19 – Space solar power and America’s energy future (Part 3)

Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.


In Part 2 of this series, I identified my list of priorities for the criteria to select long-term future energy sources for America. This list is:


  • Energy acceptability
  • Energy economic opportunity
  • Energy assuredness and energy affordability
  • Energy sufficiency and energy availability


Of this list, the bottom two are technology-driven while the second is driven by business and market considerations. The top priority is driven by public perception and political agreements.


Personal biases


I preface the following remarks with three points. First, I fully support the development of renewable energy sources and the adoption of sensible energy conservation measures. I’ve held this view since the mid-1970’s when I helped to start a local alternative energy association to promote discussion and understanding of renewable energy and energy conservation. Both are, I believe, morally correct positions following the old adage of “waste not, want not.”


Second, I am not yet convinced that any change in the global average temperature is happening and, should it be happening, that anthropogenic influences are significant. There is a growing body of reported data and observed weather conditions that are inconsistent with the use of the term “global warming” to mean increasing average temperatures. Further, estimates of the influence of anthropogenic emissions on current and predictions of future global average temperatures or variations in local weather conditions, such as the drought in the Southeastern U.S., are less than fully convincing as the cause-effect relationship is unclear. I don’t, however, discount the importance of gaining a better understanding global temperature changes and conditions and responsible natural and anthropogenic influences. Nor do I dismiss the need to take reasonable preventative measures, especially with regard to the formulation of future energy policies, while the fundamental scientific information is still being assessed.


Third, I believe it is important to gain a good understanding of global warming, but not be pushed to hysterical responses, as the words by some would support. The U.S. and the world need sound mid- and far-term energy policies and practices that enhance freedom, security, and an improving standard of living. Hysterical responses, particularly those driven by underlying political agendas, will not move the U.S. and the world towards these needed sound policies and practices.


Energy political balls in the air


Energy politics in the United States has been juggling three “balls” while the American political process attempts to find sufficient consensus on an energy strategy and, then, an energy policy. The first ball was been, since the end of World War II, the increasing U.S. dependence on imported petroleum. The second ball has been the high and increasing cost of petroleum driven, apparently, by the increasing world-wide demand for petroleum. This ball popped up in the 1970’s. The third ball is the potential of a looming world-wide shortage of conventional petroleum should predictions that world total production of conventional petroleum has or is about to peak. Now we have a fourth energy ball being tossed into the political air. This is the “ball” of anthropogenic-driven global warming due to the increasing industrial consumption of non-renewable carbon fuels—primarily coal, conventional petroleum, and, increasingly, non-conventional petroleum (e.g., tar sands).


Recent Bali conference on global warming


This past two weeks a conference on “global warming” was held in Bali, Indonesia. Its purpose was to define and adopt a new international treaty on mitigating anthropogenic-caused global warming as a follow-up to the ill-fated Kyoto Protocol. This conference was a response to this year’s release of the update of the report by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.


The United States delegation to the conference was under strong political pressure, both internationally as well as domestically, to adopt a formal treaty binding the U.S. to rapid and significant reductions in “greenhouse gas” emissions. In response, the U.S. led a minority position that it was too early to adopt quantitative goals—especially if the panel’s recommendations of cuts of 25 to 40 percent compared with 1990 emission levels, are to be mandated by 2020. Instead, the U.S. proposed and gained grudging acceptance of a two-year delay pending further discussions and negotiations.


The strength of the emotion-driven arguments at the recent Bali conference emphasize the growing public interest in collective world-wide environmental protection. This feeling stretches, in America, back to establishment of the first national parks to preserve places of unique natural beauty, such as Yellowstone, for future generations to enjoy. Most recognize and support the wisdom of such environmental protection efforts provided they are implemented in a practical manner.


With the heightened public awareness of changes in the world’s environment, we see that the American public’s political center-of-gravity on this issue is shifting towards “green.” One result was that the U.S. Congress just passed and the president signed legislation mandating improved gas mileage for cars. We also see that the public is adopting personal energy conservation measures such as converting to compact fluorescent lights and purchasing more fuel efficient cars. These steps indicate increasing political support for positive greene change.


Bali’s importance to American presidential politics


Whether intentional or not, the U.S.-led effort to delay adoption of specific quantitative reductions in “greenhouse gas” emissions will move this debate squarely into the U.S. presidential campaign. Already, eco-activists are initiating a write-in campaign for former Vice President Al Gore in the upcoming New Hampshire presidential primary to help highlight global warming as a political issue. While probably too late to impact the primaries, this issue may arise during the fall’s campaign.


How should the U.S. respond to the demands of most other nations that we cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 25-40 percent within 12 years? The stage has been set for the next president to squarely address this issue and to deal with the selected implementation throughout their administration. Add this to the issues of U.S. dependency on imported petroleum, the high cost of petroleum, and the pending world-wide shortage of conventional oil, and it is possible that energy and the environment could move to center stage of the American presidential campaign. Voters may see this as a central “pocket-book” issue with greater personal importance than Iraq and illegal immigration.


Bali’s impact on the potential for space solar power


What is important to advocates of space solar power is that, returning to the list of selection criteria for future energy sources, the public’s feelings regarding energy acceptability is moving towards the acceptance of the need for new energy sources. Thus, the public may be open to new information on space solar power as a new and acceptable energy source. Heightened Congressional interest in how the U.S. will respond to the Bali and the likely debates of this issue during the fall will provide an important opportunity to introduce and expand on the discussions of the potential of space solar power for meeting mid- and far-term U.S. and world energy needs.

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