Another July 4th is coming soon, and we'll sing with pride about living in the land of the free and the home of the brave. But freedom and bravery are ambiguous words. Our freedom to maintain an American lifestyle depends on oil from foreign countries, and the alternatives of coal and natural gas would entrap us in a poisoned environment.
And how brave are we? Revolutionary Americans had great courage, throwing off the shackles of foreign rule, fighting for self-sufficiency. The modern version of that fight is energy independence. It may not be as difficult as we think.
A study by Stanford University and the University of Delaware found that the construction of 166,000 wind turbines along the Atlantic Coast could produce 1/3 of U.S. energy demand. Another study by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that up to 80% of our energy needs could be met by renewables with 40 years of dedicated effort. A recent report in the journal Energy Policy asserts that most of the world's energy needs can be met within 20 years, if our political and business leaders make the proper commitment. Sufficient materials are available for wind turbines and solar plants, and the cost of scaled-up renewables would be competitive with that of an oil-based economy.
The main impetus behind such a massive effort would not be the threat of global warming, still a controversial issue in the eyes of conservatives. Alternative energy is simply good business. It's working in Germany, the World's first major "Renewable Energy Economy." In the U.S., millions of labor-intensive jobs would be created to construct the concrete and steel wind turbines and the miles of solar panels. And startup costs would eventually lessen health care expenses, as air and water pollution levels drop.
Our giant oil firms, those brave enough to lead the way, will truly and finally be "taking on the world's toughest energy challenges." Perhaps we'll let them host the party when we celebrate our newfound independence.