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More on oil

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As usual on a late Saturday afternoon, I turned on C-SPAN while eating my supper. To my surprise, Tom Friedman was the keynote speaker at the 2008 Book Expo American in Los Angeles. Friedman is always worth listening to. He spoke about his new book, “Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution – and How It Can Renew America.”

While I don’t always agree with everything Friedman writes, I have to admit that I believe he is right more often than he is wrong. This time, he hit the nail directly on the head.

I think most Americans understand that we need to develop new technologies to get off our oil addiction. But I suspect that we’re not really on board with what it will take to get there. Even if Congress handed over all the oil leases that are currently requested, no oil from those leases would be available for seven to 10 years, according to every expert and oil industry analyst. Consequently, the immediate oil price problem is not going to be solved. The high price of oil will remain. Period. End of story. We will not, in the short term, eliminate high oil prices. The high prices are here to stay. We have to get used to that idea.

However, if we as a country invest in renewable energy technologies right now, we have a very good chance of seeing fuel prices decrease dramatically over the next ten years. Plus, we will have the added benefit of developing new technologies to sell to the rest of the world. Imagine how many thousands of new jobs would be created through research and development and deployment of new energy resources if we committed to that path. Thousands of new tech jobs and thousands of new manufacturing jobs. Imagine too how much money US companies could make if we could sell those new technologies to other countries.

Right now we are at a critical crossroad. Either we move in a direction that provides new, clean energy resources or we fall into what Friedman says is a “banana republic” for the United States. (What Friedman didn’t explain is that every country that exports its raw materials (grain, produce, minerals) and buys back all its manufactured goods is also called a “banana republic.” “Banana republics” are always poor, except for a few at the top who are owners and politicians.) Somehow I don’t think Americans want to see their country become a “banana republic.” I don’t think that Americans want to leave as their legacy a “banana republic” to their children. So why are we sheepishly following along with old ideologies and old technologies when we can opt for something better and brighter?

Something that continues to haunt me is that it appears we’re at the beginning of a great, new Industrial Revolution, and yet too many people and politicians are fighting against that revolution rather than envisioning the benefits of it. We can stay with the old technologies or go for the new. At the beginning of the 20th Century, there was a battle over continuing with older technologies, i.e. horse drawn carriages, and new technologies, i.e. automobiles. As the automobile won in the last Revolution, new technologies will win in this Revolution simply because it makes good economic sense…and because it will leave to our children a world better than we inherited it.

When I was in high school, my Civics class had a speaker from a manufacturing union. He explained how much the unions had done to change the quality of life for workers and so on. At the end of his speech, I remember very clearly, he said that his generation had built the smoke stacks, and that it was up to my generation to eliminate the poisonous smoke emanating from those smoke stacks. No one in the class said a word. We all sat there stunned. He had just told us that while his generation had made the mess, it was up to us, the next generation, to clean up their mess. He actually believed it was perfectly acceptable to pass off the responsibility for polluting our air and water to us, the next generation. His generation felt no responsibility for the mess they had created. Like the rest of my class, I sat there dumbfounded by that remark.

Is that the mentality that still exists? Is it up to the next generation–our children–to find a way out of the financial and ecological mess we’ve created? Unlike that Union representative believed, don’t we owe our children better?

I believe that what Friedman wrote in his new book is accurate…and that we no longer have a choice about what to do. The world is hot, flat and crowded, and if we don’t change the way we think and behave, our country–and our children–will not continue to survive and thrive.

As a voting public, we have to let our Congress people know that we support these new technologies over the old, and with our dollars support those technologies. If we don’t move forward, we will fall behind and become what Friedman says is a “banana republic.”

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Written by Valerie Curl

June 29, 2008 at 5:38 AM

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