I was pleased to see the letter to the editor from Mr. Moskowitz on January 25th concerning the viability of new energy programs in the United States.
However, I think the push for a “comprehensive” energy plan misses the big point. A national energy plan involving increased domestic oil production, while comprehensive, is not necessarily the right thing to do. Climate threats, economic threats, or national security threats will eventually force the United States to move away from dirty fossil fuels. Right now, alternative energy is an opportunity. In fifty years, it will be a necessity. In order to avoid a future situation that calls for huge sacrifices from everyone, we can make smart decisions now. Unfortunately, smart energy decisions do not involve a continued focus on dirty fossil fuels.
The trouble with renewable energy at the moment is that it is too expensive. Most of us would like to help the environment and shrink energy consumption, but not if it means a reduction in our disposable incomes. The solution lies in private investment. If private firms and entrepreneurs invest in renewable energy, then the supply of such energy will increase and the price will fall as it becomes scaled to the market. Unfortunately, due to a lack of certainty in the American renewable energy market, private investment is not safe or secure. No one will make a big bet on solar, wind, or geothermal energy if there is always a chance that the price of oil will fall, and wipeout the demand for these renewable energies in the process.
This is where the federal government can come in to get things started. If our leaders establish measures to limit the demand for dirty fossil fuels while also providing tax incentives, funding, and regulation to make investments in renewable energy more practical, then our country can become a leader in the global energy market. As long as fossil fuels are in high demand, the Middle East will have a global competitive advantage. However, if demand for renewable energy replaces the demand for dirty fossil fuels, then the United States would have the global advantage. This is because no other country in the world can compete with our universities and research centers. This competitive advantage could be squandered if we do not call on our government to move quickly. Other countries, specifically those of the European Union, have already begun ambitious renewable energy programs. Fortunately, our institutions have the potential to make great strides in a short amount of time. We just need our government to set the right conditions for success.
Even government officials, such as our new 5th District Congressional Representative, who deny that climate change is caused by the burning of dirty fossil fuels, should see the benefits of an increased focus on clean renewable energy. This move would not only slow the disastrous effects of climate change, but would also ensure that the United States has a stronger sense of national security. If demand for dirty fossil fuels were replaced by demand for renewable energies, then petrodictators would inevitably lose a great deal of economic influence on the United States. History has also shown that times of low economic demand for oil have coincided with movements for democracy in oil rich nations.
The counter-argument to giving incentives for investment in renewable energy might be that it would diminish investment in the natural resources of Pennsylvania. It is definitely true that these resources have provided some economic opportunities in the past. However, a singular focus on what has brought opportunity in the past will leave us in just that…the past. We, as a country, now have an opportunity to look to the future and take advantage of an economic opportunity that does not come by often. Government policies focused on making renewable energies less expensive would give the United States more diplomatic leverage while also lessening the disastrous consequences of climate change. Let’s be able to tell the next generation that we took advantage of the biggest opportunity of our time, and not that we handed them the biggest crisis of theirs.
M. Patrick Yingling