Political power block

Kevin Clarke| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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I’ve been reading about Republican plans for the next budget they get a hand in, and I have to say I’m more than a tad depressed. Yes, I’m concerned that the nation’s poor are going to take a beating at the same time defense spending sallies forth sacrosanct, unaffected by the belt-tightening that will no doubt be demanded of folks who are already hard off.

But I’m really bummed because as a tech-geek I can pretty much forget about my dreams of screaming across the country someday on high-speed rail. (I don’t want my MTV; I want my mag-lev train.) That’s bad enough, but that’s not the worst of it. Let’s face it, U.S. high speed rail was merely a hoped for nationalistic face-saver as far as I was concerned. (I remain humiliated that the United States stands essentially alone among advanced economies devoid of the kind of mass transit other nations have taken for granted for decades and which are well on their way in developing nations such as China, Philippines, Thailand, even Mexico.)

No, the real bummer for all of us will be the new Congress’ impact on energy policy. A recent report from Bloomberg News details a European study which found that in just five to eight years, electricity from solar panels in Germany may be as cheap as power from new gas and coal plants. That’s right, the purported cost advantage of old power over renewable innovations, already a deeply flawed presumption, is on the high-speed rail to irrelevance in Europe.

The rest of the world is forging ahead into a George Jetsonish future of cheap, sustainable energy. Meanwhile the United States, you know the homeworld of solar power (where are you when we need you Charles Fritts!), appears in a determined embrace of the latest 19th and 20th century energy technology. While the world moves on (China is well on the way to becoming the world leader in solar panel production), we continue to invest in research and development, not on “innovative,” nonpolluting energy sources, but on increasingly hysterical and literally earth shattering techniques for extracting old school energy.

The easy fossil fuel is long gone. Instead of contributing to the next energy revolution, we in the United States are busy trying to innovate ways to drill in deeper waters in the Gulf and below the Arctic, blast oil from sand in Canada, “frack” the earth for shale gas in Pennsylvania and New York, and consume mountains in West Virginia and Kentucky. This is an energy policy that will bring a smile to the craggy lips of the old-timey oil and gas men in the U.S. who appear on the verge of calling the shots for another generation of energy production. But it’s a disaster for the environment and for the rest of us and for the generations to come who may, it turns out, have as valid a claim on the earth’s finite resources as we do.

I’d still love to take a ride on a mag-lev train some day. I just hope that ride into 21st century geek ecstasy doesn’t get electrified by carbon-belching tech that should be part of a museum exhibit, not powering the lights for one.