Worse yet, from an energy perspective, it must seem to many as if, in the short term, we have few options that we didn't have in 1979. We can drive less, carpool, make sure our tires are properly inflated, switch to a lower-octane grade, and turn off our engines at long stoplights. Not very comforting, with gas over $3.00/gal.
But before we succumb to the post-Katrina malaise, it's worth remembering that in the mid-to-long term, we have some strikingly different choices than we did 25 years ago. Consider:
- Hybrid cars are a reality. If we can convince Detroit and Yokohama that fuel economy will be a primary driver of consumer preferences for the next decade, they will offer us a wide range of cars and SUVs that are comfortable, safe, and get 35-50 miles per gallon.
- Alternative fuel technologies have become economical or nearly so at current oil prices. This includes the production of liquid transportation fuels--our biggest need and the largest hurdle in the 1970s--from natural gas, coal, crops and crop waste.
- Hydrogen fuel cells have moved out of the laboratory and into prototype cars and production buses. Despite infrastructure obstacles, fuel cells hold out the promise of using existing energy sources much more efficiently in the future.
- Clever exploitation of the Internet is constantly providing new means for substituting the movement of information for the movement of people and goods. This is one reason that the ratio of energy inputs to GDP output continues to fall.
As I've suggested before in this blog, we have learned an awful lot in the last couple decades, even if it doesn't always seem that way. Thinking that we are back in the 1970s is only going to lead to the unnecessary repetition of failed strategies for solving our energy problems. We need to treat the Oughts (has anyone heard of a better name for this decade?) as unique and approach our current problems with the benefit of historical insight, but led by a fresh perspective.