Why Clean Renewable Energy Is Imperative to Our Future Thesis

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Renewable Energy

The United States is facing a seminal moment in terms of energy policy. Since 1970, the percentage of our oil that has been imported has increased from 24% to 70% (Pickens, 2008). While some of this oil comes from close allies such as Canada, Mexico, and the United Kingdom the majority of it comes from producers with whom we have a more adversarial relationship such as Venezuela and the Middle East. This represents a serious national security issue because we have become dependent on countries that, if not our enemies, are certainly not our friends.

Compounding the problem of foreign oil dependence is the fact that oil is not a renewable resource. Some observers believe we reached peak oil in 2005 (Pickens, 2008). This means that oil production is declining; consumption continues to rise. Moreover, most of the world's proven reserves - and all of its good ones - have been discovered. New oil that is exploited now is more difficult and more expensive to reach than the reserves we are currently tapping. The world's current oil reserves may only last another hundred years before they are completely spent. In order to maintain our current standard of living, we will need to develop alternate fuel sources.

There are several alternatives to oil dependence currently in the pipeline. These include other fossil fuels like natural gas, of which the U.S. has significant proven reserves, and clean energy sources. While natural gas can provide a valuable bridge for us, ultimately we will run into the same problem with gas as we have with oil - it is non-renewable and therefore we will run out of it. Like oil, gas pollutes. Greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels have caused global warming, which is widely believed to have catastrophic consequences in the next hundred years. In order to solve the problems of foreign oil dependence and Greenhouse gas emissions simultaneously, we must focus our energy policy towards the development of clean, renewable energy resources.

Global warming has several potential consequences, none of which are desirable. The most important of these is that the increase in global air temperature is melting polar ice caps. Arctic Ocean ice is now expected to completely disappear in the summer by 2020, thirty years ahead of predictions just a few years earlier (Zabarenko, 2007). This will have two consequences. One is that it will accelerate the pace of global warming. The other is that it will contribute to a rise in sea levels. This will inundate coastal cities around the world, forcing the relocation of upwards of a billion people.

Another consequence of global warming is its impact on the world's climate. This will impact different areas in different ways, but overall it will change our crop patterns, our ability to find clean water, our living and migration habits and other macro-level societal changes. Massive casualties can be expected as a result of these changes. The longer we wait to react to this, the worse the problem will become.

Global warming is directly linked to emissions from fossil fuels. The rapid acceleration in global warming in recent decades is directly related to the rise in automobile culture in the developed world and to the industrialization of formerly undeveloped nations, especially in Asia. By adopting clean energy resources, we can help to staunch the development of global warming. Wind power and solar energy are the two leading clean energy sources in the U.S. today (Redford, 2002). Neither of these sources generates greenhouse gases. In addition to helping reduce our own carbon emissions footprint, the United States can provide a model for other countries with significant energy needs to follow, magnifying the effects of our actions.

The second reason why we should pursue alternative energy resources is to help provide jobs domestically. Most of the jobs in oil exploration, drilling and development are located in the centers of production. Most of those centers are in other countries. When we purchase foreign oil, we are essentially transferring wealth to those other countries. Yet, that is wealth that could be kept here at home. This wealth transfer impacts our balance of trade, increases our deficit and as a result weakens our economy.

The amount of job potential from developing clean energy sources can only be approximated. Montana governor Brian Schweitzer estimated that President-elect Obama's clean energy stimulus plan will generate five million new jobs in the next ten years. This estimate is supported by the results in Iowa. By investing hundreds of millions of dollars in renewable energy, that state has created over 100,000 jobs in the sector (Environmental News Service, 2008).

Green energy jobs come in a wide range of forms. The most important of these forms is in technology development. These high-end positions are beneficial in a couple of ways. First, the opportunity to generate these jobs will keep as much top engineering talent in the country as possible. Our engineering schools are filled with foreign students who can be convinced to stay if we have jobs that are sufficiently exciting and well-paying. These positions will also contribute significantly to our tax base because of the tax rates on the high level of income.

An additional benefit is that green energy jobs are often located away from major centers. The Iowa example is just one case. Similar rural green energy job creation has been seen in Colorado and West Texas. This has a couple of benefits. First the spread of quality jobs away from major urban centers has positive environmental impacts as congestion and smog in those centers is reduced. Second, green energy jobs are created in areas of the country that have not seen strong job creation in years. Green energy represents one of the most significant job creation opportunities in the rural American history.

There are other significant economic benefits as well. When green energy creates jobs and energy production domestically, this reduces the wealth transfer to foreign countries. This improves our balance of trade, strengthens the dollar and improves the wealth of the nation in a manner that is productive rather than destructive. Additionally, green energy will reduce worldwide demand for oil. Currently, the United States represents 25% of world oil consumption (Pickens, 2008). A reduction in our oil consumption will impact the global oil market. This reduction in demand, especially if coupled with clean energy initiatives in other major oil consumers, will allow oil prices to stabilize, lending further benefit to our balance of trade.

Oil dependence has also been cited as a major national security issue, for the dependence it creates on nations and regions that are unstable at worst and unfriendly at best. Much of the conflict of the past seven years has been attributed at least in part to our dependence on foreign oil. Clean energy is a domestic solution to this problem. As a result, the development of clean energy resources will make a significant contribution to our national security policy and will help improve our national safety.

Another significant benefit to the development of clean energy is that it will help to lower our energy costs. As mentioned, the price of oil is in part dependent on supply and demand. While this is not always the case - the recent decline in oil prices is the result of OPEC pursuing a lower price to influence the Obama administration to postpone its energy independence initiatives - a reduction in U.S. demand can be expected to depress the price of oil. This will have the effect of lowering our energy costs.

Energy costs will also be lowered by the use of solar panels. The United States receives the second-most sunlight of any OECD country after Australia. Sunlight resources are often harnesses at the individual building level, with solar panels on roofs. The initial cost of solar panels is almost the entire cost so that once they are installed, the variable cost of energy is very low. Moreover, homeowners could increase their own wealth by selling excess energy back into the utility grid, the way that smelters and other independent power producers do (USA Today editorial, 2008).

The other major clean energy source in the United States is wind power. As with solar power, costs are relatively high now, but these are dropping as the industry begins to achieve economies of scale. Promotion of clean energy development through tax breaks and other incentives will allow for these nascent industries to achieve the economies of scale required to compete. At that point, they are expected to provide energy more cheaply than the oil industry. This is in part due to lower infrastructure costs once economies of scale are achieved, but also due to lower transportation costs. Transportation is one of the most significant cost drivers in the energy business, so locally-produced energy, even if it costs more to produce, will cost less to bring to market. All told, green energy initiatives represent a significant opportunity to lower our energy costs.

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