Energy
Hull, Mass. wind turbineGlobal warming demonstrator, Oct. 24, 2009, Times SquareSolar cells at Audubon 2Wind turbine above McEvoy Ranch in northern CaliforniaPhoto of house with solar panelsPhoto of IBEW wind turbine, Dorchester, MA
Photos: (1) Hull Municipal Light Plant's municipally-owned 660 kW Vestas wind turbine, Hull, MA (2) Climate change demonstrator, Times Square, Oct. 24, 2009 (3) Solar array, Audubon sanctuary, Wellfleet, MA (5) Wind turbine above McEvoy Ranch in northern California (photo by Roger Lippman, http://terrasol.home.igc.org/ ) (6) Photovoltaic and solar hot water panels on houses at Wisdom Way Solar Village in Greenfield, MA (7) IBEW union's wind turbine at its Dorchester, MA office building. Photos by Rudy Perkins unless noted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Swans and national security . . . concluded

The good news, Orr believes, is that a quiet “revolution of capabilities” is emerging in such fields as sustainable local agriculture, energy efficient housing, renewable energy, and new non-polluting industrial technologies.  Such diversified, decentralized, locally based, low toxicity and sustainable production could give our country the resilience it needs to avoid the threat of system-wide collapse in the face of catastrophic events. 

This type of resilience-oriented national security thinking would be particularly appropriate on the nuclear front right now.  Nuclear power in our country currently provides about 8.4 quadrillion Btus of energy – roughly 20% of U.S. electricity generation, or 8.6% of total U.S. energy consumption.  After Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and now, Fukushima, this seems like reckless reliance on an inherently dangerous technology for a significant portion of our energy needs.

Fortunately, there are alternatives.  In contrast to nuclear power output, which has been fluctuating up and down in the U.S. since 2002, wind turbine electricity production in the U.S. has been steadily increasing since 1998, and appears on track to come close to or break the 1 quadrillion Btu output mark this year.  With the right energy policies and incentives, we could push wind energy production to much higher levels.  The U.S. Department of Energy reported that it would be possible to produce 20% of U.S. electricity by wind by 2030, if we took the right steps.  A 2009 National Academy of Sciences report concluded there was theoretically sufficient wind energy in the continental U.S. to provide sixteen times all current U.S. electricity needs. In short, we could replace our reliance on a hundred or so dangerous centralized nuclear generators, vulnerable to earthquakes and terrorist attacks, with the resilient option of thousands of widely distributed, relatively benign wind turbines.

Energy efficiency is an even more resilient and non-hazardous way to help meet our nation’s energy demand.  Orr commented that one study suggests energy efficiency has met about 75% of new U.S. energy needs in recent years.  I know from personal experience in the housing development sector where I work, that we can readily and fairly inexpensively build homes that are 35-40% more energy efficient than conventionally built houses.  Tighter air sealing, more insulation, double-glazed windows, better thermal breaks in the building envelope, Energy Star appliances, compact fluorescent lighting and high efficiency gas heating / hot water systems do the job.  With somewhat more effort and expenditure, net zero energy use can be achieved. As a bonus, this work puts tradespeople and local contractors to work in our communities, instead of shipping dollars out-of-region to petro-oligarchs or suspect nuclear corporations.  No radioactive work site is left behind.

The Obama administration is planning well over $700 billion in military spending in FY 2012 and another $853 million in R&D support for the nuclear power industry.  Surely we could afford to redirect some of this extravagant outlay, much of it of dubious national security value, to a crash program on energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Black Swans are here to stay.  It’s time we put our country on a real national security footing and built the resilience and sustainability we need to deal with them. 

-- Rudy Perkins

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Page last modified: 3/27/11

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