The Importance of Alternative Energy

Global warming, uncertain oil supplies, and a seemingly endless appetite for energy consumption are three things Americans should be focusing on. The pentagon issued a report months ago about the potential global insecurity and chaos that could be the result of global warming patterns. The war in Iraq is primarily a war for the control of a region that sits atop vast oil reserves, and stability in the region seems to be slipping from our grasp. Americans, as well as an emerging China and India, demand energy in an ever increasing amount. But, as the three pronged vice tightens, we are doing little to release the pressure.

The New York Times has an article out today on solar energy and the funding (or lack thereof) that it receives. As the article details, solar energy will receive only $159 million dollars in research and development money from the Department of Energy this year, compared to $303 million for nuclear technology and $427 million on coal technology. These numbers are atrocious.

Nuclear and coal technology is already well developed compared to solar technology. Both coal and nuclear energy production leads to waste we simply do not know how to deal with, either in the form of nuclear waste or gases that contribute to global warming. The main problem behind solar energy is not the waste it produces, but how to store excess energy in times of plenty for use later. I have a feeling our money could be better allocated than it currently is.

I recently talked to a friend who is completing his Doctorate in an energy related field. He told me of a visit by a representative from Exxon-Mobile. After the representative’s speech, my friend approached him to ask why the company wasn’t doing more research into alternative energies (Exxon lags behind even other large oil companies such as BP in such research). The representative basically replied that the company didn’t care about such research because it wasn’t as profitable as further oil and gas research, and that they “gave Americans what they wanted” – essentially, gas for their SUVs.

Energy companies have a moral responsibility to find and develop alternative sources of energy and the US government should support these efforts. We currently have our sons and daughters dying in Iraq to keep our oil cheap: this situation is unacceptable. The fact that profit guides our choices, and conspicuous consumption leads us to turn a blind eye to the reality around us, should be condemned.

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