entered the market, and plug-in automobiles are on the horizon. Technology development is getting a big boost from high gas prices, which have “stirred a lot of entrepreneurial juices,” Schlesinger said. And discussions of carbon taxes or other means of internalizing the costs of greenhouse gas emissions raise the prospect that policy changes could give a substantial boost to clean technologies.
Also, the public and politicians may be more engaged in the problem today than in the past. “The public has to be hit over the head by a two by four” to focus on energy problems, Schlesinger observed. While he doubted that the public was as engaged today as it was during the 1973 and 1979 oil crises, he and other speakers pointed to a growing level of interest in the issue in the United States and other countries—sparked in part by rapid recent increases in energy prices.
Also, some speakers observed that the public and policymakers are more aware of the need to move forward on many fronts simultaneously. “The primary solution to the challenges of energy security and environmental preservation is energy diversification,” said Reuben Jeffery. “Greater diversity of energy types, sources, and distribution networks can help improve the security and reliability of energy supplies, mitigate the economic consequences of high oil prices, and promote responsible environmental stewardship.”
As Samuel Bodman described the situation, “The bottom line is this: We are seeing a convergence of forces that tells me that our nation is on a path to a cleaner, affordable, and more diverse energy future. The rigorous debate and analyses that the Academies are fostering—and to which all of you are lending your extensive expertise—will help ensure that we continue on the right pathway toward a more secure energy future.”
To reduce energy intensity, the contributions of scientists and engineers will be essential, Bingaman said. Ray Orbach reminded summit participants of President Bush’s words in his 2008 State of the Union address: “To keep America competitive into the future, you must trust in the skill of our scientists and engineers and empower them to pursue the breakthroughs of tomorrow.”
Scientists and engineers also need to participate in the shaping of public policies, Bingaman observed. Congress is continually bombarded with information, much of which has a significant bias. Furthermore, Congress does not have the luxury of waiting to act until it has perfect information. Legislation has to accommodate uncertainty and then be monitored to track the effects of laws.
Along with both the crafting of legislation and oversight of implementation, strong and balanced technical input is critical. In that regard, reports from the National Academies and other organizations provide critical input into policymaking, Bingaman said. Reports from these organizations offer balanced and