On the way to the studio today, I was at an intersection and saw a guy with a handwritten note on a bucket that said something about contributing to Japanese relief efforts. It doesn’t take long, does it? Americans are the most generous citizens of almost any society on the Earth. Yet in the midst of giving of ourselves, we open ourselves up to scams.
This is true no matter what event we’re talking about, whether it’s Hurricane Katrina, the recent tornados throughout America or the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Here’s my advice: Don’t give to appeals on the corner, over the phone or via e-mail. I want you to originate the donation. See my related links below for guidance on how to select a legitimate Japanese relief charity.
I want to talk for a moment about the danger of a nuclear meltdown in Japan. It’s a very scary thing. Already the Germans have said they’re halting all nuclear activity in their country. But it’s very important to not over-react.
The first responders at the damaged plants in Japan will most likely die prematurely. There will be consequences health wise. But put it in perspective: You can’t develop energy without some danger involved of any kind. We have to get past the squeamish about nuclear energy. These are 40-year-old plants we’re talking about in Japan. There are safer ways to generate nuclear power today. And I believe nuclear still needs to be part of what we do here in this country.
Which goes to another point: The best energy to produce is energy we don’t use. By that I mean let’s make new homes energy efficient. Let’s require builders to hold to high energy-efficiency standards when they start building new construction again. In Europe, they’re doing it where and some people have virtually no energy bill all year round. By taking this approach, you sidestep the whole debate about oil vs. nuclear vs. natural gas vs. solar vs. geo-thermal vs. wind vs. whatever. The best kilowatt is one that never has to be used.
As far as the economic effects of what’s happened in Japan, it’s all speculation at this point. We still don’t know how many people need food and water right now! So there’s no telling what the economic effect will be on us.
But I can tell you one thing: Japan is the second largest holder of U.S. debt. If they need massive money to rebuild, one of the easiest sources of funds for them to tap would be to sell off our debt. If that happens, that would mean higher interest rates for us. How much higher, it’s hard to say. And on the energy front, if Japan has to turn to imported oil because they decide to dial back on nuclear, that will have the effect of pushing energy prices higher yet over here when you fill up your car.
I think we’re missing the bigger picture on this count, though. And that’s how much control we have when we choose to operate energy-efficient cars. I know you’re probably tired of hearing about my plug-in hybrid, but I’m at 537 miles of driving on my current tank of gasoline and I’ve used less than half a tank. Most of my power comes from battery. So for me, the cost of gas is irrelevant when I drive. It’s just another way I take away the power of OPEC to mess with my wallet by picking the right ride.