It's Time For America To Get Smart About Energy

07/26/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Conceptually the battle is over, the peakists have won," declared Dr. James Schlesinger in his opening remarks at the 2007 ASPO-Ireland Peak Oil Conference last September. While it was nice to hear America's first energy czar acknowledge that peak oil was finally getting the attention of mainstream media and the public, it was apparent to all of us warriors in the audience that declaring victory was just a bit premature -- reminiscent of the President's declaration on the USS Abraham Lincoln. Indeed, later in the same speech Schlesinger remarked "Americans have to be hit over the head with a 2-by-4." Little did we know that the 2-by-4 would arrive so quickly. We are now reeling from the punch and trying to figure out who hit us and how we can hit them back.

Now what?, is the question of the moment. More drilling? More invasions? More ethanol? More technology? More conservation? More mandates? More subsidies? More taxes? Any discussion of energy today takes on the fervor of religious debate. The less we know, the more certain we are. Energy as a subject matter is extremely complex and integral to our entire economic structure. To know energy you must also know chemistry and physics and geology and economics and agriculture and industrial processes and governance and land use and health care and transportation. This is the problem of our lifetime and to assume that politicians will solve it is insanity.

Placing blame will also not move us closer to solutions: We need more refineries! Open up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve! Drill more! Regulate the speculators! These are nothing more than the last gasp of last century thinking.

More people are now moving past the denial stage and are beginning to consider intelligent responses to the problems we will face in the coming decades: How will our most vulnerable Americans pay their utility bills? How will local government pay for essential services? How will we feed the growing ranks of unemployed? How can we transform our transportation system in a hurry? How do we create local job opportunities? How do we utilize land more efficiently? How do we educate and prepare the public for a world in transition?

Nothing short of a national mobilization will suffice. Let's call the initiative Energy Smart America and here are a few of my suggestions:

• In order to get the "buy-in" from all Americans we must enact an energy education program on a massive scale. Newspapers could devote an entire section to energy, schools must develop a curriculum that extends from K-12 and beyond, and leadership must come from all levels of government.

• Meet the serious challenge that faces us with a matching level of responses in terms of funding for research and development and serious reductions in consumer demand. Conservation in a hurry will buy us time and save us money.

• Establish a storehouse of best practices from experiments in America and the world. Local government, non-profits, and business can all be good incubators of ideas and creativity. Develop initiatives that can be used to demonstrate and implement projects with the highest energy profit ratios.

• Remove barriers to renewable energy projects.

• Create opportunities for local food production.

• Eliminate biofuels subsidies that compete with food crops.

• Coordinate land use and transportation projects to improve connectivity and provide multi-modal options. Expand public transit. Re-design highways into multi-purpose networks to allow safe use of neighborhood electric vehicles and physically separated bicycle lanes.

• Foster international cooperation and share scientific achievement.

If you think this all sounds a little too far fetched, then be forewarned, the next 2-by-4 is headed our way.