I wasn't there at TED--full disclosure, I'm a TED dropout.
So I didn't actually hear Bill Gates' talk on climate change and energy.
All I did was read the report of the speech as described on the web. Gates was quoted as saying, "We need energy miracles."
Bill Gates is flat out wrong. (Again. I have a tendency to see Mr. Gates as getting things wrong, starting with much about Microsoft and including his apparent theory of how to create social change. But that's not today's topic.)
The fact is, we don't need energy miracles and calling for miracles gives the wrong impression about how to go about solving our serious energy policy dilemma.
Yes we do need to make big changes in our national energy policy.
But what we need to do is far from miraculous. (Calling for miracles may play to a TED audience that wants to believe in miracles or hyperbole. But that's not today's topic either.)
Start with energy conservation. Jimmy Carter tried to get us headed in that direction more than 30 years ago. He was right then, and the policy is right today. Retrofit old buildings, offer tax credits for energy conserving investments, start installing simple switches and existing thermostats and watch the nation's energy use start to go down.
Then actually invest in mass transit, and not in highway construction. If you want to change our policy of importing oil from our adversaries, then do something about it: instead of sending more money to build more highways, send money to reinforce transit. Build light rail lines; require cities to introduce higher density zoning; where ever and when ever possible favor transit over the car.
Offer tax credits for wind and solar investments. And look for smart, small, innovative energy entrepreneurs who need support to bring their technologies to market.
Take my friend Eddie Sturman, for example. (Go to his web site, www.sturmanindustries.com to find out more) Eddie's mastery of energy and technology earned him high honors from NASA for what he did to help America's space program. Now he has existing technology that will produce huge efficiencies for every type of engine that runs today, from engines that power autos to engines that produce heat and electricity.
But when Eddie applied for federal support to help commercialize his technology, he was stonewalled--the money went to the big automakers. It was more of a jobs expenditure than an alternative energy one.
So there you go, Bill: You want a miracle? I give you Eddie Sturman.
Other than that, the way to a smart, rational, future-focused energy policy is the same way we've known for at least 30 years. Simple, efficient steps that save energy and shift our reliance from non-renewable to renewable fuels. It's not a miracle. It's common sense.
All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb