FROM FIRE TO FUSION: ENERGY
ADDICTION AND THE EARTH'S SURVIVAL
Fire to Fusion Resource Index
energy? From fire to fusion, energy is the primal force that drives
our universe. Without it, our modern world could not exist. Whether
it is a match that produces one British Thermal Unit (BTU) of energy
or the power of the sun, energy is the pulse that animates the universe
us tend to take the role of electricity or gas for granted. However,
when the car runs out of gas in the middle of the freeway or the lights
go out, the impacts to our daily life can be dramatic. The recent energy
crisis in California has resulted in a couple of hours without power,
yet the greater implications of dramatic price increases and future
blackouts has put energy policy on the front page of newspapers around
in our energy use from year to year are essentially unnoticeable. Yet
if we compare this country's energy use at the time of the civil war
with today, we find that our technological progress has shifted us from
a agricultural society to an urban service economy. Back then 80% of
all productive output in this country came from the muscles of animals
or people. Today muscle power makes up less than 1% of our output!
Energy Consumption in the United States, 1775-1999 (Source EIA)
consumption patterns worldwide are one of the clearest ways to see how
various countries are progressing. The U.S. is the largest consumer
of energy in the world, using nearly a quarter of all energy produced world-wide, or 97,000,000,000,000,000
(quadrillion) BTU's. America's march towards modernization in the
last 50 years dramatically shows that our consumption of energy has
increased four fold.
Consumption by Sector 1949-1999 (Source EIA)
of carbon based fuels, such as coal, oil or natural gas has revolutionized
human existence. The benefits have changed the way we live today. However,
our growing reliance on non-renewable energy sources is also linked
to every major environmental issue that is endangering the Earth's
fragile eco-systems and ultimately all life. If Earth's human population
all used the same amount of energy we currently do in America, the world's
current consumption of 400 quadrillion BTU's of power annually would
skyrocket 20 fold to nearly 8,000 quadrillion BTU's.
dramatic increase in energy consumption is not sustainable. Yet Most
countries in the world are pushing to develop the same kind of lifestyle
as us. The non-renewable fossil fuel reserves we still have left will
not support such a dramatic increase, nor could the Earth's environment.
Role in Shaping America
force behind America's technological rennaisance is energy and at its
heart is oil. For over 100 years we have used oil as the foundation
of our society's growth. The largest economic infrastructure in the
U.S. has been the Oil-Car-Steel-Road Construction industries, with cheap
and abundant oil being the primary enabling player at the table.
1950's a geologist named M.K. Hubbert developed a model to predict future
oil availability. He predicted at that time that the U.S. would peak
in 1970. Like a big bathtub, we are now seeing less and less good quality
oil, which costs more to extract. Cheap american oil is going away and
won't come back.
is on the wall! We either need to start preparing for another fuel to
replace oil or redesign our communities so we don't need to use oil
for routine needs like driving to work.
over 100 years to build our transporation infrastructure. We need to
start planning for the future as if our lives depended on it!
Production 1949-1999 (Source EIA)
At a time
when access to cheap oil has dwindled, our demand for more gas for driving
cars has increased dramatically during the 1990's as programs to increase
efficiency were stopped in congress. In fact, California's campaign
to introduce alternative fuel vehicles on the state's highways was literally
wiped out due to a major campaign by the oil - car industries. As a
result our reliance on imported oil has sored. This reliance has many
impacts on society, but most important are the economic and security
U.S. Oil Imports 1949-1999 (Source EIA)
oil crisis of
the 1970's awoke us to our addictive complacency. The impacts on
society were dramatic. With each crisis in the
middle east, all sectors of American society were affected due to
increased energy costs. A massive campaign to reduce energy use was
set in motion. The Department of Energy was created with the purpose
energy development and helping to foster energy efficiency and sustainable
public response filled our streets with more efficient cars from Japan
and Europe. This in turn forced Detroit to increase efficiency on their new cars. The
popular demand for Amory Lovin's
Soft Path was a rallying cry for changing the way we utilize energy.
result of the programs to increase energy efficiency, America was witnessing
something never before seen in U.S. energy usage, a reduction in the
amount of energy being used by the general public. In fact, conservation
measures saved more energy than was created from all other sources between
1973 to 1987 and at a far cheaper price.
Efficiency 1973-1986 (Source EIA)
on where you lived in the country, states like California and the northeast
were able to move forward with their energy conservation programs. As
a result, These areas of the country have helped to reduce energy usage
and become role models.
Energy Consumption 1997 (Source: EIA)
interesting note that Texas, with a third the population uses nearly
50% more energy than California. In the graph below, California is 48th
in per capita energy usage. The states with the largest per capita users
of energy in the country also seem to be the most conservative. Maybe
we are talking about a lack of education here!
Consumption by State 1997 (Source: EIA)
though energy efficiency and renewable energy programs have been popular
with the public, energy companies have used their lobbying power to
limit government funding for these resources.
the initial thrust to finance these new programs using federal subsidies,
most programs were cut back. Every year there were major funding battles
as conservatives fought to kill Research and Development or renewable
energy funding. By looking at the below chart, it is clear that energy
funding has been cut back as a priority during the last 20 years. Each
presidential administration placed its own fingerprint on the battle
over energy funding with Congress.
of Energy R&D Funding 1978-1999(Source: EIA)
a new federal program that let independent
power producers generate new power sources that the state's utilities
had to buy was initiated. During the late 1980's this program generated
more than enough electricity for the state's long term needs. However,
conservatives and the energy industry launched a
counter assault on these programs.
fuel and Nuclear funding has been the primary benefactors of federal
funds for the last 40 years. Even though energy efficiency is the cheapest
source of new power. The energy industry clearly has no motivation to
promote energy efficiency when it can make more money as the primary
middleman in the oil deal. Its only logical at the industry and the
Bush administration will work to foster its own interests. When it comes
to the bottom line, watch where the money goes.
funding war over efficiency and renewable programs continues as President
Bush continues his agenda to reduce funding for programs, scrapping
the global warming protocols, and plans to rescind new energy standards.
the newly elected president as a foil, energy companies have been playing
in wait for the market based showdown in California that their agenda
has created. Using the same tactic that the U.S. senate used in 1992-94,
where more filibusters were used in one term than all previous sessions,
the industry and their allies in government have been intentionally
playing chicken with America's energy policy.
new energy crisis is supposed to be REAL this time. Well, actually its
the same crisis as the one in 1973: we're addicted to oil and we are
running out of supplies. The dealer is in the white house and he's talking
the same kind of talk you can hear in the back alley where any other
drug deal is going down. How do we corner the market, and who is in
an eye on the deals coming down. Look for a big show, its already started
in California where threats of economic downturn are on the evening
news more than any serious coverage. Wouldn't it be nice to have a serious
townhall forum rather than the small time shows that play out a bit
of this or a bit of that aspect.
media has framed California's energy crisis with an intent to foster
a helpless state of cycnicism in the general public. There are no ANGRY
calls to investigate the details of what happened when the lead wolf
(former governor Wilson) got into the henhouse (the public's pocketbook)
is nowhere on the radar. The driving forces that shaped California's
energy policy between 1980 and the current time are all to easily forgotten
for good reason. Here's a few details that
Addiction to Oil
largest industrial complex in the world is the car - oil - road empire
that brings us the latest advertisements on TV. Car commericials make
it possible for us to watch a few local TV channels for free. TV and
those who speak for this medium before us continue to frame issue as
what is hip or what is not.
found ways to hide the unsuccessful relationship we have with the environment.
It is okay to drive by beautiful scenes of nature, letting the spirit
of youth and adventure appear boundless. This advertizing captures the
need to score status points and remain free of the impacts our lifestyle
has on the ecology and other societies around the globe.
Great American TV dream, unfortunately is on live, world-wide now. The
same metaphors of normalcy is being peddled to Africans, Asians and
South Americans. And they are all pretty much sold on the package deal.
Unfortunately for all of us world-wide, not everyone can live that dream.
why the U.S. continues to spend 10 times more money on its military
than the rest of the world combined? The dream isn't quite ready for
prime time, even though we are acting as if it were!
we expect the U.S. to shake its big stick at OPEC and other oil producing
countries? So far, the Bush administration is backing itself into the
usual international traps with the rest of the world. Mr. Bush will
have to swallow his own medicine, just like he has forced California
to do when asking OPEC to reduce oil prices.
society was able to shake off the oil crisis of the '70's but this time
the crisis, when it comes, will be substantially different. We will
not be able to afford another balance of trade deficit with the Middle
East, especially since we are now the largest debtor nation in the world.
Nor can we afford to shell out $50 billion a year to keep the Persian
Gulf open like 1987. This hidden cost to taxpayers increased the real
cost of oil by over $100 per barrel.
rapidly dwindling number" of new U.S. sources of oil that are economically
viable has not been lost on energy producers. A hidden struggle has
ensued between proponents for the electrification of our transportation
system led by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) on one side and the oil
industry on the other, that wants liquid fuels such as various mixed
methanol fuel formulas. This hidden debate will have dramatic effects
on the direction our country's energy policy will take. The implications
of centralized electrification of our transportation can be seen in
PG&E's investment plans for new electrical generation.
Forbes magazine stated that nuclear power was the largest single economic
catastrophe in U.S. history, the public considered the nuclear option
dead in 1984. Yet proponents of nuclear power developed a sophisticated
plan in 1983 to revivie it. Funding for alternative energy by the Reagan
administration was slashed up to 90% during his time in office. While
billions of dollars of subsidies for nuclear power were spent ($16 billion
in 1984). The ultimate goal of the industry's plan is to kill viable
alternatives to nuclear. Then when the oil crisis finally surfaces,
reassert nuclear power as the best option. This is just what the industry
did when the Greenhouse issue hit the public.
problem with their grand plan though is flawed with two major problems.
The issue of what to do with nuclear waste and its effects on those
living near waste sites has finally reached the public awareness. The
massive scandal that has rocked the Department of Energy's handlinkg
of nuclear weapons waste has seriously undermined their credibility.
Yet the fear of another Chernobyl is the Achilles heel of nuclear power.
West German studies have indicated that there is a 70% chance of another
core accident like Chernobyl every 5 to 10 years. The industry has been
forced to lower its absurd projections of an accident once every 10,000
reactor years. In fact World Watch Institute pointed out that serious
accidents might occur about every 2,000 reactor years of operation.
Another Chernobyl would decimate the credibility of nuclear proponents.
ACTION AND ENERGY AWARNESS
to the rapidly approaching energy crisis do exist. Countering the misinformation
that alternatives to the hard path mean going back to the caves, as
the nuclear industry claim would happen, is the first step. Today we
have excellant information that if gotten to the public would give us
a chance to head off the nuclear industry's insane plans.
happens in the next 10 years, we are in for massigve changes. If we
can assert the issues of energy efficiency and alternatives back into
the picture, we can directly affect the major environmental issues that
we face from ozone depletion, the Greenhouse Effect, acid rain, urban
sprawl and toxics pollution. One key will be the growing garbage crisis.
The time to organize and act is rapidly approaching. We can save our
Earth, so let's get started. (Originally written in 1988, with webdesign
and upgrade in 2002)
World Watch Inst., Rocky Mountain Inst., Carrying Capacity Inc., Safe
Energy Communications Council, Dept. of Energy, and Ca. Energy Commission.