The Perfect Storm

WAMC Audio For the Perfect Storm


Dr. Steven A. Leibo is a Professor of International History & Politics at the Sage Colleges

“THE PERFECT STORM”

It was a strange place to go to college, in a city far better known for its resort facilities than college dorms, for its nude beaches than its chemistry labs. But as far as I could see, my fellow students at the University of California at Santa Barbara did manage to get a reasonably good education despite all the distractions.

But there were always reminders of the beach that was so often just outside the classroom windows, funny reminders like opening one’s textbooks only to have a flow of sand empty out onto the classroom floor. But it was not only sand we carried away from beach. But huge globs of sticky tar that came in from the waves –chunks of tar stirred up by off shore drilling that was so common along the southern California coast.

So not surprisingly, having spent a good chunk of my college career, not studying but trying to get the oily goo off my clothing, it was with some trepidation that I listened last week as President Obama spoke of opening up more of America’s coastlines to oil drilling a decision that in so many ways seemed to echo less the more thoughtful energy policies of 2008’s democratic convention than that rowdy crowd of republicans and their chants of “drill baby drill.”

But college memories aside, the president has made the absolutely correct choice. Because this country has got to move past yesterday’s arguments – the battles over the environment versus the economy – off shore drilling versus newer green energy. The struggle between nuclear proponents and its detractors and build the greatest possible coalition for a new energy policy appropriate for the only just emerging 21st century. And to finally develop an energy policy that recognizes that the last century’s dependence on fossil fuels, despite all their extraordinary advantages, is dramatically coming to a close.

As petroleum, the fossil fuel that has especially driven the global transportation industry is reaching a critical turning point. As the long speculated upon moment of “Peak Oil” is increasingly upon us even as the globe’s insatiable addiction to petroleum meets the increasingly contemporary decline of those critical resources.

A reality that is finally being recognized even by those who until recently denied the realities of that fundamental threat even as the wider range of fossil fuels – from the particularly dirty coal to the relatively cleaner natural gas, all work to shove us toward a climatic future beyond civilized humanity’s previous experience.

A perfect storm of challenges that demand an energy policy that utilizes every possible approach from developing the newest generation of nuclear plants, nuclear plants we are told that are so efficient they can use the ever so problematic waste products of the older nuclear facilities as their own fuel sources. Even as we employ bridge fuels like natural gas to wean us away from its dirtier cousin coal.

All the while pushing the development of every source of green energy we can muster. Using all the powers of governmental eminent domain that once built the super highways to push past all those “not in my back yard types” who oppose projects like wind turbines for questionable aesthetic challenges we can no longer afford to consider – absurd challenges of the sort we have seen off Cape Cod.

All the while mobilizing every tool of energy efficiency and retrofitting building we can possibly call up. Because, frankly, it’s too late to keep fighting yesterday’s battles as the perfect storm of our emerging 21st century twin energy crisis looms; the end of cheap oil upon which we built modern America’s core accomplishments and our carbon emissions that are pushing us towards a range of climatic tipping points from the melting of the permafrost’ methane to the loss of the planets’ ice sheet based cooling reflective abilities.

All of which will eventually deprive us of the power —as most think we still hold – to stave of that era of dramatic climate change when will be no more able to avoid the worst than we can stop the winds of an aroused hurricane.

About Steven Leibo

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