I have now penned two Simple Solution books, one on Planet Earth and the second on Humanity (see icons below). Let me draw from the first one and provide just one simple solution to solve our energy/environment problem. But first, some background.
The current issue of Time (July 5, 2010) reports on Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Jeffrey Immelt (GE), representing a group of corporate titans, just last week beseeching Congress to triple U.S. spending on energy research. They underscored that energy gets less than $5 billion/year, but $80 billion goes for military R&D. Said Immelt:
"This is about innovation. This is about competition. This is about energy security."
Never have industrial leaders collectively made this kind of plea about sustainable resources over defense. If we can spend $3,000 billion (also known as $3 trillion) on just the Iraq War, supposedly to neutralize Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, but, more to protect oil and bring peace to the Middle East, hindsight argues that if this sum had been applied to spur our private sector to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, we might not today be at the precipice awaiting the dual hammer of Peak Oil and Global Warming.
My second Huffington Post article of two years ago blamed the lack of will on part of the people for our current predicament. This aloof attitude remains, for our masses are now accustomed to $3/gallon gasoline (remember, Europe is double to triple this price), plus, they can't appreciate hardly detectable global temperature increase and sea level rise. It hurts that the disinformation campaign from oil/coal interests and their academic supporters, who a recent survey found to be less credible scientists, are easier to believe than the rantings of a bunch of scientists accused of a possible hoax. But what do you expect from a nation attracted to vampires and the afterlife?
Swine flu and oil spills bring out the personal concern and general ire on the part of our populace, but energy and carbon dioxide policies are somewhere between ho hum and who cares. The fact that many Democrats in the Senate from fossil fuel states are preventing the Obama Administration from pushing along the Waxman-Markey Clean Energy Bill, which was approved by the House more than a year ago, is just another symptom of how much our decision-makers care about any national energy policy, something we have never had.
As I have underscored in my HuffPost postings, I actually don't blame the Republicans, George W. Bush, oil companies or OPEC. They were maximizing their interests, and in a free enterprise system, that's fine. Well, I did have a gripe about President Ronald Reagan when he came into office in 1981, for he decimated the solar budget. However, the real reason why our sustainable resources were never commercialized was the price of oil, an essentially unpredictable commodity. Very few can actually remember that petroleum in terms of 1998 dollars was the cheapest, EVER, that year. Just trace the red line until you hit the bottom, and see that you're in 1998. Yes, less expensive than just before the First Energy Crisis in 1973. This fickleness will continue to bedevil renewable energy investments.
What responsible financial institution would take the risk of loaning a hundred million dollars for a solar energy project during those days? While the Chicago Mercantile Exchange today predicts a light crude oil future price of $91.65/barrel in December of 2018, would you stake the destiny of our country on that investment figure? Remember, it was only two years ago this month that oil peaked at $147/barrel. But who knows where the current $70-$80/barrel range will go. $150/barrel if Israel bombs Iran? $35/barrel if there is a more serious double dip grand recession?
We thus need to take extraordinary action, and Gates/Immel's proclamation was an excellent start. Here they are, industry barons, actually asking government to spend more money on something not directly related to their profit margin (well, GE does sell wind turbines). The marketplace cannot determine the fate of our world, for it takes a full generation (25 years), and longer, to shift energy sources. We need to start today. So, here is my simple solution:
1. Immediately enact a 5 cents/pound carbon dioxide credit. Okay, this is the same as a tax, but read my HuffPost article on this subject. This credit will only increase gasoline by a buck a gallon and double the price of coal electricity. Congress needs to pass this measure, which President Obama should sign, and he further needs to have the G8 nations, China and India comply. Ah, but you say, easy to suggest, but impossible to do. Sure. Simple solutions can be difficult to accomplish. So, what next?
2. Ask Mother Nature to raise the temperature of the atmosphere so high this summer that tens, if not hundreds, of millions perish. On my contention that we have a fatal flaw in our society -- that we cannot make important decisions until it is too late -- we then need a cataclysmic event, the more horrible the more effective. Yes, this is terrible, but, save for those who actually die, this would be like taking some bitter medicine to cure your ailment. Then you say, but we have no influence over Mother Nature.
3. Not true! This is all a matter of time. A kind of doomsday will occur if we largely continue on our current consumption pathway, for more species will become extinct, weather will go haywire, and humanity will interminably suffer before action is finally taken. Clearly, our decision-makers will not have the courage to just do it, and the American people just do not riot in the streets for this sort of cause. I was kind of hoping that this world wide web mechanism would more directly replace marching protests, but, I haven't yet figured out how to catalyze response.
4. So what then? Await The Venus Syndrome, or at least the upcoming novel of that title. Three degrees F rise? Try an increase of 800 degrees and the end of life on Planet Earth. Waiting might not be a viable option.