Week of November 2

Week of November 2

The election of Barack Obama and the further collapse of the stock market and the U.S. and global financial industries obviously overshadow all other events in the news.

Both will have major implications for the alternative fuels industry and the larger new energy technology industries.

President Elect Obama appears to have a stronger and more genuine commitment to crafting a genuine energy policy than did John McCain whose energy platform, such as it was, seemed dedicated to continuing to rely on a nonrenewable fuel sources, particularly nuclear energy which, as we have seen, is apt to become supply constrained within a couple of decades. Still, Obama has already acknowledged so many unprecedented claims upon Federal funds that I do not see how he can do much more than is being done now to fund research into new energy technologies and to fund infrastructure builds embodying such technologies. In other words, rather little is apt to be accomplished.

There is also the question of what could be done even if copious funds were available to consider.

As should now be abundantly clear to long time readers of this journal, the fossil fuel energy regime cannot be easily replaced or emulated by any combination of renewable sources, and even to approximate the output of the fossil fuel powered grid would entail expenditures of trillions and perhaps tens of trillions in the U.S. and many times that amount worldwide. With a credit crisis of unprecedented proportions descending upon all of us, where are those trillions going to be found? Governments, including our own, may well elect to depreciate the currency further in pursuit of such goals, trusting perhaps to the deflationary pressures of recession and depression to prevent runaway inflation, but that such homeopathic economic remedies will prove efficacious may be doubted.

The efforts of the beleaguered auto makers to enlist the financial support of the Federal government will further muddle any overall thrust toward creating a coherent energy policy. Apart from the arguably unconscionable expense of shoring up these tottering giants, what will be the midterm consequences of this temporary reprieve, and how will the survival of these companies conduce to a more sustainable transportation system than presently exists? The auto makers want nothing more than to return to the halcyon days of the nineteen nineties, and the temporary collapse of petroleum prices might enable them to do so if they are unchecked by stringent conditions attached to the loans. Then when an oil shock of unprecedented magnitude arrives within a few years, the whole process is repeated, perhaps?

On the other hand, to allow the remnants of the once proud U.S. auto industry to expire completely may subtract millions of jobs from an economy which is already exfoliating positions at a rate not seen since the dark days of the nineteen seventies. Sometimes one has no good choices available. Barack Obama seems to be in that predicament.

I would also note that President Obama's energy advisors are almost exclusively drawn from the ranks of environmental advocacy groups and consist largely of lawyers. Only a single scientist is included.

At this point a lot more analysis and a lot less advocacy are urgently needed. We need to be concerned with what can be done and not with what could be done in the best of all possible worlds. We are living in what threatens to become the worst of all possible worlds and decisions have to be made on that basis.

The most terrifying of those decisions concerns addressing climate change with effective remedies. As I have indicated in earlier articles, half measures and compromises will probably result in distaster. And as Obama himself acknowledges, carbon emissions have to be reduced approximately 80% by mid century to avert almost certain cataclysm. Doing that in the midst of a booming economy and an atmosphere of international cooperation and goodwill would be difficult enough. Doing it during what threatens to become a new Cold War and at a time when most world leaders' chief concerns are re-invigorating local economies by any means necessary and keeping energy prices low, seems very close to impossible.

There is something very different involved in attempting to rehabilitate moribund or decrepit institutions than in building anew. The former smacks of the sickroom and morgue the latter of new life and the fresh start. The twentieth century material civilization of the United States and latterly the world was forged with the hammer of Thor, its progenitors sundering and destroying even while the great work was abuilding. There was a condign violence in its creation. Whatever emerges in this century is apt to be very different, stitched and patched together and made to last a good deal longer than it should. I do not anticipate much exhilaration in the process.