I listened to the State of The Union address Tuesday night, and I was very disappointed in the initiatives for energy. Bush's cronies got theirs; "more research" for clean coal (which others seem ready to build today, judging from the announcements of new IGCC powerplants), and more money for nuclear energy (which has a ten-year lead time and isn't going to start coming on line until a couple of crises from now). Ho, hum. He gave token nods to the things that can make a difference fast, and we need now: hybrid-car batteries and wind plants. Hydrogen isn't going to be a player for quite a few years, but he increased its already-excessive budget anyway.
With all this money devoted to far-off energy problems, it's significant that he didn't mention one which is looming very close indeed: natural gas. Prices skyrocketed along with motor fuel in the aftermath of the hurricanes, and they've not come down very far. Gas prices have already caused much North American industry to shut down and move overseas, and homeowners have only been spared bills of mammoth proportions by an unusually mild winter. Had we received the weather that Russia got, we'd have a crisis where we'd have to choose between heating homes, running business and generating electricity because there wouldn't be enough gas to do all three.
Despite the snow falling outside my window as I write this, it appears that we've avoided the crisis that a hard winter would have given us. But warmth this winter is no guarantee that we'll have it the next, and gas is only going to get more expensive as gas fields get deeper and further out into the water. Change will take time; if we're going to dodge this problem, we've got to act now.
What could we do in the next 10 months to make things better for next winter? The simple answer is, anything that makes us need less gas between now and the spring of 2007. Your summer peaking electricity comes from gas? Turn up your A/C thermostat and use a fan to maintain your comfort level. Re-lamp with compact fluorescents and save juice all year. If you're going to update your windows, do it ASAP. If you aren't but they're leaky, get some heat-shrink film and put it up as soon as the heating season starts. Put awnings over the windows that get lots of heat in the summer. Caulk all those windows and doors, call a contractor to insulate those walls, put another 6" of blown-in in that crawlspace attic. Dial down the thermostat a few degrees (TODAY) and throw on a heavier shirt and socks; most of us will never notice the difference after a while. Build some storm windows (I hope to post something on my own simple DIY model before the next heating season).
Notice anything in common about all those ways to avoid a crisis next winter? Bush didn't endorse or even mention a one of them, explicitly or implicitly.
This administration is a mystery to me. There are only two possibilties here: it either recognizes this looming problem or it does not. If it doesn't, it is grossly inept and incompetent. The President was smart enough to ask people to drive slower when our gasoline supply was slashed by hurricane damage; this problem is exactly analogous.
If the administration does recognize this problem, its silence must be explained. The less charitable (some might say cynical, or even paranoid) explanation is that the regime is run by fossil-fuel interests, and the greater the gap between supply and demand the better the price they'll get (or some other personal or political advantage); energy-dependent businesses and families be damned. In my opinion, this is treason.
The more charitable explanation colors them pathetic rather than treasonous. This explanation holds that this is a problem that frightens these big, strong people in Washington, and they've decided to hide and hope it goes away.
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