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IRA FLATOW, host:

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

And for the rest of the hour, we're going to talk about our oil supply, what we can do to conserve it, maybe what we can do to do away with it. Last week, President Bush gave a speech in which he laid out various policies that could help the country become more energy independent. Among them were ways to make it easier to open nuclear power plants, upgrade oil refineries. He had advocated exploring for oil in parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and ethanol was also featured. The speech also discussed technologies for saving energy, from high-efficiency appliances to solar panels.

Conspicuously absent was one suggestion that might save a lot of energy: raising fuel efficiency standards for automobiles and trucks. We'll talk about that a little bit later. Many energy-saving technologies have been around for years. You know, they're remnants of the oil embargo of the 1970s. They're President Carter's--remember his mantra? He said that energy conservation is the moral equivalent of war. And things we know how to do already, like insulate our homes better, drive a car with better gas mileage.

So why aren't people using them more? Why are they not being developed? Why aren't more of them available? Joining me now to talk about energy efficiency and our energy supply are Bill Prindle, the deputy director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy or the ACEEE. He's director of policy programs there. He joins us from our NPR studios in Washington. Welcome to the program.

Mr. BILL PRINDLE (American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy): It's a pleasure to be with you.

FLATOW: Thank you. Tom Mast is the author of the new book, "Over a Barrel: A Simple Guide to the Oil Shortage." He joins us from the studios of member station KUT in Austin, Texas. Welcome to the program.

Mr. TOM MAST (Author, "Over a Barrel: A Simple Guide to the Oil Shortage"): Well, thank you very much.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Bill Prindle, why is it that we know what we have to do to conserve energy, but we can't do it?

Mr. PRINDLE: Well, we have some problems built into the structure of our economy. We've actually become twice as efficient over the last 30 years in terms of energy spent per dollar of GNP. Now that's a good thing, but it also reduces the incentive to save further. Because when you think about it, we use less energy as a percentage of the cost of driving, the cost of home ownership or the cost of running a business. So that means that energy prices have to get much higher in order to motivate people to do something.

We also have higher incomes to the point that people don't think twice about paying $3 1/2 for a couple of coffee, so $3 1/2 for a gallon of gasoline is not necessarily that big an expense, unless you're a low-income person. So those are problems. Then we have the structural problems. Home builders have to front the costs of an efficient home, but they don't pay the energy bills, so home buyers don't often have a way to affect that conversa--if you're listening to this program in a commercial office, chances are that half the time, you're in rented space, and what that means is that your landlord is passing through the costs of energy to you, and you have no way of investing in efficiency in your own space. So at least half the office space in the country is basically powerless in terms of controlling its own fate. So things like that get in the way.

FLATOW: But, Tom Mast, we know the oil's going to run out and the prices are going up. I mean, we know it's going to come to the end. Well, why aren't we thinking about that?

Mr. MAST: Well, definitely oil is a finite commodity, and we've used about half of it in the world in the hundred years that the automobile, airline and oil industries grew. And now we're using it at about triple the average rate for that first hundred years, and we're going to go through the second half pretty quickly. But there's a lot of complacency. As Bill mentioned, we are used to cheap energy, and this country, in particular, has grown and prospered on cheap energy, and we've had a terrifically good style of living, and we're just reluctant to give that up until we're more or less forced to.

FLATOW: Well, you know, are we defining what cheap is and expensive is in the right way when it comes to energy? We say that oil is expensive at 2.50 a gallon, which is what we're paying around here or more. But is that really what the oil costs?

Mr. MAST: Well, oil is about $50 a barrel these days, and a barrel has 42 gallons, so the oil costs...

FLATOW: But you've got to also clean it up, which we're not putting into the barrel...

Mr. MAST: Absolutely. At the wellhead, you can see there, it's about a dollar and a quarter, so the fact that you can pump it into your tank on the other side of the world at 2 1/2 is a lot less markup than you're paying for most other things you've purchased--shirts and foodstuffs and so forth.

FLATOW: Bill, any comment?

Mr. PRINDLE: Well, a couple things there. One is that until we get significantly over $3 a gallon, gasoline will not actually be higher in real dollars than it was at the end of the 1970s. So we've had low energy prices, as Tom said, for the last 25 years, and we're only now beginning to catch up, so in real dollars, we still have a ways to go to really feel that pain. The other thing that I would mention in terms of the cost of gasoline is we have defense-related expenses to secure oil supplies around the world that add a hidden cost to a gallon of gasoline, and we have environmental costs; the cost of air pollution, the cost of environmental damage from oil spills and so forth that adds another hidden cost. So if we add those up, we're probably paying at least another dollar per gallon or something along those lines.

FLATOW: 1 (800) 989-8255 is our number, 1 (800) 989-TALK, if you'd like to join our conversation with Bill Prindle and Tom Mast. We're talking about energy and oil. And if we were to just raise, for example, the energy--the CAFE standards--we call it CAFE standards, you know, the car efficiency standards for fuel, let's say, five miles per gallon, would we basically hold off our energy increases for a while, Bill?

Mr. PRINDLE: If we could increase CAFE by five miles a gallon, that would be a very small step in technical terms, because we know we can go 10 or 15 miles per gallon higher with today's technologies cost effectively. It would be a huge political step, however, because as we've found in recent years, that Congress has been unable to pass this kind of legislation to raise CAFE in any way. Certainly you...

FLATOW: Whose ox is getting gored on that? Why is that?

Mr. PRINDLE: Well, the auto industry is particularly opposed to CAFE standards. They view CAFE as restricting their choices of design. They have issues with foreign competition, especially in Detroit. The more fuel-efficient models tend to be foreign-owned companies. Even though Toyota and the other foreign manufacturers have more and more plants in the US, the ownership of those countries is non-US, so there's international competitiveness issues and so forth.

FLATOW: But here, we've seen this week--and I think we'll talk about this a little bit. We're seeing General Motors and Ford--Wall Street has rated them as junk bonds now as of, you know, just yesterday and today. You would think someone would get the message that, you know, even Wall Street views you as going down the wrong path to selling cars, you know.

Mr. PRINDLE: Yeah, that's true. It's really unfortunate to see. You know, the Detroit companies have got themselves into a bit of a box. Some would say that some of the business planning and risk taking has been a little shortsighted. Some companies like Toyota have been more strategic in the longer term and are willing to accept a little bit of short-term loss to introduce a hybrid type technology to the market, and Detroit has been constrained. For whatever reasons, they just have not been able to take those same kinds of risks.

FLATOW: And when they finally discover that, hey, we'd better make some hybrid cars, they have to license it from Toyota.

Mr. PRINDLE: Yes, that was the case with the Ford Escape. So, you know, it's going to be a painful period for Detroit, but I think ultimately, the fuel crisis will help transform the auto industry. The question is whether the companies that went out in that transformation will be US owned or foreign owned.

FLATOW: Tom, give us some idea of the percentage of all the energy that is in demand that goes into transportation.

Mr. MAST: Well, 27 percent of the energy that we use here in the United States goes into transportation. But oil plays a special role in our energy here in the United States. Ninety-seven percent of our transportation burn oil-based fuels: jet fuel, diesel and gasoline. And so it's the portability that oil offers--oil-based fuels...

FLATOW: Right.

Mr. MAST: ...rather than coal and nuclear and wind and solar and all the other alternatives that makes oil so special. And that's why replacing oil is going to be much more difficult.

FLATOW: But you could replace it with an alternative liquid. You could make hydrogen into a liquid and port it around, couldn't you?

Mr. MAST: Hydrogen has some very serious technical problems. I hope that one of these days, some decades down the road, it will be playing the major role in our transportation needs in this country, because hydrogen is the most common element on the planet. The trouble is it's bound up in water or natural gas or other substances, and it has to be separated. We can't just dig it up the way we do oil and coal and natural gas. And it costs a lot of money to separate it, particularly to separate it from water. And then once you do that, there are other problems. You know, the fuel cells are too expensive. Hydrogen leaks very easily, and it's relatively dangerous, and so we're a long way from using hydrogen. We need to be devoting research dollars and talent to solving those hydrogen problems, but we need to have some other things that fill in between now and when hydrogen is mature.

FLATOW: And one of those would be energy conservation. The fact is we don't have an energy policy that just lays out the groundwork for all this and the path to get there yet, do we?

Mr. MAST: Well, that's right, we don't. And conservation--I preach R&D and conservation. All conservation does is reduce the rate at which we burn up the remaining oil in the world, and incidentally, the United States has less than 3 percent of the world's oil reserves. So accelerating how fast we burn them, which seems to have been our national policy in recent years, seems to me to be rather shortsighted. So even though we can conserve, which is a great thing to do--use hybrids and so forth--we need to be spending even more attention on developing alternatives to oil...

FLATOW: But--yeah.

Mr. MAST: ...whether they be battery-driven cars...

FLATOW: Yeah.

Mr. MAST: ...or whatever.

FLATOW: But it seemed to me that one of the problems is it takes so long to do this that you need a politics-free zone on this because it--What?--30 years ago when we had the oil embargo on the US, President Carter got up in front of America and said, `You know, we can't fight these countries that ship us the oil. We're not going to go to war over it, but we can do something close to the equivalent of war, the moral equivalent of war, and that would be energy conservation.' First thing he did--I remember--he installed solar panels on the White House. He tried to create a sense of independence. He created a synthetic fuels project.

Then again, here you had President Reagan who came along, and almost one of his first acts as president was to rip out the solar panels and to do away with, you know, the alternative fuels program.

Mr. MAST: That's right.

FLATOW: So how do you get this through--Bill, how do you get this through a multicongressional period or a multipresidential term?

Mr. PRINDLE: Well, let me first make a distinction between energy conservation, which we characterize as doing less and sacrificing, and energy efficiency, which we characterize as doing more with the same amount of energy or getting the same service with less energy. And what we lacked in 1970s was a really robust series of technology, like Tom's talking about, to really achieve the significant energy savings. Over the last 25 years, we have in fact developed a strong portfolio of energy-efficiency technologies. We have refrigerators that are three times more efficient as the same size model 25 years ago. And I could run down a long list like that. And in fact, we are seeing more bipartisan support for energy efficiency, particularly when you sell it as a technology solution, as Tom was alluding to, because as we see it we need to both reduce the level of energy demand growth through efficiency technologies while we also bring in clean supply technologies to replace fossil fuels, and it's really a race against time. You know, we've got to keep the demand growth reasonable enough while we race to develop these alternative supply technologies so that sometime out in the future, 20, 30, 40 years, we actually can get to a sustainable energy economy.

FLATOW: Talking about--hey, we'll label it that--a sustainable energy economy this hour on TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

Talking wit Bill Prindle, deputy director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy; Tom Mast, author of the new book "Over a Barrel: A Simple Guide to the Oil Shortage." Our number, 1 (800) 989-8255 is our number if you'd like to call in and get involved.

Do--you know, we talk about down the road 10, 20, 30 years. Every time we talk about this, it's down the road 10, 20, 30 years. Doesn't matter what year we start talking about it, it's always 30 years away. I mean, if--and I go back to the '70s. We talked about 30 years from now, you know, we'll be able to have energy efficiency. Well, we're now at that 30 years from now, and we don't have it yet. Now...

Mr. PRINDLE: Yup. You make a good point.

FLATOW: ...what happens along the way here?

Mr. PRINDLE: It is a good point.

FLATOW: Is it the oil money? Is it the coal money? Is it, you know, the fact that, you know, the lob--we're in a situation where the money still talks in Washington past getting something that's going to gore somebody's ox?

Mr. PRINDLE: Well, so far what we've seen in this Congress is what you are characterizing. We're seeing a lot of old-line fossil fuel industries having the upper hand in what gets into the energy bill. The House passed a bill last month that actually saved less energy than the same version of it in the last Congress. They took out some important energy-efficiency provisions. There's more hope on the Senate side, and we do hope to see some gains there. But what we're not seeing is a significant commitment to raising fuel economy standards. There was an amendment offered by Congressman Boehlert in the House that was defeated, as were amendments in the last Congress and the one before that.

But I just wanted to point out a few things that Congress could do this year to improve fuel economy that don't involve raising CAFE standards per se. For example, you could close the current loophole that exists for dual-fuel vehicles--vehicles that are manufactured to be able to run on either gasoline or E85 ethanol fuel. Currently, Detroit gets a big credit for every one of those vehicles they make, whether or not it ever burns any ethanol fuel. So if you close that loophole, you could increase fuel economy effectively by up to 5 percent. You could also revise the testing procedure that's used to determine the mileage of vehicles, and we call it the truth-in-testing amendment; and because basically the test method assumes that you never use the air conditioning, you never go up a hill, you never have a jack-rabbit start and so forth. And if they used more realistic assumptions, the average mileage of vehicles would go down in the ratings, and so to meet the CAFE standards at just keeping them the same we'd save 10 or 20 percent of the energy used in vehicles right there. If you closed the loophole that exists for SUVs and light trucks, you'd probably save about 10 percent. Just requiring tire-pressure monitors for tires could save as much as 1 percent of total gasoline use. I mean, these are small things, but when you add them up and let's say you make tires more efficient overall, probably another 4 percent, you're looking at 30 to 40 percent improvement in fuel efficiency without...

FLATOW: Yeah.

Mr. PRINDLE: ...actually reducing CAFE standards.

FLATOW: All right. Stay with us. We'll be back after this short break.

I'm Ira Flatow. This is TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

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FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY. I am Ira Flatow.

We're talking this hour about energy conservation and energy efficiency. And as I mentioned earlier, missing from the president's energy speech recently was any mention of mandating better fuel efficiency for autos and trucks--in other words, more or higher miles per gallon. The last time this issue came up in Congress, even Democrats like Senator Carl Levin from the auto-producing state of Michigan did not vote in favor of them. They come up every once in a while. Miles-per-gallon standards are a hot potato in Congress because they effect a wide variety of campaign financers from influential unionized auto employees on the assembly line to oil producers and refiners. But that has not stopped some influential lawmakers from trying to raise these standards, and one of them joining me now is Sherwood Boehlert. He's a Republican representative from New York, 24th District, and chairman of the House Science Committee. He offered an amendment to the Energy Policy Act that's currently moving through Congress, calling for a rise in CAFE standards. And the amendment would have raised the average gas miles from 25 miles per gallon today to 33 miles per gallon by 2015, and it failed in the House, to be passed in the House, 254-to-177.

Welcome to the program, Representative Boehlert.

Representative SHERWOOD BOEHLERT (Republican, New York): Well, it's good to be with you.

FLATOW: You keep trying.

Rep. BOEHLERT: Well, and we're making progress. The last time we got 162. So we're up to 177. I think people will finally come to their senses when we have $4-a-gallon gasoline and most of the automobiles that are sold in America are manufactured overseas. Maybe then we'll get their attention.

FLATOW: Are you going to get their attention without the president coming out and saying we need this?

Rep. BOEHLERT: Well, I would hope, and you know, every time I've ever chatted with the president on a subject, I bring it up--the CAFE standards--and I always feel good walking away. I recall a recent...

FLATOW: Yeah.

Rep. BOEHLERT: ...White House conversation when in effect he said to the chief of staff, Andy Card, `What's our current take on CAFE standards?' and Mr. Card said, `Well, we vested authority into the Department of Transportation,' and I said in response, `That means real authority is vested here. Lead, Mr. President, and we'll follow.' I have a good feeling; hope springs eternal.

FLATOW: Well, from your words to the president's ears, but it doesn't seem to be doing any good. You would think that, you know--we were talking about this a little bit before in the program. You saw on Wall Street today or was it yesterday the word that Ford and GM bonds are now junk rated. The economy--you know, the other countries, the growing giants like China, they don't want to buy American cars. They'd rather buy Toyotas.

Rep. BOEHLERT: And China's demand for oil is just growing...

FLATOW: Yeah.

Rep. BOEHLERT: ...seven times as fast as it is here in the US, and all the arguments used on the floor indicate against CAFE standards are nonsense. Science-based decision making--a report from the National Academy of Science says you can do it. You can do it without sacrificing safety. You can do it without a loss of jobs. You can do it without adding excessively to the cost of the end product. But the arguments on the floor go along these lines: One, if you pass the amendment requiring, mandating more fuel efficiency, there'll be thousands of dead bodies on America's highways; the argument is the only way you can make cars more fuel-efficient is to make them lighter and therefore less safe. That's directly contrary to the National Academy of Science. Congress likes to say we favor science-based decision making until the scientific consensus leads to a politically inconvenient conclusion; then they go to Plan B. Then the argument--the UAW was big on this one, and boy, they put a full-court press on. They said it will cost us tens of thousands of jobs. Absolutely nonsense. You mean to tell me if we make cars more fuel-efficient, we're going to sell less of them? Of course not.

This is a--I think part of the problem is initially we started selling this as an environmental energy conservation issue. I scrapped that from my vocabulary. I say this is a national security issue of the highest order, and it's a consumer-benefit issue of the highest order. And now we're beginning to get a lot more attention. That's why I say hope springs eternal.

FLATOW: Well, I've never seen you worked up this much.

Rep. BOEHLERT: Well, because I just deeply believe it, and I think it makes sense for all the right reasons. I'd like to think that I'm a sensible guy and I call them as I see them. In my capacity as chairman of the Science Committee, I asked the leading experts in the country, `Give me your best counsel.' We get commissioned a National Academy of Science report, the best and the brightest tell us we can do it without sacrificing safety, without sacrificing jobs, without sacrificing anything, and in the process make our country more secure.

FLATOW: I don't know what else you can do.

Rep. BOEHLERT: Lookit. We now import 14 million of the 21 million barrels of oil a day we consume. We start every single day $600 million in the hole, a deficit position, on our balance of trade. Boy, that should get people's attention.

FLATOW: You would think. I mean, it is a great economic--you could actually absolutely make the economics argument--you know, it's like the old legal term res ipsa loquitor, the object speaks for itself.

Rep. BOEHLERT: Well, you know, Frank Gaffney--and this is why I say hope springs eternal; Frank Gaffney, who was assistant secretary of Defense when Ronald Reagan was president--he made this ironic observation: We're paying terrorists to kill us. Now you might say how did he draw that conclusion. Because so much of our money going out to the Middle East to buy oil is then funneled through different channels and ends up in the hands of terrorists, and they're using it to attack us.

FLATOW: Yeah.

Rep. BOEHLERT: So for all the right reasons, I think CAFE standards, new CAFE standards, stronger CAFE standards are an idea whose time has come. Back in the '70s, in '75 the nation first adopted CAFE standards, and the argument at that time by the auto industry and by the United Auto Workers was if you mandate CAFE standards, in 10 years all Americans will be driving compacts or subcompacts. Hmm. Did that prediction come true?

FLATOW: Don't think so. No.

Rep. BOEHLERT: It didn't at all.

FLATOW: Congressman, thank you very much for taking time to talk with us.

Rep. BOEHLERT: Well, thank you for focusing on a very important topic that affects all Americans.

FLATOW: Well, thank you. Sherwood Boehlert, Republican from New York's 24th District and chairman of the House Science Committee, thanks again.

Let me reintroduce my other guests: Bill Prindle, the deputy director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the ACEEE; Tom Mast, author of a new book "Over a Barrel: A Simple Guide to the Oil Shortage."

Gentlemen, even a Republican congressman can't get any action in Congress on this. What do you think, Bill?

Mr. PRINDLE: Well, it is frustrating, and I do salute Congressman Boehlert for his continuing efforts. He and his committee have been among the leading lights on the House side, and they continue in the face of what appears to be intractable opposition. I do think that this problem will get solved and the market will take care of this problem one way or the other. The question is how long will it take and how much economic havoc will we have to endure before that happens. We saw what happened in the 1970s when we were not prepared for a massive oil shock. What we're seeing this year is not a massive oil shock. You know, it's an indicator of things to come, and as Tom has hinted, oil prices are likely to go much higher in the next five, 10, 15 years. So you know, the market will fix itself, but we could take some action now...

FLATOW: Yeah.

Mr. PRINDLE: ...to keep our economy stable, you know, solve some environmental problems, enhance our national security if we could find a political formula to make this happen.

FLATOW: Tom Mast, is there a magic number on oil where you think people will really just go into shock like we did in the '70s?

Mr. MAST: Well, Europeans pay, and they have paid for decades, triple what we pay for gasoline, and it definitely has caused them to have a much more economical fleet of vehicles.

You may remember that old Pogo cartoon?

FLATOW: Yeah.

Mr. MAST: He said we have met the enemy and it is us? I believe that the average consumer is very complacent in this country. Five percent of the people in the world are Americans, and we use 25 percent of the world's oil, and as long as the people want to keep driving their SUVs and resist effective legislation, the legislators are going to be reluctant to vote for it because they just don't have that much nerve. The reason I wrote my book, to be short and simple and unfactual and unbiased, was to get the people to understand that this problem is different from the '70s. In the '70s, the Arabs shut off the oil flow because they didn't like what we were doing in Israel. This time it's quite different. It's going to become scare just because there's not going to be enough of it ever again.

FLATOW: And we have competitors we never had who are buying, like you say, China. I think part of it is a mind-set problem, and it's a political problem--maybe you'll agree with this--that there is really no leadership on an energy policy like we would need. Lay it out: X, Y, Z. And I think--and we talk about hydrogen--you're right. It's not ready to go, but most people you talk to say we should get there. There's not the research money going into it, there's not the political will to say, `This is a Manhattan Project,' `This is a space shot proj--you know, a moon race project. This is the kind of thing we have to get going now.' And by constantly saying...

Mr. MAST: Absolutely.

FLATOW: ...it's 30 years down the road, you never get there.

Mr. MAST: Absolutely. We need to be...

Mr. PRINDLE: That's a--it's...

FLATOW: Go ahead. Let--Tom, go first, and then I'll...

Mr. MAST: We need to be jumping on the research and devoting money to it, and I think we should set up a national panel of distinguished scientists and engineers that produce a constantly evolving road map to lead our country and our lawmakers in making decisions, because it's a very complex subject, and we don't know whether to throw our money at ethanol or hydrogen or batteries or nuclear power. We need some guidance.

FLATOW: Let's go to the phones. 1 (800) 989-8255. Hi, Matt. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

MATT (Caller): How's it going today?

FLATOW: Hi. Go ahead.

MATT: Hey, instead of worrying about the government leading us out of this, maybe we could probably take some cues from what NASA did with their commercial space program with the X Prize where they offered an incentive to the first person who could come up with a feasible way to get there. Why can't we do something along a similar line to award somebody who'd come up with a feasible and practical method of either a new propulsion system or just a new way to utilize something other than fossil fuels? And I'll take your views off--on the air.

FLATOW: 1 (800) 989-8255 is our number. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking about energy efficiency this hour on TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

Mr. PRINDLE: What was the question?

FLATOW: Well, Tom, let me give Bill a chance since you were the last one to speak, Tom. Bill, what about that, or is there enough brain power that's working on it--just doesn't have the funding?

Mr. PRINDLE: Well, that's a very good question because there is an example in the case of the refrigerator that I mentioned earlier that's three times more efficient than the one built 25 years ago. Well, one of the reasons that happened was that 15 years ago a group of utilities and state governments got together and put out more than $30 million in research money and told the appliance industry if you'all want to compete for a research pot of money like this to come up with a new generation of refrigerators, we'll support you and we'll make sure that these things get sold in the marketplace. And that actually worked. So in 15 years, we've essentially transformed the market for that home appliance.

There are proposals--Senator Kerry in his campaign and Frank Gaffney and the Set America Free Coalition--have also proposed that there be a major R&D focus on vehicles with a multibillion-dollar commitment to really get this to happen. That's something that would not take an increase in CAFE standards, but would take a big public investment. 'Course, the problem that we have with the deficits today is that...

FLATOW: Right.

Mr. PRINDLE: ...you know, there's a question on whether people are willing to take the risk on that much public money, so I do think it's a good idea, and we'd like to see someone put the money up.

FLATOW: Or it may turn out to be a foreign government, you know, the Japanese or someone else--the Chinese.

Mr. PRINDLE: And that's another good point. The chairman of GE, Jeff Immelt, told a group last month that he wished the United States would come up with an energy policy, any energy policy of any kind, because what he sees is other countries in the industrialized world moving forward rapidly on efficient and clean energy technologies. And his company, which is a multinational, is going to go with investments in the countries where the commitment is there, the markets are developed and the opportunities are now. So the US basically is running the risk of being left behind in the international technology race.

FLATOW: Because if the government doesn't come up with a uniform policy, then I guess he figures he won't do it himself in his own auto company because he might be off-track with, competitively speaking, the other companies, but if there were a standard government policy, then they'd all be on a level playing field.

Mr. PRINDLE: Right, and GE makes wind turbines, for example.

FLATOW: Right.

Mr. PRINDLE: And you know, the US government turns on and off the tax credit for wind about every year or two.

FLATOW: Yeah, too sensitive.

Mr. PRINDLE: And in Germany, it's been--that spigot's been on for years and it stays on...

FLATOW: Yeah.

Mr. PRINDLE: ...and so countries like Germany have much more aggressive wind power than we have. Even though it's still a vibrant industry in the US, it keeps getting cut off at the knees every couple of years when the federal policy changes.

FLATOW: Right. We talked about wind energy as a means for creating hydrogen, Tom. We were talking, you know--we talked before about, well, take these windmills and, you know, stick the electrodes in the water and take out the hydrogen. You don't have to take it out of the coal.

Mr. MAST: If we can do it, that's great, and that sort of innovation is what we need, but we need somebody making some sense out of what we do. You know, is it--if you were to do that, how many windmills would it take in this world, you know, and to put our hands around it before we move forward.

FLATOW: Right. Yeah.

Mr. MAST: But we--in answer to your caller's question--Matt's question--we are a very innovative people here and if you just point us in the right direction, as John Kennedy did in the space program, we can solve most any problem. I'm not personally for big government, but I believe there is a role that's not being filled now for the government and the president and the Congress to lead the country and to prime the pump, get this research going and to get us pointed in the right direction, because research takes a long, long time and then once you get it done, then you have to do the development, and then you have to build these massive new industries. You know, there's 750 million cars in this world, and they'll all have to be replaced at some point.

FLATOW: Well, we--yup. Good opportunity. We'll leave it there, and this is a topic that we follow a lot and I'm sure well be back to it in the near future. Thank you, Tom Mast, author of "Over a Barrel: A Simple Guide to the Oil Shortage." And Bill Prindle, deputy director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the ACEEE. Thanks, gentlemen, for joining us this hour.

Mr. PRINDLE: Thank you for the invitation.

Mr. MAST: Thank you, Ira.

(Credits)

FLATOW: To write us, please send your letters to SCIENCE FRIDAY, 55 West 45th Street, Fourth Floor, New York, New York 10036. Also, you can surf over to our Web site at sciencefriday.com where you'll find more links to the program, and you can listen to past editions online or download and take them with you on your iPod--we're podcasting them now--or listen in RealAudio or on your audible player. And also SCIENCE FRIDAY's Kids' Connection--free curricula; we take our material and make teaching material out of them for your schools. Just click on the teachers button and get free teaching material from SCIENCE FRIDAY for use in your classroom.

I'm Ira Flatow in New York.

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