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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Let’s Use the Sun

WASHINGTON–Many people who watched the recent three hour NBC television documentary on “the energy crisis” must have come away confused. Issues, charges and denials flew out at the viewer in a welter of point and counterpoint by industrialists and environmentalists.

At the same time, a heavy smog hung over Washington and other cities along the northeast coast. In Washington, hospitals reported admitting more patients because of the air pollution. And local governments in the area declared they were powerless to do anything but alert the public to the hazards of breathing.

Had the NBC program brought on toxicologists,geneticists, cancer specialists, biolo­or other health researchers, gists, viewers could have had a clearer understanding of the consequences to themselves and future generations if the fuels industry has its way. The industry’s message is simple. They want to produce more and more of the same kinds of fuels–oil, coal, gas and nuclear–at higher prices via greater tax loopholes and weaker pollution controls. Only by their way, they say, will there be enough energy to continue our economic growth. Their version of the crisis is that Americans and their gov6rnment are not letting Exxon, Peabody Coal, El Paso Natural Gas and other completely companies get away /with their plans.

Whether it is their way of stripmining, their way of offshore drilling, their way of tankering, their way of refining and their of combusting, the fuels companies and their corporate customers (such as the automobile industry) are plunging the nation to toward technological suicide. Human beings are not designed to withstand the torrent of chemical, gases and radioactive materials being released into their air, water, soil
and themselves. All over the country, citizens are being jolted into action by disclo­sures of the catastrophic risks of nuclear power plants and their deadly wastes.

The question is not: Are we willing to pay the price to burn fuel safely? Rather, the question is: Can we afford to continue paying the price of human disease and re­source destruction resulting from the energy companies policies? Contrary to impressions made popular by industry advertisements, it is economically cheaper as well as safer to make dramatic changes than to continue disastrous practices. To illustrate. For decades, the fuels companies promoted or enjoyed observing wasteful consumption of energy. The more waste of fuel in inefficient auto engines and non-insulated homes there was, the more sales were chalked up by the companies. In just three ways, (1) doubling the miles traveled per gallon [from 13.5 miles per gallon that is the average now to a very feasible 27 mpg by some medium sized imports now], (2) Insulating homes and (3) improving the efficiency of home and commercial furnaces, the consumption of energy could be cut by nearly 30 percent a year.

There are dozens of other examples ranging from over-illumination of office buildings to more efficient air conditioners which could reduce energy consumption and save money year after year with no or little investment over the next few years. These savings (along with more prudent consumer habits) require no new inventions. The suppression of technological efficiency which would have benefited the consumer has taken on additional dimensions. The fuels indsutry wants to sell oil, gas, coal and uranium. Yet with reasonable research and development programs, this country could develop far more abundant, cleaner and safer energy sources such as solar, and geothermal energy. Such development would obviously revolutionize the price and profit structure of the fuels industry if not put fossil fuels out of business entirely in coming decades.

Up to now the government has done almost nothing on solar energy, preferring to take its cur from the fuels industry. Since the oil industry did not have title to the sun, the government dispalyed no interest in subsidizing the sun’s development here on earthWashington, especially the Congress, is beginning to push for necessary funds for solar and other new energy sources of the future. Alert citizens may want to write to Senators Warren Magnuson , John Tunney and Henry Jackson to find out about their energy conservation and research bills.