Q. Dear Umbra,

I am very interested in mitigating the effects of Peak Oil. Please tell me how BEST to encourage solar and wind technology.  I would also like to encourage investment in new green energy and food research.

Jeff H.
St. Louis, Mo.



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A. Dearest Jeff,

That’s a busy summer you’ve laid out for yourself. You don’t mention whether you have actual resources with which to encourage new technology, or just good will, so I shall have to guess.

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But first, a word on peak oil. This term was coined in the 1950s to describe that time when planetary oil production would peak, then begin to slow down, and finally leave us all standing, bewildered and slack-jawed, in an oil-free future. Estimates of when this peak would occur have varied over time, and recent reports suggest it ain’t gonna happen any time soon, given new discoveries of oil from the Great White North to the deep blue sea.

So you might not need to worry about peak oil per se, Jeff. But we absolutely should worry about our oil addiction. The burning of oil and other filthy fossil fuels is doing a number on our climate. The less we use, the better off we’ll be.

How can you encourage the transition to cleaner energy? I can think of a few things to try. A smorgasbord of options, if you will:

  1. Politely nag your representatives. This country needs some serious energy-policy shifts. You have to tell the people who represent you in Washington, D.C., that this matters to you. Go to their websites. Find their addresses and write a letter or use the email form. You don’t have to sound like a smartypants, you just have to stand up and be counted: “Dear Senator Pickleface, I am a constituent and I support clean energy technologies and research. Please do the same.  – Jeff.” When election time rolls around, vote for candidates who support clean energy.
  1. Support local and regional efforts. As I’m sure you know, federal policy is molasses and local action is, I don’t know, a gin fizz on a hot day. Progress is bubbling up everywhere! If you have funds to spare, check out Solar Mosaic or this list of 25 energy start-ups to watch. Or find groups that are pushing for regional change — why, there’s one right there in your Show-Me State: Renew Missouri. Donating time or money can help an outfit like this immensely.
  1. Un-addict yourself from oil. Reduce your own use of fossil fuels by driving less, making your home energy-efficient, and choosing local products. You could take things a step further by micro-investing in clean energy at home, installing solar panels or a backyard wind turbine. If that’s out of reach, see if your utility offers a green-pricing option. And if they don’t, tell them you’re a paying customer who’s interested in such a thing. Flex your muscle!
  1. Tell everyone you know. Talk, talk, talk on Twitter, Facebook, at cocktail parties, and at the local laundromat about these issues and why they’re important to you. Not to the point where you become known as “Jeff the Boring Clean Energy Guy.” But to the point where people who know you and like you say to themselves, “Huh, Jeff is thinking about this stuff. Maybe I should too.”

A clean-energy revolution is afoot — heck, U.S. utilities are cowering at the prospect of a solar-energy surge — and with more people like you on board, we’ll kick this habit yet.


P.S. You also mentioned food research. I’m not quite sure which angle you had in mind there, but I suggest you start with the gazillion resources on Michael Pollan’s site. Bon appétit!