The U.S. has taken a shortsighted approach to "financing" our energy future for decades. We are rapidly depleting our energy capital of oil, gas and coal at greater rates each year, and giving very little thought to the long-term (20-50+ years) consequences.
Peter Lynch | Sun Series
The major difference between the financial world and the energy world is that our primary energy capital is NOT replaceable; fossil fuels are non-renewable by their nature. We are responsible for the future of this planet and must manage its “energy portfolio” by creating an “energy balance sheet”, with the proper mix of fossil fuels and renewable energy sources to allow for sustainable growth for generations to come.
In the long term there really is only one source of energy (that is technically viable now) that can adequately handle our future energy demands and that is the sun. Take a look at the link below and you will get a picture of why this is the case. NOTE: The renewable sources in the picture are ANNUAL amounts available, the demand is ANNUAL and the fossil fuel reserves are the TOTAL amount left (not an annual amount available). This is truly a picture that is worth far more than 10,000 words. This says it all!
The main macro problems, as I see it are a lack of leadership, especially from those in Congress, and lack of widespread dissemination of knowledge to the public – people cannot make informed decisions without more detailed and accurate information.
- Lack of Leadership: America has failed to assume its leadership position – to organize and lead the world in solving this problem.
The world cannot address a problem of this magnitude without cooperation from the United States. We are the world’s richest country and consume nearly 25% of the energy on Earth, while only having approximately 4% of the world’s population. What we need is a Long Term Energy Plan, and in the short term, a “Marshall Plan” (the U.S post World War II economic plan to reconstruct Europe) for energy. The current U.S. administration, although far better than the previous, has made some minor progress in the right direction, but do not seem, at least to me, to have the real focus and drive necessary. In addition, they have been constantly hamstrung by a dysfunctional, borderline incompetent Congress whose goal appears to be to make compromises that can only result in failure. Our leaders must unite (or resign), stop taking money from special interests, put the welfare of the country first and tell the American people the true magnitude of the problem at hand.
As one of the great men of the 20th century and one of our most distinguished Presidents once said:
“We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources and we have just reason to be proud of our growth. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils shall have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields, and obstructing navigation…The minerals do not renew themselves. Therefore in dealing with the coal, the oil, the iron, metals generally, all that we can do is try to see that they are wisely used. The exhaustion is certain to come in time”. - Theodore Roosevelt
If Theodore Roosevelt saw the writing on the wall in 1907, why is it so difficult for the current Congress to see it now? In light of the recent situation in the Gulf of Mexico, it seems impossible to miss the ramifications of our current course of action. If we cannot see the dimensions of this issue now, when will we be able to? America must start to think proactively and NOT reactively, as we have for the past 40 years. To not adequately prepare for an inevitable situation of this magnitude such as energy is a colossal failure of leadership of historic proportions.
- Lack of widespread accurate information: I truly believe that people will do the right thing if they are apprised of the facts and TRUE costs of ALL the alternative actions. However, the American public is not getting nearly enough information on this crisis and the media in general puts little, if any, serious focus on this subject.
Most articles I have recently read seem to indicate that the top concerns of the American people are:
I agree that this is a fairly accurate picture of what Americans are concerned about. However, before a solution to a problem can be applied, it is important to understand the “true cause” of the problem. The true underlying cause of all three of these problems is the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. As a result, this dependence is really our number one problem.
- The Economy – The economy is currently growing at a very slow rate, with the actual growth probably resulting from recent government spending. However this is NOT a long term solution, real growth must come from the private sector, not the government. If you want to cause a much LARGER problem in our economy all you’d have to do is limit or cut off our oil supply. Our economy literally runs on oil. Almost everything in our economy is dependent on fossil fuels and oil is now more limited, much less secure and the margin of error today is razor thin. This is a historically dangerous position for our country and it is a major threat to our national security, possibly the greatest threat we have very faced.
If you have the interest and the time here is a study that was recently finished (2-2010) by the Kuwait Petroleum Institute that clearly points out how “razor thin” the actual margins currently are. This is the most complete and technically accurate study I have ever seen and it is very sobering indeed. But of course, it got very little if any press coverage. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ef901240pJobs – Jobs are directly related to how much our economy grows. It is tough to properly allocate scarce resources when we are:
- Spending hundreds of billions of dollars each year importing oil
- Spending additional huge annual sums protecting the foreign oil infrastructure and transportation routes with our military forces; and
- Fighting two wars simultaneously while literally funding the enemy with our oil purchases.
- Terrorism - Terrorism is rooted in the Middle East, where most of the oil is located. We are there because of oil; we spend hundreds of billions per year “protecting” our oil supply and have been executing this massive cash drain for decades. There is nothing logical or rational about these actions. They are the actions of an addict who only wants one thing, to get his fix. In our case – OIL.
All of this is the result of the U.S. failing to properly balance our worldwide energy portfolio and not understanding how to properly structure our energy balance sheet. We are presently trapped in an upward price spiral which cannot cease unless the basic laws of supply and demand change (unlikely) or we shift our strategy and thinking to one of energy capital preservation, rational energy utilization and developing renewable assets. We must learn how to shift from nonrenewable resources to assets like solar, wind, geothermal, biomass etc. We all have to recognize the fact that there are major problems in the energy area and we must move to solve them now.
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. -Albert Einstein
Our thinking in the U.S. is to use as much as we want, based upon the false premise that there will always be enough or we will just find more. There has not been a major oil discovery in 30 years, we are using far more oil than we are discovering and prices have fluctuated from below $10 to just about $150; the “market will take care of it” idea simply doesn’t work. There is little serious thought given to conservation or the welfare of future generations. This is precisely the thinking that got us here and will certainly not be the thinking that will get us out.
As long as we insist on being dependent on non-renewable energy sources and refuse to recognize the true cost of fossil fuels we will continue to face price increase after price increase.
We must take immediate steps (how about a well thought out plan to start?) to preserve our energy capital and rapidly expand and develop our energy assets from renewable sources such as solar energy, wind and biomass. This transition will take decades and the longer we wait the more severe the penalty we’ll pay.
“To each generation comes its allotted task; and no generation is to be excused to perform that task.” -Theodore Roosevelt
We must change the current path we are on, take responsibility for our situation and move to a financially stable and environmentally sustainable path, or suffer the consequences of our shortsighted and financially irresponsible actions. It is “our” problem, we caused it and now we need to fix it.
J. Peter Lynch has worked, for 33 years as a Wall Street analyst, an independent equity analyst and private investor, and a merchant banker in small emerging technology companies. He has been actively involved in following developments in the renewable energy sector since 1977and is regarded as an expert in this area. He is currently a financial and technology consultant to a number of companies. He can be reached via e-mail at Solarjpl@aol.com or at his site for the promotion of solar energy www.sunseries.net.
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