The prodigal sons…and daughters

The clamor for SOMEBODY to do something about rising gas prices continues, particularly the election-season pressure from various lobbyists to persuade Congress and whomever is elected President to open up offshore drilling for oil. In my previous blog I commented on the likelihood of such a move to have any short term effect whatsoever. Now it’s time to consider the broader issue: is this move really necessary or desirable at all?

First a short review of history. The United States owes part of its economic success to the fact that abundant supplies of petroleum were discovered and exploited here. Petroleum trumped whale oil and became the fundamental source of energy for the transportation industry. That, in turn, was a major component of the rise in America’s fortunes. But production of oil in the US peaked in the early 1970s; new discoveries have not exceeded production since then. The US oil glass is more than half empty and the level of its contents is dropping. Consequently, we are now importing more oil than we produce domestically. In June 2008 two-thirds of our oil was imported, according to the Energy Information Administration. The United States, with 5% of the world’s population, consumes 25% of its energy.

So now the popular plan is to expand our offshore drilling so that we can use up our native supplies faster, right? The latest idea is to use up all our oil resources as fast as we can so that we can be thrall to the likes of Russia, Venezuela, Nigeria and the various middle-eastern powers as soon as possible? Just because we don’t want to pay $4+ per gallon of gas? Do you get the feeling that something is not right here? We are the world’s prodigals* and we want to keep it that way? Worse: the rest of the world wants to be just like us?

It is time we rethink what we are doing and where we are heading. It is time to  think like the prodigal son upon his return and mend our ways. We need to keep a substantial part of our oil reserves in the ground and under the ocean floor for when we really need it. We need to suck up and begin acting like adults, conscious of the legacy we will leave to our children. That means we need to:

  • conserve energy at every reasonable opportunity, particularly energy derived from carbon-based fuels;
  • double, triple, or quadruple our search for more sustainable energy resources;
  • reject frivolous and/or politically motivated calls for business as usual–business that cannot safely continue as usual.

Enough with the prodigality, let’s repent and get to work (without actually driving there)!

*Luke 15:11-32

2 thoughts on “The prodigal sons…and daughters”

  1. You know I do not understand why JALA and other telework players (Telework Exchange, Telework Coalition, etc..) are so fixated on energy and climate change issues. The issue of telework is much bigger than that.

    There is no doubt that the price of gas and therefore of driving to work is a big “driver” (if you would allow me) in promoting the development of telework both in the private and public sectors.

    But first these users have already discovered the argument. More counties in the Washington area are offering telework to their employees in these last months.

    Second, the energy issue might reverse. Crude oil prices have declined. Most of the big investors in the oil commodity contracts have been retirement funds with huge amount of money and they have discovered that the price of the barrel came down and they can feel that the wind is turning, more drilling may be started in the continental US…even if it takes years to get there that is a sign that the movement is turning around and investors are looking for such peaks to get out of a market. So the telework movement may go down with this argument and that is a dangerous situation if one looks at a long term strategy.

    Third there is a better argument. Indeed there is a long term argument: the telework revolution is unstoppable because it is similar to the industrial revolution, progress cannot be reversed unless we have a cataclysm that destroys civilization as we know it. The telework revolution is part of the IT revolution.

    People will telework more and more because the IT revolution makes it possible. It provides the electronic tools that allows the distance worker with a lap top and sophisticated telecom payplans and phones to have incredible powers to make quickly very important and very well informed decisions very far from the corporate base.

    The telework movement is part of the way everybody (or about 85% of the working population more or less) is going to work in the 21st century.

    So people who are concerned with the way people work, from a national perspective, should know that they have to get on with the program. Corporate leaders must wise up fast if they want their companies to become leaders, or stay leaders in their markets. HR experts must catch on real fast because telework is going to be the number one major change in their profession and if they want to be relevant they need to learn everything about telework and how to advise their employers on how to make it work.

    My take in this is that are still important problems to be resolved with telework. Telework requires collaboration between knowledge workers. Well, there are now many tools offered to facilitate collaboration. But the very fact that people at work will for the first time in the history of the world be at several miles – if not thousands of miles – from a “close collaborator” is really new territory.

    We know there are behavioral and cultural barriers to collaboration and therefore to telework. The field is quite new and needs to be investigated thoroughly and solutions to be provided. This gadget-oriented economy has been offering many tools (equipment and software) to facilitate collaboration but – just ask Microsoft who has tried to provide such tools for years now – tools have their limits in resolving human problems. There is a need to understand what is in the minds of hearts of people who telework in order to help them do it better. And these minds and hears are a bit of a blackbox at this time.

    Pin-Stripe (, my company, is offering a solution to these red hot issues but I would be very interested to be joined by more of the telework supporters for advice and support. This is such a big issue!

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