In our 1900 cottage, my wife and I rely on an old oil burner for heat; however, we will at some point in the near future need to tackle replacing that system. Certainly I don’t like consuming all of that oil. Frankly, the system is just not efficient enough. One solution that is not always considered is geothermal. Newport Geothermal, a Rhode Island company that installs geothermal heating systems, is described in this piece on ecoRI. The attractive nature of this system is that it operates at greater than 100% efficiency, and it is reversable. In the winter, you can pump heat into your home, and in the summer, you can pump it out. Additionally, the system reduces more carbon, and saves more money, by preheating the hot water for the electric heater. These are the kinds of small scale solutions that we will all have to turn to as oil becomes more and more espensive. The system will require an investment, but that investment will pay plenty of dividends in the long run.
The Wall Street Journal, the thoroughbred of the Murdoch Media Empire, has some great photos of an abondoned, Columbus, OH AC Delphi factory being torn down so that a casino can go up in its place. The article describes how in states across the country, voters are willingly “banking on vice” to refurbish the state coffers. 14 States are considering bills to relax restrictions on marajuana sales. 12 States are expanding gambling. Even Sunday alchohol restrictions are being eased, in five states.
The reason that these steps are being taken, of course, is due to a projected $89 Billion debt in 2011 across 38 States. Governments and citizens are willing to sacrifice moral objections in order to plug holes in the budget. I am reminded of a scene at the end of the 1975 film Three Days of the Condor. CIA Deputy Director Higgins is explaining to Robert Redford’s Joe Turner why it is OK to overthrow governments for oil:
Higgins: It’s simple economics. Today it’s oil, right? In ten or fifteen years, food. Plutonium. Maybe even sooner. Now, what do you think the people are gonna want us to do then?
Joe Turner: Ask them?
Higgins: Not now – then! Ask ’em when they’re running out. Ask ’em when there’s no heat in their homes and they’re cold. Ask ’em when their engines stop. Ask ’em when people who have never known hunger start going hungry. You wanna know something? They won’t want us to ask ’em. They’ll just want us to get it for ’em!
Alright, so marajuana, booze, and gambling are not the same as energy policy, right? Well, the bottom line is that in America we have become accustomed to a certain standard of living. Today, when unemployment pushes already tight State budgets over the edge, governments willingly turn to vice restrictions. Just consider, for a moment, what will happen if we find out that we do not have enough energy to continue to expland our economy.
A few years ago, the U.S. Military established AFRICOM, a speficic African military command, whose mission is to “in concert with other U.S. government agencies and international partners, conducts sustained security engagement through military-to-military programs, military-sponsored activities, and other military operations as directed to promote a stable and secure African environment in support of U.S. foreign policy.” Now, until October 2008, we did not require a designated African command. However, a look at this July 2008 report from the Council on Foreign Affairs is telling:
“China is intent on getting the resources needed to sustain its rapid growth, and is taking its quest to lock down sources of oil and other necessary raw materials across the globe. As part of this effort, China has turned to Africa, an oil-producing source whose risks and challenges have often caused it to be overlooked economically. Some reports describe a race between China and the United States to secure the continent’s oil supplies.”
Oil drives our economy, and it is a finite resource. We are accustomed to consuming so much energy that we do not really understand what our consumption costs. Take beef, for instance. It takes a lot of fuel and water to provide you a Big Mac. However, if you look across our economy, at everything we consume, at everything that is thrown away, energy is used to create those products. We consider it our right as Americans to live in accordance with our standard of living, without taking a long term view of what future generations will inherit.
Well, what will happen when that standard of living becomes untenable? The Department of Defense studied the National Security implications of Global Warming in 2008. The DoD found that our changing climate could topple governments, create new terrorist movements, and destabilize entire regions, requiring our military to engage.
Politicians are often too willing to consider only what will happen during their time in office, and not consider the long view. Just consider the career of Arlen Specter, Republican/Democrat of Pennsylvania (of course, Joe Sestak is now ahead of him in the polls). However, the future now requires us to wisely step back and consider what the impact of our current practices will have on our grandchildren.
Sustainability means looking at the long view. The Iroquois used a rule called the Great Law of the Iroquois, in which they looked seven generations ahead, about 175 years, whether the decisions they made would benefit that seventh generation. Today, it is time for us to consider that seventh generation, when it comes to our energy policy, our development and use of chemicals, and how we develop the economy and impact the world. If we just consider living in the present, our decendants will suffer the consequences.