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Jim Woolsey, The Need for Energy Independence

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May. 6th, 2008 | 11:25 pm

Caltech hosted a talk by Jim Woolsey, former director of the CIA on The Need for Energy Independence.

The thrust of his talk was that we now face two "existential" threats, that of climate change and islamist terrorism, which could be described as malignant and malevolent.

He used the analogy of smoking 5 packs of cigarettes per day to represent the unknown "malignant" danger of climate change. It's hard to predict exactly when things might break, especially since there are events that could trigger exponential increases in greenhouse gases. (For instance if we warm above some threshold, the polar tundra will melt, releasing methane which is a potent GHG, which will warm the tundra more, releasing more GHG.)

Thus since the consequences are so severe for not addressing climate change we should do something about it.

Except there's this other problem, that of terrorism. Unfortunately for us, our energy infrastructure is extremely vulnerable to attack. The electrical grid could be fairly easily disrupted by a determined attacker. However our oil supply is even worse off as it is currently under attack by determined groups. Al Qaeda is attempting to attack Saudi oil production which if they succeed will dramatically spike world oil prices.

He also described how most of those loans from China we're needing to keep our economy afloat are so we can continue to buy oil, suggesting if we dealt with our energy dependence our economy would be in vastly better shape.

His plan included increase energy efficiency in businesses, use combined heating/power generation, roll out plug-in hybrids that run on multiple fuel types, build more renewable power plants, manufacture biofuels, and then make up the difference with liquified coal.

I'm not sure how bad liquified coal would be after all the other changes in the transportation fuel mix, but it might be worth it temporarily so we can stop giving crazy people large chunks of money.

He also referenced a Brookings Institute paper on Energy Security,

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