BY BOB MIODONSKI
PUBLISHER AND EDITORIAL DIRECTOR
A U.S. SENATOR locked in a tough re-election campaign has declared that this nation's energy crisis should be treated as a national security threat.
"Energy is not just an economic issue, but a national security issue" where the enemy has control over our energy supply, the senator recently told a group gathered in Kansas City to discuss "Innovation and the Emerging Energy Challenge." Election-year politics aside, some of our energy suppliers — Canada, for example — may be surprised to hear that we consider them our enemy.
The real question, though, is whether this country's energy situation constitutes a matter of "national security." That makes it sound as if some outside force is threatening us.
This is a predicament, however, that we have largely brought on ourselves. And, fortunately, it is something that we can fix ourselves.
If this is a matter of national security, it certainly seems to be lost on many Americans. Trying to scare them into buying more fuel-efficient vehicles and HVAC equipment and changing their energy-wasting habits is not the best way to address the problem.
In fact, the senator labeling our energy predicament a national-security threat reminded me of when Jimmy Carter was in the White House and called our energy crisis the "Moral Equivalent of War." On April 18, 1977, Carter — dressed in a cardigan sweater, as I recall — outlined the cold facts facing this country during a national TV address.
"I know that some of you may doubt that we face real energy shortages," Carter said. "The 1973 gasoline lines are gone, and our homes are warm again. But our energy problem is worse tonight than it was in 1973 or a few weeks ago in the dead of winter...
"The oil and natural gas we rely on for 75% of our energy are running out. In spite of increased effort, domestic production has been dropping steadily at about 6% a year. Imports have doubled in the last five years. ... Unless profound changes are made to lower oil consumption, we now believe that early in the 1980s the world will be demanding more oil that it can produce."
Recounting what Carter had to say 29 years ago is not to diminish in any way the importance of his message. It is to point out that today's energy crisis is mostly self-inflicted, brought about by our ignoring some pretty obvious facts about the finite supplies of fossil fuels and not spending enough time developing renewable energy sources.
Carter comparing the energy crisis to a wartime situation backfired when someone in this acronym-crazy country figured out almost immediately that the Moral Equivalent Of War could be shortened to M.E.O.W. That, and some of Carter's homespun remedies, such as turning down the thermostat and putting on a sweater, caused many Americans not to take him as seriously as they should have.
So, we find ourselves today in a situation not all that much different than in 1977. Green buildings expert Paul von Paumgartten tells us elsewhere in this month's issue, "The cost of energy will never go down, and we need to get used to that fact."
Still, mechanical contractors and architects attending the energy symposium in Kansas City said that too many building owners are ignoring energy-efficient systems and methods in favor of boosting their bottom lines. Voluntary measures for better energy use just aren't working, they said, even when incentives are attached.
Our situation is far from hopeless, however. Von Paumgartten further notes that we have the technology now to accomplish our needed goals of energy reduction for sustainable buildings.
If our nation's leaders truly believe that the energy crisis threatens our national security, then they shouldn't rely on incentives and voluntary action from the private sector to get the job done.
What's needed is a stronger national energy policy that mandates the technologies that will resolve the crisis. As mechanical contractors, you will play a pivotal role in educating your customers about wise energy use and installing the systems that will help this nation reach its energy objectives.