For an energy future, look to the past

November 22, 2008

This is a response to a request for new ideas from the Obama-Biden Transition team at I received a form letter in response to a previous submission. This is my second submission to President-Elect Obama.

In my first submission, I suggested a Domestic Exchange program similar to the Foreign Exchange progam for students. As a teacher in Southern California, I feel that students could learn and share much by travelling to other areas of our country.

The form letter I received asked for my thoughts on Energy and the Environment. Here is my response:

I do not have a great concern about climate change. This issue is neither a great threat in the short or medium term, nor is it solvable by directly addressing it nor is it one that emerging or industrialized countries are willing to sacrifice the resources and capital to solve.

My great concern is the long term policy to address the imminent deficit in the production of fossil fuels. The extreme increase last summer of energy prices was not the direct cause of the current economic situation but it was an underlying factor, it did accelerate the onset, it has exacerbated the recession and it will severely inhibit the recovery when those high prices return at the first hint of renewed economic growth.

We, as a nation, need to decide what the world is going to look like in 25, 50 and 100 years and focus our policies and planning on that. If we settle for the easy politic, chase the status quo and try to maintain our energy-intensive lifestyle without sufficient cheap energy, we will quickly run out of money, resources, patience and fingers to plug the holes in the dike. We must do this by taking the following actions:

1. Shift our focus to a more efficient low speed, low energy fixed route electrified transportation system.

2. Incentivize the urban planning and construction of 4 floor walkup living communities with the first floor providing the retail and businesses and space for the residents on the upper floors. All of these buildings should be built within 2 blocks of mass transportation.

3. Restore, re-educate and repopulate our nation’s small farm communities. High-energy industrial farming using fertilizer and fossil fuels will become impossible within 25 years.

4. Our nation needs to convert and shift our massive expenditure of resources, energy and capital from recycle and replace to repair, repaint, restore, refurbish, retain and repurpose. We will have to change from Victoria’s Secret to Victoria’s Sewing Secrets, from Crate and Barrel to crate and barrel making, from Joe the Plumber to a nation of plumbers, electricians, carpenters, cooks and farmers and finally from plastic to cast iron.

5. Our educational system must shift from producing academic specialists to vocational generalists. Our higher education system is quickly pricing itself out of the middle class market. The jobs that those schools train for are quickly disappearing. We need to restore the intricate vocational skills leveraged by development of high technology but low energy solutions that enhance the use of human and animal labor.

6. Our nation needs to recognize that the no-risk society is unattainable, has infinite costs, expends incredibly large resources and significantly increases system complexities. We need to remove the roadblocks to simplicity and reliability, raise the stakes for untrustworthiness, lack of integrity, and negligence and reward small solutions to big problems over big solutions to small problems.

Our nation and our people are passing into the most dynamic shift in direction since the beginning of the industrial revolution in 1750. We are going from a time of future promise to past wisdom. We are entering a time when we need to relearn old, simple lessons combined with a liberal application of efficient, low energy, low capital and high technology solutions. For the first time in human history, we will have to model the future after the past.

Tags: Building Community