Our current energy situation is a good example of good intention is not enough. And also a quite typical example of how special interests skew the public discussion on an important issue.
Biodiesel is promoted by Bush and others as one way to replace petroleum, at least for transportation.
The problem is that it typically takes more energy to produce biodiesel (from growing the plants to getting it to the vehicles) than we get out of it. Another problem is the huge land areas that will be needed to produce enough of it, at least for today’s number of vehicles.
Biodiesel works well on a local and limited scale and can be a part of a tapestry of varied solutions, but it does not seem to be a good idea on a larger scale.
And some of the same people who promote biodiesel, including Bush, also promote fission energy. This again has obvious problems.
We produce extremely toxic waste which thousands of future generations will have to deal with (maybe one of the most undemocratic actions we can take, as they do not have a say in our current decisions), and there is no good way to deal with it.
Another problem, which the media for some reason is doing its best at ignoring, is the limited supply of uranium. If the world’s energy need was met by fission energy, we would only have enough uranium for four years. If a quarter of our global energy use was supplied by fission, we would have enough for sixteen years. Instead of peak oil, we would quickly run into peak uranium.
And there are several other problems as well, including possible accidents, insurance by taxpayer’s money, and significant fossil fuel emissions through mining, transportation, production of the plants, and so on.
So, we have a technology which produces one of the most toxic byproducts known to humans. It takes 10-15 years and huge resources to build a fission reactor. It is prone to devastating accidents. And the raw material needed is already in short supply, only enough for four years of production if it was to cover our global energy needs. Again, this is something that only makes sense for those who stand to make a nice profit in the short run, and not for all the rest of us – including the thousands of future generations who will have to deal with the fallout of this brief feast.
The longer term resolution to our energy situation is most likely not found in one single approach, but a tapestry of partial solutions, including reduced consumption, new technologies, and use of a variety of renewable sources – tailored to the needs and possibilities of each region.
The main and most significant solution is reducing consumption, which in turn means to meet our needs at their own level. Only our most basic levels are met through material and energy consumption. The wast majority of our needs are met through meaningful and nurturing connections with other people, ourselves, the Earth and the Universe. It also means to live more locally in terms of our material and energy consumption: increased local and regional self-reliance.
Renewable energy includes solar energy in all its many forms: solar, wind, waves, and with a limited amount of biofuels mixed in. There is also one from lunar energy: tides. There is one from the birth of our planet: geothermal. And there is the possibility for viable fusion energy within some decades, which right now seems far less harmful than fission energy. If it is centralized, will it brings its own problems. If it can be done on a smaller scale and locally, it may be one of the greatest revolutions in our energy situation.
Most of these solutions will create their own problems, and evolving our relationship will energy is and will continue to be a process.