Tom Theuerkorn's First Write Off-My Entry

Aug 15, 2004

The Bottom Line Thanks Tom, this was a great idea.

Welcome, my friends, to my entry into Tom Theurkorn’s timely and thought-provoking write off entitled, Are we an energy guzzling nation?. The short answer is, yes, we are. The statistics bear that assertion out: While the United States accounts for less than 5% of the world’s population, we use about 26% of its energy every year. To be sure, a good deal of that can be attributed to our advanced economy. But do we always use energy as wisely as we could? Could conservation and alternate fuel sources perhaps provide the answer to our energy woes?

Clearly, its time to start thinking about alternatives to fossil fuels, especially clean technologies like solar, hydrogen, and nuclear fusion. Some of these technologies are probably many years off, others are already used. But we’re already seeing the harm that the unrestrained use of fossil fuels is doing to our environment. And our dependence on them is hurting our economy. So, to answer Tom’s question, yes, we are an energy guzzling nation. Is this necessarily a bad thing? No, we just need to apply ourselves to the task of finding better ways to feed our habit.

1. Gas prices have hit record highs. What do you think about the argument that $2/galon is still less than half of what most European countries pay?

Certainly, nobody likes to pay more than he has to for anything. That’s a fundamental principal of human nature. But gas prices in the United States are lower than those in most other countries in the industrialized world. I read somewhere that we actually pay less per gallon than we have in the past in real, inflation adjusted dollars. Fortunately for me, living in Atlanta, gas prices are among the lowest here as they are anywhere in the country. Yet still they’ve flirted with the $2 level. That’s still a lot less than a gallon of milk ($3 to $4) or beer (roughly $10 a gallon or so when bought by the six-pack). We couldn’t expect low gas prices to go on forever.

2. Should the US government support energy-saving concepts like hybrid cars with more tax incentives or introduce law to enforce it? Would you choose a hybrid car, even if it means it's not a Hummer or Cayenne?

I see no reason why the government should not introduce tax incentives for hybrid cars. Similar moves have been taken in the past, and the cars make much more sense than gas-guzzling SUVs. I don’t buy the argument that this is a violation of individual rights. If we keep driving vehicles that get 10 to 12 miles to the gallon and continue to pollute our environment, aren’t we violating the rights of generations unborn? Don’t they have rights too? And yes, I would certainly choose a hybrid over an SUV. We will be looking at Hybrids when we next purchase a car.

3. Given our current energy policy (US), do you support exploration of new oil fields or is it time to really think about alternative energy (and do something)?

The time has come for alternative energy sources to be seriously considered and explored. The current administration, with its ties to the oil industry, can’t be expected to do this in my opinion. But I see alternative fuels as a shining ray of hope for the US economy, a way that we can regain a position as one of the world’s leading energy producers, and do it in a clean and environmentally friendly fashion.

4. In the office, it's not unusual to run lights, computers and other equipment all the time. Do most workers not know where the power button is or is turning them off over night and the weekend just way overrated?

I don’t think so. Believe it or not, I shut my computer off every day when I leave the office. I turn off lights, appliances, and other equipment when not in use, too. Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the norm. Most people don’t care much about this when they aren’t footing the bill. In the aggregate, I imagine the amount of energy wasted in this fashion is staggering.

5. If you had to give up something in order to prevent an (hypothetical) energy crisis, what would you most likely reduce first and what most certainly last? (Large vehicles, air-condition, outdated electrical equipment ...)

Large vehicles, certainly. That’s an easy out, though, because I really don’t have the need for one. And, I think, there is nothing inherently wrong with large vehicles. We just need to make them more fuel efficient, and find ways to run them with clean technology. Rather than giving up in other areas, I would prefer to cut down on using overall across the board.

6. In case you think that something is wrong with our current energy use, who's responsibility is it to do something about it? Government, industry or the people?

Everybody needs to play a part here. Never expect government to do everything for you; that is a fatal mistake indeed. But government can play an important part. As consumers, we play a vital role, too. I believe industry will respond to the part we play; indeed, it already has. As hybrids have become more popular, more manufacturers are producing them-and their technology is sure to improve as a result.

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