Jeremy Cutcher is political science senior and the Mustang Daily liberal columnist.
Energy will be the greatest issue our generation has to deal with and the more we achieve today the less will be forced upon us — you and me when we are “in power” — later, allowing us a wide array of options today that will inevitably be crowded out as necessity becomes the driving force for policymaking. In fact, the energy issue is actually comprised of a number of smaller issues.
First and foremost, renewable energy is important if we want to continue to live anywhere near our current standard of living. Our entire economy runs on fossil fuels, whether coal or oil. There is substantial coal left in the hills across the U.S., but as people began to factor in environmental costs, coal is quickly becoming perceived as more expensive. Doomsday warnings about peak oil have been around for decades, but there are real questions about the supply relative to the demand, especially with India and China each experiencing incredible growth and adding to the demand.
As demand increases, prices should increase as well, meaning higher transportation costs, higher priced consumer goods and a greater strain on the economy overall. Wages don’t usually take into consideration costs of living adjustments, so this would mean lower real wealth for many Americans.
Another recently raised issue as a result of the unrest in the Middle East is energy independence. This has not been a problem so much recently, but in the ’70s there were two oil shocks that had devastating repercussions for the country.
The first was in 1973 as a result of an embargo enacted by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries against the U.S. for backing Israel in the Yom Kippur war. The second occurred in 1979 as a result of the Iranian revolution and the general uncertainty of oil supplies in the area, much like the rising gas prices today. What these countries effectively understood is that they could exert greater political pressure by tampering with the supply of the fuel that drives such a large portion of our economy.
Since the U.S. does not have vast oil reserves like the Middle East, more drilling in places like ANWR, off the California coast and in the Gulf will only put off an inevitable discussion we must have later down the road. Further, with ecological costs largely unknown, drilling in these places would not only destroy natural habitats, it could potentially cost more in the long run (consider all the costs from the BP oil spill, from the clean-up to the lost revenue from the sharp decline in tourism). Renewable energy generated in the U.S. will solve our long-term questions concerning the economy and help with employment and growth in the short run. That’s why it is important to invest in renewable technology today and not when the market dictates it profitable for private industry to do it. In fact, many rising economies in the world, most notably India, Brazil and China, are directing resources into these markets and it is very likely that they will be directing the market as renewable energy becomes more and more of a necessity.
The last reason that renewable energy needs to be on the political agenda today and not later when it’s forced upon us is the issue of climate change.
I got a good chuckle out of Fox News and the right when they cited the winter blizzard across the Midwest and Eastern seaboard as a sign that global warming was a hoax. Global warming was indeed the initial name for the idea, but the fact that atmospheric temperature would be rising would have drastic implications for weather systems. What this meant is that the weather would be more unpredictable and more extreme, like the winter storm as well as the record heat the East faced last summer. Warming oceans also provide the energy for more deadly hurricanes. I like to refer to it as climate change and not global warming — this term includes some humility in admitting that we don’t know for sure exactly how increasing greenhouse gases will affect the climate.
The earth is a complex ecosystem; a balance of atoms that can have drastic effects when that balance is tipped by unnatural forces. That is what I never understood about the opposition to climate change: regardless of how much weight you attribute to human activity in accounting for recent climate changes (increased global temperature, melting ice sheets and polar ice gaps, rising sea levels, etc.), it cannot be rational to think the amount of greenhouse gases we emit is sustainable for generations to come.
The earth acts in a complex web of biological, chemical and physical reactions that we have only recently begun to understand. To not take into account future costs and to think this non-natural source of greenhouse gases will have no impact on that web of interactions is irresponsible and asinine. For some reason (which I attribute to the rise of the evangelical, new Christian Right among many on the right), Republicans have, as a party, become the party of science skeptics, although most of what we know is based on this crazy thing called science.
As a result of the right’s objections, this issue has become a political football rather than an issue that has been addressed in a pragmatic and rational manner. As the effects of our current practices make themselves more apparent, perhaps it will entice people to inform themselves about renewable energy so our political system will respond with appropriate fixes rather than play the blame game.