During the long gasoline lines and higher energy prices of the OPEC-induced energy crisis almost 30 years ago — with the Vietnam War behind us and with the economy in a downturn — I suggested that what was needed to revitalize the American economy was what frequently had succeeded in the past: another war. Only this time, it would need to be a war to develop alternative energy technologies.
That energy and fiscal crisis of the 1970s ebbed, and we Americans temporarily returned to SUVs and other fuel-consuming devices. With the growth of the energy demands of China, India and other countries, along with our energy excesses, however, we now face the continuation of rising energy prices in a deteriorating economy.
Thus, it is time to begin in earnest that war to develop energy solutions.
The model for that war already exists in two relatively recent truly American events. The first was John F. Kennedy’s successful pledge to put a man on the moon within 10 years. The second was the electronic revolution driven in large part by young, entrepreneurial visionaries who from their garages developed major electronics industries.
Furthermore, this multifaceted war on energy could reinforce America’s world standing and provide hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs — many high-tech — while bolstering the economy, ridding the United States of its dependence on foreign oil and easing the threat of global warming.
Without enumerating all of the alternative energy potential solutions, several broad areas are worth exploring:
Replace all carbon-based electrical-generating facilities with wind power, supported by T. Boone Pickens in his television advertisements and already begun in Maine; with tidal power, used on Deer Isle-Stonington in the 1800s to a much lesser degree and once started at Eastport in the 1930s; and with geo-thermal power in the hot pockets of the Northwest. The best of the oil-fired plants, however, would remain online to pick up some of the burden in slack-wind or high-demand times.
Develop a fleet of energy-efficient (50 miles to a gallon or better) hybrid, electric, and hydrogen-powered cars and trucks. Development of batteries that sustain a greater charge longer for a reasonable price and the subsequent development of non-carbon electrical-generating plants to recharge those batteries or to process hydrogen for cars are critical. Pickens’ view of using natural gas to power cars in the interim sounds feasible.
Revitalize the nation’s railways. This is fundamental to reducing diesel fuel-guzzling long-haul trucking of, say, East Coast-bound produce from California and imports through West Coast ports. Upgrading the rail system would be a mammoth undertaking, yet it would provide thousands of jobs. (And diesel fuel competes with and thereby drives up the price of home-heating oil.) A computerized, rapid, and efficient freight system would be the result, with products eventually distributed by short-haul trucking. Additionally, Europe and Japan have shown the practicability of high-speed passenger lines that could move more passengers faster, cheaper and with far less fuel on short- and medium-length runs than do the airlines.
Upgrade other mass transit systems. Because ridership on mass transit systems has risen appreciably with the rise in fuel costs, systems everywhere need to be upgraded and added. That includes the Bangor area bus system. More than 80 percent of Maine’s population lives within 20 miles of the turnpike and Interstate system. A light rail system bordering the breakdown lanes with parking lots and bus pickup at each exit would be an option at least to investigate.
Home heating prices in Maine and in other northern tier states are a major concern. Tougher standards on new home construction, weatherization of older homes and a change in the mindset of individuals as to heating patterns and at-home clothing choices can provide some reduction in fuel use, but a new, possibly unknown technology is needed.
Obviously, all this will not happen immediately. It, however, is the dreaming that should be on everyone’s mind. If we had acted after the 1970s energy crisis, we would be much farther along today in the pursuit of alternative energy. So, with the urgency of sending a man to the moon and in the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans, the task is before us. And hundreds of thousands of jobs could be created in providing new solutions to saving on energy costs.
Alfred Banfield is an earth science teacher at Bangor High School and a former Bangor Daily News staff member.