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Richard Carnes: The battle between earth and wind (and sun and …)

My earliest recollection for the cost of a gallon of gas was 28 cents.

I have a mental snapshot of the pump at a station where I grew up in Dallas, but other than vague memories of overly friendly guys with grease-stained hands asking my mom a question I didn’t completely understand (“Fill her with the good stuff, Mrs. Carnes?”), it had no more relevance in my life than the thousands of young Americans dying in Vietnam at the time.

Mine wasn’t so much a sheltered childhood as it was simply a normal one for the era.

My youngest son, currently 9, understands more about $4 gas and the war in Iraq than I understood about the Addams Family at his age, and believe me, I knew a lot about the Addams Family (I also had a somewhat confusing crush on Morticia’s mammary glands, but that’s another story …).

What the cost of energy will be as he approaches 50 years of age is anyone’s guess, but I’m pretty sure the burning of fossil fuels will have very little to do with the equation.

Oil, coal, and shale “oil” are all non-renewable, so regardless of expert guesses as to how long the carbon-based fuels will be available, they will inevitably play an increasingly smaller role on the world’s energy stage. And even though I cringe at the mention of the name “Gore,” their negative environmental impact helps ensure this as well.

So we’re left pursuing the renewables (and poorly named “alternative” energies), such as wind, solar, geothermal and nuclear. Although some wish to debate the inclusion of nuclear on this list, the fact remains that it is effectively inexhaustible and therefore worthy of the title.

What bothers me, though, is the apparent global mindset that we must “choose” one of the above as the new winner; THE energy source to lead the planet for the next millennium.

It’s like we’re picking the next American Idol for the world, choosing the new Prom King of Power, the next Queen Mother of Energy, the next energy source to enjoy the privilege of wielding Excalibur.

Sure, from an economic viewpoint I can understand the desire to crown some resource “King” in order for the world’s speculators to continue making a decent living and keeping their Happy Valley second homes in visiting condition, but other than that I don’t understand why we can’t use every one of the energy sources to varying degrees around the planet.

And to top off the frustration, the budding industries attack each other like Obama and McCain over who’s more patriotic.

“The wind don’t blow all the time!” snickers Solar.

“You can stick that where the sun don’t shine,” retorts Wind. “Oh right, that’s only half the time on half the planet! HA-HA-HA-HA!”

“You can’t sit around waiting for underground burps!” laughs Nuclear.

“Yeah, well, at least my burp residue doesn’t kill everything that lives for 2,000 years!” replies Geothermal with an air of patronizing satisfaction.

Can’t we all just get along?

It’s like throwing red paint on an old lady’s fur coat while wearing leather shoes, a leather belt, a wool cap, eating a chicken wrap and drinking a mocha-latte in a Styrofoam cup.

There’s pros and cons to each.

What’s the worst that can happen, cleaner air, safer water, less dependence on foreign countries, fewer wars and less senseless American deaths?

Desert areas can use solar, flatlands can use wind, urban centers nuclear and those close to geothermal vents can take advantage of their own backyard.

In addition, some coastal areas can benefit from wave power while many others can use hydro technology from powerful rivers and lakes.

Technological advances will continue providing efficiencies to grow by leaps and bounds, thus allowing economies of scale to hopefully come into play for all. Even though each will take an unknown amount of time to reach, there’s no better time to start than now.

On a personal level, my wife just bought her first hybrid. Not only did we immediately double the miles driven for each gallon, but it makes nary a peep when you start it.

That’s cool.

I have absolutely no doubt that a gallon of gas will be more than $5 soon, and quite likely much higher, but I’m sure my son will look back and sigh at the length of time we wasted allowing fossil fuels to be King of the Mountain.

NOTE: The preceding opinions belong to Richard and are not necessarily shared by this newspaper…but for energy-efficient reasons, he thinks they should be.

Richard Carnes of Edwards writes a column for the Daily. He can be reached at poor@vail.net.


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