Magazine article The American Prospect

Energy Forever. (Correspondence)

Magazine article The American Prospect

Energy Forever. (Correspondence)

Article excerpt

ON SEPTEMBER 11, OUR chronic energy crisis went critical. According to Amory B. Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins's two-part article ["Mobilizing Energy Solutions," January 28 (mistakenly titled "Supply-Side Stupor"), and "Energy Forever," February 11], the solution is simple, apolitical, and painless: "Policy tweaking" and innovations such as superwindows and Hypercars[TM] can turn gas-guzzling America into a cost- and energy-efficient nirvana.

Yet the Lovinses fail to support this central thesis. By their own admission, the 15 percent fall in oil use between 1979 and 1985--the only significant such drop in 30 years--"was spurred by high and rising energy prices." Though the Lovinses also cite the period of 1996 to 1999, when energy consumption increased only one-fourth as much as something they call "the economy," that's actually a counterexample, because oil usage--the nub of the energy problem--grew 6 percent during that time. The need now, of course, is to reduce consumption, not only relative to some metric of economic activity but absolutely.

Similarly, while it is heartening that California used 5 percent less electricity last year (the 14 percent reduction cited by the Lovinses was only in peak usage), most of the savings came not through efficiency but from old-fashioned conservation--reduced lighting and air conditioning--induced by crisis conditions and higher prices.

Even granting the Lovinses' final example of a handful of factories and municipalities that purportedly saved energy without higher fuel prices, this proves only that exceptional cases do occur. There is no way to promote energy efficiency on a mass scale as long as both gasoline and driving are systematically subsidized.

To truly solve our energy crisis--by reducing usage rather than simply decreasing consumption so that it increases slower relative to the fictitious entity "gross domestic product"--will require charging a social price for energy via greatly increased fuel taxes. It might be difficult to imagine a popular movement coalescing to achieve this, but it IS a more plausible scenario, particularly after September 11, than the Lovinses' chimerical prescription.

CHARLES KOMANOFF
Komanoff Energy Associates
New York, NY

Amory B. …

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