Scott Paton  |  08/01/2008

Energy Crisis or Opportunity?

We need a mandate to end our dependence on oil.

As of this writing (mid-July 2008) gasoline at my local Chevron station is selling at $4.57 per gallon; rows of giant SUVs sit unsold at the local car dealers; my home energy bill for month of June was $527; airlines are parking jets, dropping routes, and charging passengers for checking bags and seat selection; politicians argue over drilling offshore, building new nuclear power plants, and installing wind farms off the scenic shores of famous politicians’ homes; and, somewhere, Al Gore is smiling.

He may be smiling, but there are a whole of lot of unhappy people in the United States: people who can’t afford to heat or cool their homes, who are having a hard time buying $4.57-a-gallon gasoline, and who are losing their jobs because of the high cost of energy.

The solution? It’s easy. Drill for more oil. No, wait, that’s bad for the environment. Build nuclear power plants. No, wait, that’s too dangerous. Build windmills. No, there isn’t sufficient transmission capacity to get the power from where the wind blows to where the people live. Solar? Too expensive to produce enough power at present. Biofuels? Ugh, at present their water consumption and transportation costs are too high and their energy output too low. In addition, growing corn for ethanol has contributed to rising food prices. Hydrogen? Not ready yet.

Hmm. I know, just conserve more. Come on, America, you can do it. Walk to work. No, wait, most of us live too far away from our jobs to do that. Rapid transit? Nope. Rapid transit in this country only serves a fraction of the population. It may be great for big cities, but there are a whole lot of us who don’t live in big cities.

Damn. This is a complicated issue, and it’s one that politicians seem to enjoy arguing about more than they do solving.

Quality professionals face complicated issues all the time. For example, an audit reveals a nonconformity that requires root cause analysis and corrective action. Why can’t we apply these tools to the current energy shortage? Sure, it’s a big problem with countless variables, but many of our readers face problems with countless variables. Imagine the quality folks at Boeing who have to deal with products that have thousands of parts, hundreds of miles of wires, and hundreds of suppliers. Despite some development pains with its new 787 Dreamliner, Boeing manages to produce high-quality aircraft.

What about Disney? Its quality people have to deal with theme parks that have millions of customers; thousands of employees; and highly diverse computerized attractions, performances, shops, and restaurants. Yet it manages to ensure a high-quality product.

Imagine what would happen in your organization if management argued about identifying the root cause of a problem and taking corrective action. Nothing would get done. Well, that’s exactly what’s happening with our current energy crisis. Nothing is getting done because we are leaving it to the politicians—the senior managers—to do the job. Does senior management take on root cause analysis and corrective action in your organization? I doubt it. It’s people like you who tackle these issues. Of course, senior management sets the direction and the tone.

We’re missing leadership in this country on this vital issue. In 1961, John F. Kennedy gave the country a clear mandate: Send a man to the moon and return him safely home. Back in 1961 sending a man to the moon in less than 10 years seemed impossible, yet we did it in July, 1969.

Yesterday, Al Gore challenged America to produce 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.

Honestly, I am no fan of Al Gore’s, and I would like to see a lot more data on global warming, but at least he is challenging us to move in the right direction.

There’s very little good about our dependence on oil. “We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet,” Gore says. “Every bit of that’s got to change.”

Even die-hard, old-school oil men are beginning to see the light. T. Boone Pickens has proposed a solution based on wind power and natural gas. Check out www.pickensplan.com for more info.

I don’t have the answer, but I want the bickering to stop. I want action taken that makes sense for the nation and the planet in the long term. You can affect these choices. Let your politicians know that you’re tired of the fighting and you’re ready for them to take action.

By the way, I do think that all those solutions I mentioned above—solar, wind, more drilling, rapid transit, biofuels, hydrogen—will be the answer. We just have to find the right combination and let the market, not the politicians, decide what’s best for America.

How is the energy crisis affecting you and your organization? What are you doing and what are you being asked to do at work that will make a difference in energy consumption? Post your thoughts at www.qualitycurmudgeon.com.

Discuss

About The Author

Scott Paton’s picture

Scott Paton

Scott Paton is Quality Digest’s editor at large and president of Paton Professional, a provider of books, videos, webinars, and other resources for quality professionals.

Comments

Energy Crisis?

I'm sorry to hear that the author doesn't think much of Al Gore, and that he's not yet convinced about global warming. Gore was out front of the global warming issue well before it was popular, and now the vast majority of environmental scientists acknowledge that global warming is occurring and that human activity is at a minimum a major contributor. Those who have chosen not to see "An Inconvenient Truth" have chosen to bury their heads in the sand.

As far as allowing the markets to fix our reliance on foreign oil, isn't the free market pretty much to blame for it in the first place? Didn't we see this coming decades ago, but did nothing because it was left to free market approaches? The author refers to JFK's challenge of sending a man to the moon, but was it the free market that got us to the moon in less than ten years? The author is right about the need for real leadership, but I'm afraid that means leadership which embraces new thinking, not the failed approaches of the current leadership in Washington.

Energy Crisis

Yes, we've had an energy crisis, probably back to the days of Jimmy Carter and his sweater-clad fireside chats. The source of inaction has not only been political, but also due to a misconception related to the scientific method of research. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no such thing as scientific certainty. Everything is always stated with some time of statistical confidence limit. Because of this, some think that there is no full agreement on climate change (global warming is a misnomer) or energy options, and think that therefore nothing should be done. We can't presume that we'll ever arrive at full agreement.

We all use a product regularly that allows for uncertainty. It's called insurance. We need to have some energy/climate 'insurance'.

I'm not sure if market forces can ever be counted on to be the best way to achieve something. There's always someone with a product/agenda that tries to color the debate in their favor (usually, financially).

Perhaps, we should use the method that seemed to produce the best consensus after the 9/11 attacks, and set up a non-partisan, all inclusive national comission to make recommendations. That group would need pre-authorization of it's results to avoid what usually happens - we're back to indecision on how to proceed, in a never-ending circle.

Either way, we should stop arguing over what to do and do something, before we reach a point where the repercussions are even greater than what we currently expect (resource wars?).

Energy Opportunity

Scott:

I am glad someone in the media has said what you just said. You hit the nail dead on when you declared:

"We just have to find the right combination and let the market, not the politicians, decide what’s best for America."

The politicos are not interested in dialog, rolling up their sleeves and working together. They are like spoiled braats who want what they want. Each side of the aisle. We need a balanced, common-sense solution..starting immediately. This includes short term solutions: drill for more oil and long term: Alternative energy technology that will carry us through this century into the next. (We have not drilled oil or built nuclear in at least a couple of decades.) No days off for Washington until they get this fixed! Is it small wonder why Congress has the lowest approval rating ever?!

There is also this error in thinking among the elected officials that they know best what we need. Some want to re-create or re-configure the market dynamics. Other than public safegards, Leave the market place alone! Recommended solution: Form a panel of the brightest minds in industry including energy experts to formulate a balanced approach to present to the nation and launch it ASAP.

"Form a panel of the

"Form a panel of the brightest minds in industry including energy experts to formulate a balanced approach to present to the nation and launch it ASAP.": Isn't this exactly what the Bush Administration did almost eight years ago? It really worked...