someone else" figures out how to dispose of it in a safe and cost-effective manner. Meanwhile, the Dene natives and the fish they eat are getting cancer en masse from the toxic residues that leach into groundwater and rivers.

True, we need leadership from governement - but I see no monopoly on common sense from any of our leaders or candidates as long as there's dollar to be made during their term in office.

Chris Hinners, BushTech Surveys, Calgary, AB

AMviennaVA:

Sorry to ask, but if it takes as much energy to extract the oil as it afterwards produces, why bother extracting it? Afterall, where will the energy to extract it come from, and how will the greenhouse effects be negated (which will require additional energy and expenses)?

ED DZALAK:

I WORKED IN R/D AT ATOMIC'S INTERNATIONAL, WE DID THIS IN THE 1960'S AND 70'S SEARCHING FOR ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCES, WIND, GEOTHERMAL, AND COAL GASIFACATION, A GASIFACATIONN SYSTEM ON A FAIRLY LARGE SCALE, NOT ONLY PRODUCED GAS, BUT COAL LIQUFACTION INTO OIL. HIGH SULFER COAL WAS USED WHICH THERE IS A HUGE AMOUNT OF, SCRUBBERS WERE USED TO CLEAN THE SMOKE GENERATED, THE SYSTEM WORKED! BUT ONLY THE DATA WAS ARCHIVED, THE SYSTEM WAS DISMANTELED. NOTHING HAS BEEN DONE SINCE, TO MY KNOWLEDGE. THE BIG QUETION IS WHY? THE CONTRACT WAS 'DOE'

Vic van Meter:

I think you're all missing a huge sticking point. Everyone thinks alternative energy is just wind, water, solar, and thermal. What about nuclear energy?

I know it's a sticky subject, what with the non-proliferation policy and all, but as was mentioned above, we have the best engineers the world over. If we can make world-changing bombs out of it, I'm pretty sure we can learn to deal with nuclear power.

The problem is that nuclear power, as it is, produces a very controversial waste. And research has to be done to reduce the radioactivity of this waste. But it's imperitive that we have a source of electricity and power that reduces our dependence on oil. Imagine your car being completely electric, all stoves and heating systems being electric, and even your public transports being electric. Renewables can't provide this kind of power.

Therefore it is absolutely tantamount that our best scientists aren't researching hybrid technology or more efficient carbon monoxide scrubbers. What we need, more than anything, is to advance nuclear energy, because whether you like it or not, that's the future. Uranium is as common as tin in the earth's crust and other countries are already working on a fusion reactor that would leave us in the dust in America. We have to be a part of the future, and unfortunately we can't do that by solar power alone.

TechnologicalSolution:

Maybe it's time to change the way we distribute research and development funding through government agencies like NSF. Money could be distributed to a specific problem (like developing cost-efficient solar cells) rather than just thrown into basic research. Problem-oriented funding would attract more research into a specific area, and accelerate our finding a technological solution.

Michael Houst:

You know, if I could slash the cost in half of installing a solar electric array for my home, I'd install one in a heartbeat.

I'd shoot my home builder for improper orientation of the house for maximum solar heating (I live in N.H., cooling isn't a major consideration)

General Electric produced the Elec-Trac lawn and garden tractor line back in the 1970's. It was visionary, a product ahead of it's time. Then they short-sightedly sold it off because the rest of the world wasn't ready for it. I'd love to have a mint condition E-20 with full range of attachments now. Plow, blower, tiller, and front-mounted mower deck. If they could do that well on a garden tractor, they should be able to do equally well with a ground-up design and production of an fully electric car; instead of retrofitted Detroit gas guzzlers we currently see.

mohammad allam:

It is easy to talk dream but very hard to live in reality.Till now we have not so easily accessable energy resourcs like Arab oil.other hand the American leadership strategy is to extarct as much oil as possible from the Arab world as there friendly goverment.otherwise in presence of hostile regime the best way to turn towards own reserve resources.

Berry:

I agree almost entirely with the author. It would be nice if we (the world) could get rid of dirty industries and (somehow) start a path of sustainability.

There is a little problem out there: SUBURBIA. Americans consume twice as much energy per capita as citizens of other industrialized countries.

In America, such simple things as getting some groceries, going to work, or attending college, require people to get inside a two-ton, four-wheeled metallic artifact which burns a dozen gallons of gas per day, just to provide enough torque not to be left behind our peers.

Thank God, modern SUVs have lots of airbags to protect us when bridges collapse under the weight of... modern SUVs.

How could you ask a soccer mom not to attend her kids games aboard her new Suburban? Or a hardworking dad to deprive himself of the pleasure of driving a full-sized V8 truck? That would be so un-American.

Those moms and dads are the ones who give oil companies the billions they need to dig in Alberta's sands. It's not about government subsidies, taxes, or regulations. It's not about been green, blue or red. If politicians don't understand their nation's character, they cannot be effective politicians.

Peter O'Connell - Key Largo, Fl.:

Yes, it is called "Peak Oil". The uncomplicated intersecton where supply can no longer meet demand and you get oil prices on steriods.
The US will never be "green" until we feel the pain of the oil prices in our daily lives and our economic stability is threatened. At what price per gallon do we begin to carpool, use public transportation? Certainly not at the current $3.10 national average price.
Tom Friedman of the NYTimes had it right when he call it a "green cocktail party", not a green revolution. When public policy dictates "lights out" in all buldings after a certain hour, when Mondays and Fridays are "public transportation day only"....now that is a "Green Revolution". And of course, OPEC will be beside themselves if conservation ever gains a toehold. Afterall, they too have built an extravant lifestyle....on petro dollars which we gladly pay over with each tank of gas.

Ben E. Hill:

It won't happen as long as we keep electing oil-company-friendly leaders.

Nick:

We are all penny -wise and pound-foolish. Instead of spending tax dollars on the infrastructure that will be needed for public transportation in the US in the future, Congress and the state and local legislatures and transportation agencies keep spending transportation money on roads. Why aren't we spending those billions on electrified high-speed inter-city and cross-country trains and billions more on the network of local trains that will be needed in the future if we are to keep our economy running? Without them our economy, our democracy, and our country will collapse and die.

Clark Clydestone:

This could never happen! WHy?
Because your cutting out the EXXONs, SHELLS, PHILLIPS PETROLEUM, Bushes and CHeneys. Thats why.
These people control alot of power and media in the US. Why do you think Mr. Rupert Murdoch warned his own country not to pull out thier 1500 or so troops from Iraq. I can guarantee you that his profit is involved somewhere.
The price gouging and now slide of the dollar that Mr. Bush initially defended as Market forces has spooked the world, and WHY NOT? I would want to be paid in real money, not something that has lost 40% of its buying power in 2 short years.
Another hidden cost of the Iraq war, the billions allocated is not 100% of the cost. The remainder of the cost are the maimed lifes of soldiers that are returning.
Of course lip service has to be paid how they're being taken care of and bravery extolled in order to keep the fervent patriotism to die for someone's profit.
And of course the other last but not least, is the cost of the lost buying power of the piece of paper called the dollar you worked all week and month to earn. 40% of that has just been removed from your pocket. Of course its just this mysterious thing called INFLATION no one seems to understand. Yet all it is, is giving international bankers the right to exclusive printing of paper currency representing the buying power of a countries citizens. The country by law must borrow from the printers what they use to purchase. And as long as the tax revenues match the loan, there's no problem but when it exceeds the loan from the printers that are the international bankers, you have HORRIFIC inflation. Of course thats where the monies for Iraq are borrowed when the treasury does not have the funds.
4 Million civilian dead total in Vietnam and now 160,000 dead civilians in Iraq and the old argument is still in vogue. What does it take to learn that these profit wars are orchestrated!

DFC:

It was those damn big-government socialists who dragged us into failures like the Manhattan Project and the Apollo Program. Oh, and World War 2. What a disaster that one was.

RB:

According to an in-depth article in last week's New Yorker, extracting "oil" aka syn fuel from tar sands requires a barrel of "oil" to yield three barrels of "oil," making it twice as polluting from the carbon dioxide perspective.

Once the external cost of carbon dioxide pollution is included by mandate in the retail cost, clean alternatives will take over. This requires political will not currently possessed by current leadership.

openletter:

Not all proponents of the free market are advocates of allowing other nations to conquer our own. I do not find Guerilla Capitalism very interesting.

So your argument on Japan and Germany are simply not applicable.

What is applicable is the other wars you failed to mention that free market proponents and constitutionalists would have strongly recommended we stay out of: The Korean War, The Vietnam War and both Iraq wars. In fact, probably just about every military action since WWII and all of the U.S. lives that have been lost or destroyed from those actions are in opposition their beliefs.

The current situation of excessive oil dependency has been largely inflated by the policies of our government. The PC did not come from a government program, it came from free enterprise. Believe it or not, the networked computer, GUI interface, and object-oriented programming, were all invented in a lab at the Xerox Research Center in Palo Alto. The PC as we know it was invented by a very obscure company and evolved by geek hobbyists like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Please don't make the claim that the government was responsible for the PC.

The other part of the government argument that fails is how many trillions have been spent on technologies that are completely worthless to anyone except the government and the research centers that provide them. I learned in my community college Macroeconomics course that every dollar spent on the government effectively removes $2.50 from the economy. That basic Macroeconomics course is required for nearly every single degree from nearly every accredited college in the U.S. Why is it better to remove the money from the economy?

What I consistently observe is that individuals who take a hard look at what the economists point out often end up being on the side of the free market economy. I live in California, so I have my very liberal, Democrat friends, and not a one of them seems to be able to recall anything from their econ courses.

And when I became a business owner, I was surprised to learn that my tax accountant, who has made a very good living for over 30 years, was strongly against income taxes and all of the inefficiencies it adds to our economy.

One friend I have who is about as liberal as it gets (vegan, animal rights activist, supports drug legalization, etc) opened his own software company. As I explained to him all of the taxes he was going to have to pay as an employer, he immediately changed his views on government's role in our society.

Rich Rosenthal:

So let me make a journey, hundreds of miles across the desert. I know I will run out of gas somewhere past Blythe but if I fill up in blythe then I will not be able to hear my wife nag me in the desert when we run out of gas thus giving me the proper INCENTIVE to understand why I should plan ahead. So lets wait until the price of gas, and the devastating shortages that drives the price up, gets high enough to make the free market figure out what to do next.
Have any of you ever ran out of gas in the desert with an overheated spouse?
Well, I don't intend to and I am letting you know that now.

Anonymous:

There are better ways for Alberta to get oil out of the tar sands, but as long as Canada isn't thinking about the effect of dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the damage will continue.

We don't need radical government programs, we just need a method to allow the community, locally, nationally, and globally, to assign a market value to the air we all rely on. That's the whole point of the Kyoto Protocol.

Energy "security" is the wrong paradigm. If we let the market provide for itself, producers and consumers will meet. Spending trillions of dollars to choose which dictator rules which desert adds hundreds of dollars per barrel to the price of oil. We just pay that with our tax dollars, or our children's tax dollars, instead of at the gas station.

Anonymous:

Can't you come up with anything new besides tired, old re-distributive, ineffecient and ridiculous "Gov't save us" schemes? Scarcity of oil should be exactly what is needed to make so-called "green" energy economical. If not, please don't waste our time with it. I request Mr. Fairweather to take his PC, socialistic ideas back to the UK with him, where everyone has already bought into such nonsense.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Tired, dis-proven free market tripe. Sorry but when we had to fight Japan and Germany we didn't sit on our hands waiting for capitalists to evolve cost efficient toys to humor those who would overrun us ASAP. When we needed to prove that capitalism was sooooo superior when the Russians were in orbit with sputnik, laika(dog), a men, women, and a probe doing kodak moments on the moon we didn't wait for the free market to send a spaceship up 60 miles, 50 years later. No we made it a national goal and did it. As it turns out, our economy, and capitalists, has blossomed from that decision in unimaginable ways that now allows me to inform you on your own PC (or mac). Most of our current technology is deriviative of that mad dash of the sixties.
So now we a global environmental threat, a fundamental resource in decline and a geopolitical disadvantage that can reduce us to the dark ages and you think we need to let the free market shine like this a Quaker prayer meeting waiting for some unsolicited inspiration? The free market always had the chance to step up to the plate since '73 and it hasn't. Just some dreamers in garages or corporate PR exercises. With good leadership our government is just as good as any corporation except the shareholders are also on the board. So thank you for your opinion, but get out of the way!

openletter:

Who reads all of these posts? I think posters just post to read their own post. No real productivity produced here. Perhaps not allowing Comments would help reduce energy consumption because computers and internet servers and switches need to consume that much less power.

Energy efficient light bulbs will do little to curb oil demand in the U.S. The vast majority of our electricity comes from coal. Oil is key to the transportation and petrochemical (plastics) industries.

Government is not in place to provide solutions. The government in fact created the problem. It decided that taxpayer money should be used to create roads. If the free market had to pay for the roads, a more efficient and sustainable system would have been in place from the get go.

The bridge disaster we are currently experiencing goes hand in hand with the oil debacle, and both stem from our allowing the government to control key portions of our nation's infrastructure.

We are now suffering from the same problems that the USSR suffered: it is too expensive and difficult to change and we can't stay the same.

John DC:

I disagree with Mr. Fairweather's assertion that the problem is the lack of government intervention into energy research and development. The problem is simply a lack of appreciation on the level of the individual citizen of the grave problems caused by energy dependency. That is, individuals in favor of diversification away from oil have simply, so far, failed to make their case that energy diversification is worth the economic dislocations it will cause to the everyday consumer. The newest model years of cars are bigger, faster, and generate more horsepower than the previous, rather than focusing on fuel efficiency. Hybrids are a stop-gap solution, but aside from problems with battery disposal, they are too often used (for example, in the Lexus 600h) to provide greater power and acceleration, and not for fuel savings. To change the direction of the county, you need to change the minds of its citizens first. When people go to the dealership and demand a plug-in or hydrogen-powered car, companies will respond with their own R&D efforts and will generate beneficial technologies, no government intervention needed.

John Schaefer:

Solving our energy problems, and coincidentally a lot of other problems, requires truth; this article contains a lot of truth, and should be required reading for policy makers. But there's more.

We know the market works, but we also know that life on earth can't continue with us humans on the present path.

A carbon fee (or carbon tax, perhaps) is the way to bring everyone on board. We can clean up pollution, place the country's financing on a sound basis, and eliminate the need to fight wars to get other countries' oil.

Cap and trade is way less effective because it's subject to corrupt assignment of caps. A carbon fee would be easier and more efficient, as it requires that we charge all carbon producers a charge that increases every year until we get to a sustainable level of carbon dioxide output.

Some private interests, such as oil and other carbon companies, won't like this idea because they'll be the ones who have to pay. But it'll enable life as we know to continue for our great granchildren.

Joao da Rocha:

OS VINTE PAÍSES MAIS RICOS SE REUNEM NA ÁFRICA DO SUL


O Fórum do G-20 que está acontecendo na África do Sul, com a participação de países que representam mais de 90% do PIB mundial, pode trazer resultados positivos para o mundo capitalista.Os Bancos Centrais Mundiais e as Comissões de Valores Mobiliários, com a crise das Letras Hipotecárias americanas,maturada por mais de dois anos, deixaram claro a incompetencia preventiva de ação e provaram que realmente estão impotentes e precisam de uma reformulação total e imediata no monitoramento do sistema financeiro internacional.Em plena éra da cibernética, da facilidades da comunicação On - Line, o mundo de hoje não é o mundo da realidade da Conferencia de Bretton Woods que deu origem ao Banco Mundial, criado em 1994, organismo que também precisa de uma reformulação profunda, fazendo reflexões sobre o que fez e o que deixou de fazer en favor dos países das americas e do caribe.O fórum do G -20 deve também discutir a importancia da Trasparencia das atividades dos Bancos Centrais e das Comissões de Valores Mobiliários e como conter a desenvoltura da volatilidade do capital especulativo e tambem avaliar a importancia das chamas empresas de ANÁLISES DE RISCO. Por falta de um correto monitoramento e mesmo por incompetencia ou tolerancia, os Bancos Centrais e as CVMs deixaram que os maiores grupos financeiros americanos chegassem ao ponto de maquiar balanços, para enganar investidores e continuar auferindo lucros fácies nas intermediações. E as multinacionais,os bancos de outros países, inclusive o Brasil, será que tambem estão no mesmo caminho dos Estados Unidos?. Só mesmo uma eficiente CMV e um Banco Central atuante e Transparente, serão capazes de nos dar as respostas.Na reunião do G-20 deve surgir, com certeza, normas e regulamentos que não tornem os Bancos Centrais e as CMVs Escravos permanentes da especulação financeira mundial. A planta mundial está mudando de eixo,político, economico, financeiro e social, quando sabemos que os americanos dependem irreversilvelmente dos recursos da China, do Japão, de Taiwan,de Hong Kong, Coreia do Sul, Russia, Índia Singapura e até do Brasil, para a rolagem das dívidas do Tesouro. E a desconcentração de riquesas tambem deverá ser um tema muito importante para que se acelere a redução do índice de pobreza e de indigência nos países pobres e em desenvolvimento. A China contribuiria muito, se deslocasse uns 400 bilhões de dólares de suas aplicações em títulos do tesouro americano, que devem passar de US$ 1,1 trilhões, para aplicar em Letras do Tesouro de outros países, inclusive o Brasil, nas mesmas condições de Prazos e Juros. A pobreza absoluta só existe por anuência e conveniência dos governantes. Os americanos, com certeza, nesse fórum do G -20, poderão trazer à luz, grandes soluções para o aprimoramento do capitalismo selvagem e que não está na sua melhor forma. Afinal,os americanos não estão em recessão mediata ou imediata, quando destacam , em planejamento para até 2017, gastos de mais de US$ 3 trilhões de dólares somente com a Guerra.Que recessão é essa que estamos utilizando aquí no Brasil para manter a taxa Selic elevada, mas sabemos que os motivos são outros e, o prinicipal, atrativo para a rolagem de nossa dívida de mais de R$ 1,3 trilhões, no Curto Prazo. Precisamos começar a usufruir dos benefícios de uma inflação baixa e de uma economia em desenvolvimento e não continuar, em prejuizo dos brasileiros, financiando os americanos, com a aquisição das Letras do Tesouro, com recursos das reservas internacionais, acima de US$ 150 bilhões, rendendo juros de pouco mais de 4% ao ano e pagando internamente por eles, o mínimo da taxa selic. Esse diferencial da renumeração interna e externa deve custar mais de R$ 10 bilhões anualmente aos cofres do Tesouro Nacional.Como pode o primo pobre financiar o primo rico?. O Governo precisa fazer média com os recursos brasileiros,beneficiando os brasileiros

Kenneth B. Smith, P.E.:

Atten: Jack Fairweather. Re: Your column of 11-19-07.
Sir: It is my opinion that the time has arrived for the government to acknowledge it cannot control the unreasonable price of energy, and for gasoline in particular. The U.S.
Government should implement the War Time gasoline
rationing program, with all that such a program implies. The issuing of red gas ration stamps, and the use of said stamps in accord with provable need is all a part of the program, with
the reduction in demand, and the fair use for all citizens a priority. This would also encourage the motor vehicle industry to produce and sell more gasoline efficient autos.
Sincerely yours: Cyrano, former naval person,WWII.

Kenneth B. Smith, P.E.:

Atten: Jack Fairweather. Re: Your column of 11-19-07.
Sir: It is my opinion that the time has arrived for the government to acknowledge it cannot control the unreasonable price of energy, and for gasoline in particular. The U.S.
Government should implement the War Time gasoline
rationing program, with all that such a program implies. The issuing of red gas ration stamps, and the use of said stamps in accord with provable need is all a part of the program, with
the reduction in demand, and the fair use for all citizens a priority. This would also encourage the motor vehicle industry to produce and sell more gasoline efficient autos.
Sincerely yours: Cyrano, former naval person,WWII.

Paul NY:

I am glad my "childish blabber" is getting some attention! To Clevelandtom: Petroleum took off because kerosene was a huge improvement in cost and efficiency to the fuel of the time (whale oil). No think tank or Gov't lab created that, and land-grants or leases were simply after-the-fact. The telephone became commonplace because it was such an obvious leap in communications - again, we didn't need a 50 year ATT monopoly to achieve that. The Gov't may provide tax benefits (which already exist in a big way) but Gov'ts record on spending money on and creating AND commercializing such technologies frankly stinks. What you wind up with is dubious, Gov't-driven, pork-laden monsters like ethanol.

Paul NY:

I am glad my "childish blabber" is getting some attention! To Clevelandtom: Petroleum took off because kerosene was a huge improvement in cost and efficieny to the fuel of the time (whale oil). No think tank or Gov't lab created that, and land-grants or leases were simply after-the-fact. The telephone became commonplace because it was such an obvious leap in communications - again, we didn't need a 50 year ATT monopoly to achieve that. The Gov't may provide tax benefits (which already exist in a big way) but Gov'ts record on spending money on and creating AND commercializing such technologies frankly stinks. What you wind up with is dubious, Gov't-driven, pork-laden monsters like ethanol.

Paul NY:

I am glad my "childish blabber" is getting some attention! To Clevelandtom: Petroleum took off because kerosene was a huge improvement in cost and efficienty to the fuel of the time (whale oil). No think tank or Gov't lab created that, and land-grants or leases were simply after-the-fact. The telephone became commonplace because it was such an obvious leap in communications - again, we didn't need a 50 year ATT monopoly to achieve that. The Gov't may provide tax benefits (which already exist in a big way) but Gov'ts record on spending money on and creating AND commercializing such technologies frankly stinks. What you wind up with is dubious, Gov't-driven, pork-laden monsters like ethanol.

danS:

If everyone drove a Prius we'd cut our oil consumption from 7 billion to 5 billion barrels of oil per year and reduce global demand from 27 to 25 billion barrels of oil. Remember gasoline represents less than HALF of our consumption of oil. Although I am for it, reducing gasoline use will not have a major effect on oil markets.

Unfortunately if one wants to reduce greenhouse gases significantly in the next 30 years and reduce our consumption of oil we have to do three things. Greatly expand the number of nuclear plants in the world so that we no longer need coal or natural gas for electricity and space heating. Develop plug in hybrid cars so that GLOBALLY the average MPG is raised to 120. Finally use the existing plentiful natural gas reserves in the world to fuel more trucks, trains and the petrochemical industry

Finally I'm not married to nuclear - if someone can scale up alternatives to the same extent and in the same time frame as nuclear than I say go for it. But right now it's not going to happen

Concerned Quaker:

This post is dead on! The US can spend more than $50 Billion a year on the war in Irag, but the Department of Energy spends less than $200 Million a year on developing and promoting technologies to improve vehicle efficiency. That is $250 for a war to protect our source of oil for every $1 we spend on reducing our use of oil for transportation. It seems to me that our priorities are misguided and need to change!

Jeff:

Lets all go outside tonight and look at all those beautiful Christmas Lights strewn across our town. This is the BIGGEST waste of energy ever. Keeping up with the Jones' means every year its a race to see who can waste more energy. I like Christmas as much as anyone but this is an energy crime. Please turn off those displays of stupidity!!!!!

Rich Rosenthal:

If we do nothing it will eventually make economic sense (hodgepodge entrepenurial projects) to do the smart and sensible thing. Of course, with appropriate leadership, we could do the smart, sensible thing in a goal directed way. The problem here is that our government is more than willing to subsidize fossil fuel, bio-chemical fuels and nuclear R&D and is unwilling to promote renewables other than an occasion photo-op or a few million here or there. We are likely to spend trillions on geopolitical "national interests" in oil producing regions for naught (likely) while turn our backs on our future. This is criminal but you can't convict if the skull is thick! Bush now acknowledges global warming because the ipcc finally got the facts right- the rest of us have known it for decades. I oppose the head-in-sand free market approach because the solution requires massive coordination across many states and with overlapping technologies. The free market would consider that competition and work cross-purpose to the goal: energy independence and efficiency. Fact: Just switching from gas engines to electric improves energy efficiency 300% not 5 or 10% with hard won CAFE improvements.
Sure your exxon stock will be worth nothing but who cares about wealth when you do the right thing, right?

dcameron - Golden, CO:

I agree with Strat too because it is a multi-tiered approach to a problem that is multi-layered. For those who complain about the sun not shining or the wind not blowing, you are behind the times with the science. One of the largest solar installations in the world is using concentrating solar to store energy in a fluid heated to 600C. That will be used to heat water, turn a turbine, and can store it heat when the sun doesn't shine, which is rarely in this location in New Mexico. Wind can likewise have its energy stored in batteries (plug in hybrid cars can become the storage medium), or hydrogen, for later fuel cell conversion. The technological challenges, while great, are not as challenging at the political will to make change. I also want to echo those who say that the cost of oil does not mention externalities enough. How much evidence does one need for the unsustainability of the oil culture before they are willing to make personal change? Apparently more than some have received. Makes one wonder if it is the lack of data, or the lack of willingness to accept that change is inevitable. We all need to be part of the change we wish to see.

dcameron - Golden, CO:

I agree with Strat too because it is a multi-tiered approach to a problem that is multi-layered. For those who complain about the sun not shining or the wind not blowing, you are behind the times with the science. One of the largest solar installations in the world is using concentrating solar to store energy in a fluid heated to 600C. That will be used to heat water, turn a turbine, and can store it heat when the sun doesn't shine, which is rarely in this location in New Mexico. Wind can likewise have its energy stored in batteries (plug in hybrid cars can become the storage medium), or hydrogen, for later fuel cell conversion. The technological challenges, while great, are not as challenging at the political will to make change. I also want to echo those who say that the cost of oil does not mention externalities enough. How much evidence does one need for the unsustainability of the oil culture before they are willing to make personal change? Apparently more than some have received. Makes one wonder if it is the lack of data, or the lack of willingness to accept that change is inevitable. We all need to be part of the change we wish to see.

S. Manske, Lakeside, OR:

"some old-fashioned government leadership to recalibrate the basis of the world economy"

Government leadership recalibrating the economy like that manifested by North Korea, Cuba, or Venezuela? (chuckle) Lots more innovation generally coming from the private sector in the nominally democratic societies, is my personal observation.
None of the panaceas mentioned on this board to date are cost-free, incidently. Out west, major environmental orgs are lobbying for tearing out hydropower dams on the Snake River system (energy about as sustainable and "clean" as it gets ... but it kills fish). Wind-power installations in various parts of the world are already attracting environmental protests. Geothermal power stations have serious water pollution issues, plus in this country the best resources would lie inside national parks. The best materials for solar cell photovoltaics are generally substances that are rare, toxic, carcinogenic, or all three.
Oh well! Looks like we're all going to die anyway, even with government micromanagement of our lives by highly intelligent and virtuous liberals!

FreemarketScientist:

John,

The marketplace is often the best place for distribution of technology once it is developed. An incredible research and design hurdle stands in the way of much alternative energy development. Government action and funding in BOTH basic research AND engineering development is necessary to bring an alternative technology to fruition. Once the technology is in place, all subsidies to the old technology should cease, and the free market will lead people to the new technology through its cost effectiveness. Since energy is such a basic commodity in the economy, great care must be taken in ensuring energy is still available while the transition occurs, at the lowest possible cost. A sudden hike in oil prices through increased gas tax or otherwise is not the solution to the energy problem. Solar technology is not as far away as you might think, especially with the nanotechnology revolution right around the corner...

Technology has changed a lot since Carter. Let's give the engineers a chance to solve the problem. An incredible profit motive exists for whoever can create the next big, efficient alternative energy source. Believe me, we're all looking for it.

-FS

Thickman:

Anyone in here ever take a science class in high school? Good grief.

John:

How ironic! There is nothing new about this. President Carter advocated we do this back in 1979 during the second oil crisis. He called it the moral equivalent of war, which the mainstream press promptly derided as "MEOW". Reagan ran against it in 1980, telling us the "magic of the marketplace" would solve our problems. Now, 27 years later, our problems are nowhere near solution.

A piece of advice: ignor the next jackass who tells you that the "magic of the marketplace" is the solution to whatever problem you want solved. The way to solve problems is to work hard and sacrifice, not pretend they don't exist.

John:

How ironic! There is nothing new about this. President Carter advocated we do this back in 1979 during the second oil crisis. He called it the moral equivalent of war, which the mainstream press promptly derided as "MEOW". Reagan ran against it in 1980, telling us the "magic of the marketplace" would solve our problems. Now, 27 years later, our problems are nowhere near solution.

A piece of advice: ignor the next jackass who tells you that the "magic of the marketplace" is the solution to whatever problem you want solved. The way to solve problems is to work hard and sacrifice, not pretend they don't exist.

Reuben:

I agree with Strat that we need a government facilitator rather than leadership. I'd like to add too that we have green buses but the road transportation system needs to have a better way to use them. Nobody is going to want to spend 2 hours getting to work on a bus when the other option is 30 minutes using their own car. Also the solar decathalon showcased lots of green homes and what would be a better place to start building them than in Detroit? It has plenty of vacant lots and cold weather that would necessitate an energy efficient home.

Peter H Beal:

Why don't we haved a "Manhattan" project to et off Petroleum? No one seems to realize that 75% of petroleum is used for motor fuels, gas, jet & diesel. Solve that and we are golden.

ClevelandTom:

From Paul NY:
"Can't you come up with anything new besides tired, old re-distributive, ineffecient and ridiculous "Gov't save us" schemes?"

America has a long history of government subsidization and/or encouragement of new industries. Pushing railroads into the west in the 19th century was enabled by huge land grants to railroad builders. The buildout of the electric, gas and phone systems in the 20th century were enabled by awarding legal monopolies. And, yes, the American oil industry was enabled with things like low-cost mineral right grants on government land and resource depreciation tax credits.

To say that for the US government to subsidize and encourage alternative energy projects now is some sort of new, socialistic approach is historically absurd.

Reuben:

This is the same problem that I heard in college back in 1992. You're right that we need someone from within the government to make the change. It's too radical to do unless someone with deep pockets gets involved or the green party becomes a major voting block. I'm just sick of hearing about it, talking about it, and then nothing gets done and double that for the war. I just want to know who would be willing to back a third party after this president gets out of office.

Strat:

Oil shale is being developed because liquid fuels are needed for the current transportation fleet (cars, trucks, and rail). This need is expressed by the current high price of oil. Whether it's better to be dependent on foreign oil, or to use large amounts of resources (land, energy, and water) to produce oil from US and Canadian shale and tar sands is a matter for debate, but these are not the only choices. High oil prices are also spurring development of alternative energy sources advocated by Mr. Fairweather, and they are doing it more effectively than government can.
What's the role of government in making a transition to a more palatable energy future?

1) CEASE FUNDING TRADITIONAL DESTRUCTIVE FOSSIL ENERGY SOURCES. Make traditional energy pay its way, including imposing taxes that reasonably reflect environmental externalities, and ending preferential tax treatment, preferential access to public lands (if any), slack enforcement of reasonable environmental regulations, military expeditionary activities in support of the oil industry, and other favors doled out to the oil and coal industries. This may be all that is necessary, is for the government to quit favoring the old school. But if government really needs to get involved, it can perhaps usefully do the following:

2) Fund basic research in alternative (and clean fossil) energy, particularly for transportation. Fund BASIC research in batteries, strong and light materials, and alternative propulsion technologies.

3) Fund training and basic research for engineers, chemists, and physical scientists.

4) Establish a stable and rational regulatory environment that has buy-in from mainstream industry and environmental entities. This should include a sensible, well-thought out, and unintrusively implemented carbon tax or system of tradeable carbon permits.

5) Encourage participatory regional transportation infrastructure planning that provides even-handed treatment for cost-effective increments to infrastructure needed for cars, bikes, light rail, buses, and other transportation alternatives, rather than the current system that favors roads for automobiles.

What government should NOT do is try to plan the next big energy breakthrough, or the transition to a Brave New World of Solar Enlightenment. Take a look in the rear view mirror at past failures (eg Synfuels Corp), or attend any Strategic Planning session at any government agency if you want to see why that's not the right road to follow. It's better to create a healthy environment with good incentives for private sector innovation than to try too much "Government Leadership."

mike tar:

Great article. If we had only spent the TRILLION dollars of the Iraq war on energy efficient products in America we would be fat and happy now and have the whole world begging us to please help them as well. Only a real moron thinks we can fight for control of mideast oil with our army and WIN anything worth the cost and misery ...... um that would be most Republicans .... I also have to laugh when the SOCIALIST boogey man jumps up here .... I know how much Americans love their SOCIAL Security, and their socialist police departments, and socialist fire departments. Maybe of course you should only have as much police protection as you can afford .... and if your house is on fire and you didnt pay the ever higher fire response insurance premiums ...well let it burn .... one less commie on the block eh Paul NY?

Go Green:

People like Skinner and Paul from NY can't see beyond their noses other than reciting old tired clichés of socialism, big govt, redistribution and other childish blabber. If the US, the most energy wasteful country about 25% of all energy consumed in the world, came with innovative solutions begining thirty years ago by now something useful might have been achieved to solve the energy and environmental crisis facing us. But lo as long as there are dinosaurs such as the above mentioned people ... they will continue to shout their clichés until they get drowned by glacier meltdown caused by carbon abuse at their beach houses. They have no one to blame but the their greedy behavior. Too bad others have to suffer along with them.

Bert:

I have this to say about that: The ocean bounces up and down every 4 hours, and the sun shines
12 hours a day, and the middle part of our
planet is like, on fire, and stuff, and the
sooner our scientists stop getting bribed by the
oil companies, the sooner they can get started
with figuring out how to do this.

pdwyer:

You are so right. Climate change is the greatest challenge ever faced by humanity. Yet comentators list the big election issues: Iraq, health care, immigration, the economy, education, social security...The public needs to face squarely that those issues will become beside the point in 2 or 3 decades unless we mobilize now to address climate change. "Mobilize" at the level of WWII commitment. Anything less will be useless. Read George Monbiot's recent book "Heat." We don't need 35 mpg cars - we need 120 mpg cars, and a lot fewer of them, driving a lot fewer miles. We need houses that consume virtually no energy. These things are possible now, but not unless we agree to put hundreds of billions of dollars into making it happen, and not unless we put this issue squarely in the front of public consciousness every day.

The Rugger:

Makes sense.

So, why is it that we
re not getting "some old-fashioned government leadership to recalibrate the
basis of the world economy"?

Rationalist:

Mr. Jack Fairweather has no easy answer or he is not telling whole truth? I have an uneasy feeling that Author is specking on behalf of some powerful oligarchies? And these powerful units are telling Mr.Fairwearher to blow whistle with full lungs, to tell us we have no technology or know how to extract Oil from so called "Oil-SANDS"??
We all know that "Necessity is the mother of invention" that had been proved by Nazis during IIWW, They produced Nitric Acid from Nitrogen, Oxygen, and Hydrogen, taken from air we breath, as the sources of natural ingredients were not reaching German Coasts. Rationale is if we apply the technology to extract Oil from Oil-sands, immediate effect will be the catastrophic crash of oil price, that shouldn't be allowed.
But our mother nature, creates a system where every thing stars or born and every thing decays
and faces death or extinction. So Oil Industries
are facing the natural aging process and they are not willing to jump in New unknown, and they are unwilling to invest money in research and experiments, so that we can get Oil substitutes and or "Sand Oil products".
If we are unable to do something in time, then we will be blamed for failing to check Global warming, and our Children and grandchildren will be the most vulnerable to man made Green House gases.

ghostcommander:

If the present USA government mis-administration and their party along with the Corporate management in the Energy sector existed before the automobile, we would just be stuck with horses and buggies. Back then, knowing what we know now about CO2, that might have been a good idea. People with no vision can never see the light or change from the status quo. We may have to wait until the global warming straw breaks the proverbial camel's back.

Dave:

@Skinner

Attitudes like yours are the biggest roadblock in having meaningful discussions about sustainability. On a day to day routine, what do you do to help out. Are a part of the problem or part of the solution. Do you leave lights on in empty rooms? Do you recycle your newspaper and pop cans? Do you buy local food and goods? Look, we will always use oil in some shape, form, or fashion. I like nylon rain gear and vibram soles, but with a little extra time and effort we can all help to use less and conserve more.

matt rose:

Inefficient energy use is without question the biggest tax Americans pay.

We pay it first in case at the pump, were we obviously pay more the more we gas we consume.

We pay it second in terms of security; which I think has become obvious since George Bush's war in Iraq, and our dependance on Iranian and Saudi Oil.

And we pay for it third in the moral cost of sending our military to kill and die to guarentee our supply of oil.

An investment in energy efficiency could pay great dividends indeed.

Sam F.:

I was just talking about our future energy needs with my dad at lunch today. In order for alternative energies to become relevant in today's society, individuals will need some form of incentive (either a tax credit or payback in months vs. years) to sign up for the cost of going green.

For example, were I to add solar power to my house, it might cost upwards to $10k. I'd recoup that cost over 10 years though and after that, I'm making money. If I could take that and recoup it in 10 months instead, I'd be much more willing to shell out the cash. In the meantime, I'll continue to pay for power on the grid.

Now, if the technology was cheap enough, instead of getting a central facility to generate and distribute the power, if we all had solar generators on our roofs, converting the sun's rays into power, we could then live off the grid and offload our excess power *to* the grid. Instead of distributed computing, we'd have a distributed energy infrastructure.

Another alternative would be to increase the tax credit so that those who can afford the technology now would be more amenable to shelling out the cash. If I could spend $10k and get a $5k tax credit, that would also help push me along on the road to going solar.

Oil is not the answer to the energy needs of the future. It will still be used, but not in the same manner as it's been used for the past 100+ years (especially as India and China adopt more and more 1st world lifestyles).

Paul NY:

Glad to see the spirit of socialism did not die with the Soviet Union. You probably don't realize what a frightening, reactionary phrase you have thrown out: "what's needed is some old-fashioned government leadership to recalibrate the basis of the world economy."

Can't you come up with anything new besides tired, old re-distributive, ineffecient and ridiculous "Gov't save us" schemes? Scarcity of oil should be exactly what is needed to make so-called "green" energy economical. If not, please don't waste our time with it. I request Mr. Fairweather to take his PC, socialistic ideas back to the UK with him, where everyone has already bought into such nonsense.

Dave:

Sustainability is a concept that our government needs to foster on many levels, including energy, food, land use, and water.

In a capitalistic society based on free market enterprise and hefty investment in corporate shares the concept of sustainability is going to run into roadblocks. I believe sustainability is feasible in the four subjects I listed above, but we need political and corporate leadership to take us there.

In many circles the idea of "sustainability" is seen as giving into the environmentalists agenda, or as being "too left". There is a ground swell in this country by consumers to become "greener" and/or more conscious of our actions and their effect on mother earth, I believe it's imperative that our political leaders pick up the ball and run with it. I think a lot of points could be won by presidential candidates who choose to focus on these issues.

Dave Skinner:

What other conclusion to expect from a Harpers/MoJo writer than a money transfer to other purposes?
The fact is, our economy, and any modern society, literally runs on reliable, on demand energy. If the wind doesn't blow, or the sun don't shine, what then?
I bet Jack wouldn't be too happy if he was stuck in the oil patch about now because his solar Prius doesn't run under overcast or in a blizzard.

aguy7:

I've been saying since 9/11 that the Iraq war is an American oil grab, that we should spend the money on freeing ourselves from our oil dependency rather than on a disastrous war, and that the chances of that happening are slim with a President and VP whose personal fortunes come from the oil industry. America props us oppressive Gulf governments for sweetheart oil deals, and the hopeless people of those countries express their frustration and anger via terrorism. The cost of the Iraq war is the unseen oil tax we're paying to maintain the status quo. America has the greatest engineering talent in the world. If we had a government with the vision to put some real resources into developing an alternative to oil, we could do it. But our President is in the pockets of the industry who bought his office. That we lease hybrid technology developed in Japan is a national shame. We should be leading the world in energy research and development. Instead, we cling to our SUVs and have more lanes of highway and North Slope drilling--both of which support the real ruler of this country--the oil industry--as our energy policy.

Jeremy Walker:

Jack Fairweather is right on in terms of our national energy crisis. He is key on the issue of national expenditures and how they represent our poorly guided values right now.

I also agree that it is time that the Government take action. However, appropriating budgets for more research while good natured will not get us the results we need now.

We need government funded public transportation, and I'm not talking about deisel buses, more like subway systems and light-rail systems. We need fast transportation in the 21st century with as little congestion as possible. We also need government subsidized solar panels on American suburbia. Just think if every household from Southern California to Florida had a solar panelled house what a difference that would make?

We need to stop encouraging and start telling businesses that it's no longer business-as usual, but it's profit making time with new business strategies!

Michael Melius:

I've been using solar electricity for 25 years (off the grid). It's worked very well for me.

The sun isn't going away any time soon. Converting our society, transportation and all, to solar power is a huge job, but consider the time frame we have to do it: all the time in the world.

Let's get started! Indeed, the solar electric industry is really taking off lately, in terms of demand and manufacturing capacity. If the industry can get a nice boost in production soon, it'll help prices go down and spur demand even more. How can we increase private and/or public investment in production capacity?

dunnage:

Where are your numbers? Money would be made with oil down 70%.

Dave:

Sustainability is a concept that our government needs to foster on many levels, including energy, food, land use, and water.

In a capitalistic society based on free market enterprise and hefty investment in corporate shares the concept of sustainability is going to run into roadblocks. I believe sustainability is feasible in the four subjects I listed above, but we need political and corporate leadership to take us there.

In many circles the idea of "sustainability" is seen as giving into the environmentalists agenda, or as being "too left". There is a ground swell in this country by consumers to become "greener" and/or more conscious of our actions and their effect on mother earth, I believe it's imperative that our political leaders pick up the ball and run with it. I think a lot of points could be won by presidential candidates who choose to focus on these issues.

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.