The New Conversation on Energy

I’ve been hesitant to bring up “silver linings” of the Katrina disaster, as it seemed insensitive to those still in limbo about their homes, families and futures. And while there’s still much to do in response to the damage created by the storm, a number of folks around the web and blogosphere have started discussing the hard lessons we’ve learned about our reliance on oil, and the potential such a disaster raises in terms of bringing renewable energy, and energy diversity in general, into the national conversation. As my Dad noted in response to an earlier post, New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast will be rebuilt, and, by necessity, the rebuilding process will begin quickly. We need to make sure energy issues are considered thoroughly.

The Nashua Telegraph has published an article focused on energy prices and the opportunity they create to refocus the discussion on renewable power. Sandra Jones of the New Hampshire-based Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative observes, “This is a blessing in disguise. It’s a wakeup call. Oil is not going to be there cheaply anymore…. What’s happening because of Katrina is a blip. Oil prices will go way, way up and drop a bit, but they will not go back to where they were five months ago. People need to prepare themselves.” Immediate preparation involves conservation measures, but we’ll also have to start taking more serious looks at alternatives to oil and gas.

Peak Oil News points to an article from the Fort Worth, TX Star-Telegram (registration required) that considers the events surrounding Katrina in terms of FX’s made-for-TV movie Oil Storm. While writer Jack Z. Smith doesn’t claim that the film will win awards for art or prescience, he does note that “Both Katrina and Oil Storm make an important common point: With world oil supplies barely capable of meeting record global demand of 84 million barrels per day, energy markets are precarious and unstable.” Smith goes on to consider a variety of alternatives, including conservation, renewables, and that elephant always in the room, nuclear power.

ENN points to an article from the Harford Courant that also notes that Katrina has provided focus on alternatives missing prior to the storm:

Nevertheless, the soaring prices and supply squeezes seen in the wake of Hurricane Katrina have focused the attention of buyers and investors alike on the need for alternative technologies, which are also environmentally cleaner than burning hydrocarbons.

“The price spike produced by Katrina adds to the pressure to rethink America’s energy future,” said Daniel C. Esty, a professor of environmental law and policy at Yale University.

So, has Katrina created a tipping point in terms of our reliance on oil and gas? Should we look for such a silver lining? I’m still uneasy with that notion, but, clearly, the conversation has begun — sustainability needs to have a place in that conversation.

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