Pardon me for being so informal, but, we're both from Hawaii, and this title follows my very first HuffPo on May 29, "Well, Barack, We Have A Problem..." which boiled down those two Simple Solutions books I recently wrote (see box on the right) into a whimsical musing about how Barack Obama could fund his plan to combat Peak Oil and Global Warming, and in so doing, end wars forever. Since that article, he went on to prevail over Hillary Clinton and John McCain, and is now the President-Elect, while I proceeded to post 32 more pieces for the Huffington Post, all on energy and the environment, and wondering why I was doing this.
I woke up at 3AM this morning and realized why. All the above crystallize the essence of what should be our national energy policy, and I might well have a solution for our President-Elect. Don't blame President Bush, or the Congress, or the oil companies for our energy problem. We are at fault. You, me, us. This posting drew more than 100 comments, arriving to the conclusion that we have no energy policy because it is not important enough.
Oil is now below $50/barrel. Gasoline prices are approaching historic lows (in 2008 dollars). As sincere as P-E Obama was about green jobs and change, complacency looms to prevail. HuffPo #32 suggests that our current economic collapse actually is "A Gift to Planet Earth and Humanity." After the Energy Crises of 1974 and 1979, there was a flurry of activity, followed by a general abandonment of anything sustainable, as we went back to our petroleum addiction. We now have the worry about the Greenhouse Effect, plus, that $147/bbl spike in mid July, so, hopefully, we can be smarter this time.
But the Obama energy transition team (OETT) has the daunting task of delivering a meaningful plan against the tide of low oil prices and competing priorities. And what a doozy, for one of my other HuffPos on "Billions and Trillions" reports: if you combine the total cost of the Manhattan, Marshall and Apollo programs, and bring it up to 2008 dollars, you need nearly 200 times more money than what those three monumental efforts cost our nation, just to meet the challenge of the Greenhouse Effect.
But you've got to start somewhere, so while the OETT won't have trillions of dollars to spend, they can make a crucial difference. There will be a million ideas and thousands of lobbyists clamoring for attention. More than anything else, the team needs to clarify and focus with vision. I offer the following simple solutions:
1. Renewable electricity is almost a given, but maintain those tax incentives and expand research on many of the solar and ocean options. Add a penny per pound carbon dioxide tax, proportionately linked to $30/barrel oil, to adjust as oil prices vacillate, so that at $150/barrel, the tax should be 5 cents.
2. Ground transportation is a real problem. A dollar per gallon investment surcharge on gasoline can be justified. We'd still be paying much less than in Europe and Japan. Ethanol from food, of course, should be terminated as fast as the Farm Lobby allows, if not sooner. The fermentation of cellulose to ethanol should be compared against gasification/catalysis into methanol. Unfortunately, a fair assessment might not be possible because the Department of Energy does not support any biomethanol research. Unfortunately, too, my HuffPo #33 and subsequent comments from this readership suggest that while the current darling, plug-in electric cars, are the obvious bridge for the next decade, they might be a dead end. However, the fuel cell option will need hydrogen, which is very expensive to produce, handle and store, or the direct methanol fuel cell, which might have a fatal flaw. What then? Good luck! But at least take a close look at the methanol economy.
3. Aviation? This has not even been considered, but should. When I drafted the first hydrogen bill for Senator Spark Matsunaga nearly three decades ago, I added a clause for the National Aerospace Plane, thanks to input from Lockheed. To shorten a long tale of delay, we are at least 25, if not 50 years, away from a next-generation hydrogen powered jetliner or cost-effective jet fuel from marine algae. Are we then in deep trouble? Hawaii especially, but I've learned of a new concept, for now, let's call it the Hawaiian Hydrogen Clipper (or H2 Clipper), which the advocates say, can be developed in a decade. While the prudent might be skeptical, I support the idea because there is nothing else on the horizon, and this idyllic spot in the Pacific would, indeed, be the ideal location to pioneer this development, for we have the political clout -- P-E Barack Obama was born and grew up in this State and Senators Daniel Inouye (chairman of the full Appropriations Committee) and Senator Daniel Akaka (on Energy and Natural Resources Committee) represent Hawaii -- natural resources, and definite need, for without a next generation sustainable air travel alternative, when jet fuel prices again skyrocket, tourism will truly collapse, and economic depression will follow.
So my plea to the OETT is to press forth with vigor, and let me know if you would like to hear more about the H2 Clipper. Aloha.