Re: Energy and "the Clash of Civilizations" -- a policy thought problem

From: Adrian Tymes (
Date: Fri Sep 28 2001 - 22:00:58 MDT

Greg Burch wrote:
> Assume that you are George W. Bush's senior science policy adivosor. (This
> means that you are NOT an anarcho-capitalist or even a libertarian -- try it
> as an exercise for fun.) Now assume that you have become convinced (which
> wouldn't be hard to do) that one of the most rigid constraints on US foreign
> policy is the industrialized world's dependence on Middle Eastern oil. In
> recent briefings you have become despondent over the intractable nature of
> the conflict between the Enlightenment cultural values you hold as a
> scientist and the Islamic revivalist movement that is the most dynamic
> political and social force throughout that region. You want to propose some
> means of decreasing the West's dependence on fossil fuels.
> Question: What would you propose?
> Is a government initiative on the scale of the Manhattan or Apollo project
> something that could address the problem? If so, what would its R&D targets
> be? You would want to develop R&D goals that would require the least
> disruption of current social and economic life, so the use of as much of
> existing modes of transportation as possible should be desirable. You want
> maningful results as soon as possible, with a reasonably high chance for
> success.
> You have the president's ear. What would you say?

Preach conversion to electric transport, for starters. Less moving
parts means less oil for lubrication, and motive power itself comes
from something other than gasoline. Not to mention all kinds of
eco-benefits, redeemable for better chances of re-election. Also
increased electric demand, therefore more money to (and donations from)
the power companies - though, to keep consistent with the goal,
increase subsidization of non-fossil-fuel plants.

Increase government subsidies - direct to the consumers, maybe but not
necessarily also through the companies - to reduce consumer cost of
electric cars to less than gasoline-fuelled ones. Shop around
government and corporate labs for some high-tech power storage units
that can overcome range limitations on electric cars, and make the
technology available for cheap to any car company (American or
otherwise: helping wean our allies from fossil fuels too can't hurt)
that wants to use 'em. Likewise, heavily encourage municipalities to
switch their buses towards electric. Perhaps even try to build them
up to milspec (like the Navy is already doing), so our forces abroad
won't be out of sorts if and when the oil runs dry...though this would
probably be most troublesome for the Air Force, even if all-electric
supersonic jet engines were developed. (Not that they'd mind the
stealth benefits: "*What* heated exhaust? We're just a ripple in the

Kick back to the aerospace industry by funding development of
airliner-quality sub-orbital ballistic transport using rocket fuels
that can be manufactured in America, with contract condition that some
large percent of the development money gets paid when, not before, the
transports go into operation by the end of 2004. Disqualify from
competition any firm (either direct, or any level of subcontractor on
the development) that has tried, and failed, to see through a similar
project in the past several years: this excludes companies like Boeing
and Lockheed, who would have an arguable financial interest in seeing
this fail. (Possibly kick in the remaining $5 mil to fund the X Prize
without adding any strings to it, if that's not too libertarian...and
not too impossible for government funding. ^_^)

Check around to see if synthetic fossil fuels can be pushed towards
price competitiveness with the natural equivalent. Maybe toss some
funds into researching that, especially for medical uses and plastics

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