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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

bottle: genie out

To those amongst us who hope against hope that the USA can become more self-reliant in meeting its energy needs comes this sobering insight. First the good news. Mostly through government regulations, the USA has actually maintained some degree of self-reliance in certain niche markets, particularly in high-tech metals. In last months The Hill you can read a good historical overview of the Berry Amendment, which lawmakers first put into place during WWII to ostensibly insure a technological materials reserve in times of crisis. It has worked remarkably well in the last 50+ years, as the US has 3 of the top 4 titanium suppliers.

Now the bad news. Like everything else having to do with globalization, this amendment has sprung huge leaks. Because the amendment really only applied to defense products, the military's move to commercial sourcing of high-tech materials has served to dissolve the distinction between imported and local metals. Defense prime contractors have found themselves suddenly in a position of needing lots of legal help to help them sort things out.

I see this as a microcosmic study for what we have to face in getting energy producers back in the country. As with many issues, we find it easier to keep the genie in the bottle than to force it back in once it escapes. As BOPNews talks about resource extraction-based economies, we have also basically extracted our own economy from underneath us.

No one really knows how to deal with entropy, and the ensuing race to the bottom. The winners in that race actually lose out in the end. Eventually.
The Indians and Chinese are in this huge fight now to see who can get the most oil. We may be at a point of peak oil production. You may see $100 a barrel oil in the next two or three years, but what still is driving this globalization is the idea that is you cannot possibly get rich, stay rich and get richer; if you don’t release more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. That was true in the industrial era; it is simply factually not true. What is true is that the old energy economy is well organized, financed and connected politically. The new energy economy is underfinanced, under organized, entrepreneurial and in need of the type of research and development work that we routinely did when we were trying to sequence the human genome or go into space. But just with existing technologies for conservation and clean energy, we can more than meet the Kyoto protocols if we were remotely serious about the targets and in the process create jobs in the developed and developing world on a scale that is otherwise unimaginable to me. It is just a question of whether we accept this, but I can only tell you that I have studied this data seriously. I consider it an existential threat to your future. It may be the most remote security threat you face, but the only one who has the chance to change the life of everybody on the plant for the worst. And yet it is a phenomenal opportunity. -- Bill Clinton, March 28


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