“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Behind the Power Curve

As I've mentioned previously, I'm a pilot. There's a concept in aviation called being "behind the power curve." It's a situation wherein induced drag caused by a high angle of attack means that going slower requires more rather than less power. The only way out is to lower the nose.

I've also mentioned that I'm philosophically aligned with libertarianism (small letter l). My core beliefs involve personal choice, personal responsibility, freedom, and right to privacy. Thus, I don't typically look to government to solve societal problems. However, I think that it's possible that we've reached a situation analogous to being behind the power curve, where it's going to take more unified and possibly directed action to get through the next few years without the societal equivalent of an aerodynamic stall.

What I mean is that the changes in infrastructure and industry that will be required to succeed in the establishment of a new paradigm for energy conversion have a huge energy requirement of their own. This need becomes more and more difficult to supply in light of the (possible) passing of so-called "peak oil" and the ever increasing demands on fossil fuel from the developing nations as they compete to achieve what we in America regard as (to paraphrase Dick Cheney) our non-negotiable birthright to the American lifestyle.

I love the American lifestyle of flat screen TV's (we have two), a vehicle for everyone of driving age (we have three for two people), a nice house (four bedrooms for four people), a swimming pool, and my Piper Saratoga. So what am I doing talking about saving energy and government action? And more poignantly, how do I reconcile this lifestyle of profligate energy expenditure with my attempts to squeeze a few extra miles per tank full from what is, after all, a fuel-guzzling, oversized SUV?

In a way, this is the reason that I'm afraid governments will need to step in. I have these things and live this way because I can and I like it. There are millions more like me. By the time the free market makes it impossible for me to continue to live this way, it may well be too late to matter. The market is very good at sending signals in some circumstances - it's certainly sending some clear signals about our trade deficit and our export of jobs that actually create things with the price of a dollar in Euros or Canadian Dollars. But the market seems ill equipped to send a signal that will cause us to take actions that will cost us in lifestyle and whose payoff is years into the future. Unfortunately and in contradiction to my philosophical inclination, I'm afraid that government intervention is the equivalent of putting the nose down.

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