Jerry Paul began his new role as a distinguished fellow on energy policy at the Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy by addressing students and faculty in the University Center Tuesday.
Baker Center Executive Director Alan Lowe said the center is “fortunate to have our first distinguished fellow on energy policy” and described Paul as the “ideal inaugural fellow.”
During his speech, Paul did not advocate the use of any particular energy source, but instead spoke of the importance of finding a quantitative way to compare energy sources and offered his own method, “the first principles of energy.”
Those principles outlined that the United States must consume a lot of energy, that energy consumption must be bounded for minimal environmental impact and that persons must maximize their energy efficiency and always consider the financial costs of their actions.
Paul explained that consuming a lot of energy is not all bad. In fact, he said that it has been a distinguishing aspect of thriving societies from the time that the cavemen discovered fire to the present.
“When we lower energy consumption, we shut down the police stations, hospitals, cancer research facilities, colleges, universities, sanitation facilities and water treatment plants,” he said.
Paul is a proponent of figuring out how to implement energy that is needed in cheap, efficient ways that have little or no negative impact on the environment. While he displayed knowledge of many of the popular proposed solutions to the “energy crisis” such as hydropower, solar power, nuclear power and various forms of ethanol, he said that if he were in charge of the United States’ energy policy, he would focus on comparing the solutions rather than trying to develop new ones.
“If you’ve got three hours to chop down a tree, you spend the first two sharpening your ax,” Paul said.
He further explained, “I’m frustrated with the lack of quantitative tools to compare future fuel sources.”
In the current geopolitical climate, too often this results in decisions on pursuing energy sources being made qualitatively, based on politics, he said.
“We are less constrained by the laws of physics than we are by the laws of economics, and in some instances, the laws of man,” Paul said.
However, this is not to say that Paul is pessimistic about the future.
He began his speech by distinguishing the current political focus on energy from past cycles when “energy becomes the latest, sexy topic.”
“I assume transformation is really on the table due to the historical amounts of government action and funding, not just at the federal and university level, but at the state and local levels,” Paul said.
Paul said he feels the increased emphasis on energy policies in the political realm bodes well for the United States. He said while the United States will never be able to become independent of its need for foreign energy sources, Americans should feel secure that they have a stable energy supply and that there are thousands of people working to improve it.