A Democratic Solution to America’s Energy Fiasco
On October 17, 1973, America faced a major energy crisis when OPEC declared an embargo on oil shipments to those countries which supported Israel in its conflict with Egypt. Our government made some initial moves to counteract the embargo and there was a lot of talk about more efficient automobiles and the use of alternate sources of energy. There was even a national speed limit of 55 miles per hour which helped reduce gasoline consumption and in 1977 the Department of Energy was created. The efforts soon fizzled out, the country was back to business as usual as oil prices fell and our memory of long lines at the gas pump faded. It was a lost opportunity and we’ve wasted over thirty years with our heads in the sand.
In addition to the hazards of international politics, we have a long history of government subsidies and oil depletion allowances which support our oil companies. This is due to their well financed lobbies operating at state and federal levels. Their outrageous campaign contributions have greased the skids for anything they want from our government. Republican lawyers and judges blather on about how campaign contributions are a form of "free speech" and therefore are not illegal. Since when did "free speech" include bribery?
In 1973, we found ourselves without oil due to middle eastern hostilities. At that time, America, with 6% of the world’s population, was using 33% of the world’s energy. We’re still at it but now we’re directly involved in middle eastern hostilities and we also face competition for OPEC’s oil from the emerging economies of the world such as India and China. They aspire to our standard of living and this has radically changed the supply and demand situation. India and China each have four times our population and they are just beginning to grow their economies.
In 2000, oil and gas took over our government 100%. America has now been made safe for robber barons who work hand in hand with the government to strip us of our natural resources at an accelerating pace. If these people prevail, America will suffer irreversible economic and environmental damage. We already have killer deficits. The specter of more expensive and bloody wars over oil is also looming. Yes, it’s the oil stupid!
The first step in solving the problem is to vote out the current party in power. They will never change since they represent oil interests. Your tax money winds up in their pockets. We can’t wait for affordable hydrogen fuel cell technology, cheap hydrogen generation and storage methods to become available but there are near term answers to the oil and gas problems. We can make our own affordable fuels right now if everyone pitches in. We know how to produce ethanol and biodiesel fuels for running cars, farm equipment and generators. Used in conjunction with the rapidly evolving hybrid engines for automobiles, we can achieve two to three times the mileage per dollar currently available in most cars. So, it will be cheaper too. Biodiesel and ethanol are already being used for cars and hybrid vehicles are increasing in popularity. Flex fuel cars, using a mix of ethanol and gas, are already common in Brazil which has an extended alcohol production and distribution system.
Volkswagen and General Motors both sell flex fuel cars there and Toyota will be entering that market next year. Why not here? Actually, some American cars are "E85" flex fuel capable which means that they can accommodate any mix of gasoline and alcohol up to 85% alcohol. I wonder why so few buyers are aware of this option. Just picture a flex fuel car with a hybrid engine using fuels grown and processed in America. Let’s do it! This is one business whose jobs can’t be outsourced from America and it will create many new jobs. The following is a brief summary of the energy part of a 2006 Democratic Platform which I believe will correct the problems laid out above. America needs a home grown energy source which is reliable, less polluting, will create more jobs for Americans, will avoid foreign conflicts over oil and will be much cheaper than gasoline. We propose a grass roots effort supported by concerned businesses, farmers, scientists, engineers, chemists, universities, workers, the Democratic Party and ordinary folks like you and me.
Our near term goal is to accelerate the growth of the following immediately.
- Ethanol production (see Note 1 below)
- Biodiesel fuel production
- Flex fuel cars
- Plug in hybrids
- Hybrid flex fuel cars.
- A crash effort to develop an inexpensive flex fuel conversion package for older cars.
Anyone interested in getting more information can do so by starting with "switchgrass", "flex fuel", "ethanol", "biodiesel", "OPEC", "plug in hybrids", etc. on google. There are a lot of good web sites on these topics.
Note (1) - There has been a lot of controversy about the cost of ethanol production from corn. The Brazilians use sugar cane as an ethanol source. We can’t do that but there is a better alternative. One of the many alternative energy crops is switchgrass (Panicum Vergatum) which is a prairie grass propagated by seeds. It’s native to North America but will grow in South America, Africa and Europe. It’s low cost, resilient and yields a high biomass on marginal soils. It also has many other uses than a source for ethanol (e.g. fodder). A lot of switchgrass research has been done worldwide. Europe is especially interested in its potential.
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