After reading an article this morning at USNews.com, I found myself concerned, once again, that the "experts" - those who have the public ear - continue to placate, to suggest that the marketplace will take care of it all, and that, in effect, barring the need for any dramatic action, we might as well all go out and shop. That sounds familiar, does it not? It has been the USA government answer to our domestic questions for eight years.
And looking at the range of answers floating around out there, it seems there is polarization far too often - some only want government to jump onto the problem, others feel the marketplace should be allowed to do its "magic" without so-called interference.
But the marketplace is already at work and has been for a long time, while in contrast the government has ignored energy issues or has sided with the oil industry, and has only done a mediocre job (it turns out) in protecting the environment. We have been following a market-place-only approach to policy that can not be considered balanced by any rational calculation. Our energy policy has consisted of providing billions to oil companies to encourage exploration and drilling - and that will be a dead end, if not short term, certainly in the mid-term.
As far as environment, until we realized that we are drawing down on the planet's reserves in order to keep our lifestyle, it appeared that the USA had sound environmental policy. Now that we see the ocean's being depleted of many fish species, dolphins dying of PCB poisoning, climates changing and ice melting, and other warning signs, it seems that even our past earnest efforts were not enough for the long term.
And regarding energy, since we do have major problems already with one billion dollars daily going overseas for our energy needs, and that will only get worse, we need to work together to build solutions. The energy solutions we develop will need also to reduce our impact on the environment, including not only greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, but also we need to reduce the output of toxic manufacturing and energy by-products, which should lean us away from nuclear and coal energy, if at all possible.
The question arises, to sort all this out and get moving, do we need a government effort similar to the Manhattan Project and a war mentality of focusing national efforts on this crisis, or will the marketplace take care of it all? As you might guess, I have an answer I believe in.
When people get serious about solving a problem, as happened with the Manhattan Project and with the Appollo mission, they may not have the exact answer at the start but the scientists and policy makers can work together to arrive at the best solution we know of at the moment. This is not a mystery - there are effective models of energy use, CO2 heating, climate change, and so on. We can use them to start developing solutions that will improve our lot.
On the other hand, market forces do NOT always work adequately or quickly enough. Will corporations do a better job protecting our rights and economic health than government? Think carefully, because you may get what you ask for. Corporations do not necessarily have the long-term vision needed for our stability. Those with training and without vested interest in short-term profits need to manage and guide our responses.
Speaking of the United States specifically, not much will happen until there is a new president. This is probably fitting, as whatever is started now would likely be revised in a major way by the next administration in the USA. Hopefully the next president, whomever it is, will have both the will and the political support to start a true, and urgent, re-thinking of national energy and environmental policy, including 1) incentives for consumer and business adoption of renewable energy and conservation, 2) research support, 3) regulation such as pushing manufacturer fleet gasoline mileage up and perhaps requiring production of electric cars over the next five years, and 4) direct funding of key efforts that may (but the government and scientists can decide) include an upgraded national electric grid to allow more local power generation by various technologies, similar to the way the national highway system was funded.
These ideas do not have a political label of Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative, but they do involve government having a strong role, along with the de facto marketplace. We need to work together to solve national, and global, problems. The dividers are wrong - let us work as uniters and solve these real problems.