Another reason to save energy

Have you been taken in by an illusion that threatens US and world security far more than the Soviet Union does? This pervasive illusion, as defined by Henry Kissinger's current think-tank colleagues, is that the energy crisis has passed, so Americans can relax and let market forces take care of things. On the contrary, public policy and individual initiative are still necessary to make the energy savings and switches to reduce America's potentially dangerous dependence on imported oil. Aside from military defense, says Mr. Kissinger, nothing is of more central importance to national security and ''indeed our independence as a sovereign nation.''

The Kissinger warning comes in the foreword to a book-length study, ''The Critical Link: Energy and National Security in the 1980s,'' from his associates at Georgetown University's Center for Strategic and International Studies. He starts off a summary of remedial steps with strict conservation measures by the industrial democracies.

Here is where all can prove they have not been taken in by the aforementioned illusion. They can welcome lowered prices at the gas pump without forsaking efficient use of their cars. They can be glad for abundant oil supplies without forgoing the efforts to heat their homes efficiently. They can continue -- and add to -- those thousand-and-one things individuals, households, and institutions have been doing to use energy wisely.

Much has been accomplished under the spur of prices steeper than the cheap energy of the fast-fading past. But the Georgetown study finds that, while higher world oil prices encourage long-range conservation, they appear to do so only at the cost of inflation, recession, and vast transfer of wealth to foreign oil producers in the short run.

Instead of simply being bounced by such market forces, the country could take measures to insulate the economy against unpredictable price jolts.

In contrast with present efforts to cut back government support for conservation and alternative energy sources, the study suggests a need for additional government action. It would provide more liberal tax incentives for investment in insulation and fuel-efficient machinery. It would set fuel-economy standards for certain kinds of equipment.

For example, manufacturers now make furnaces and boilers with efficiencies of 75 percent to 90 percent. But they also make low-efficiency models, with half the heat content of the oil lost, and these relatively inexpensive ones are likely to be placed in new houses by contractors. A Department of Energy proposal would require all oil and gas furnaces and boilers to have certain minimum efficiency standards. Why not?

Such steps would help prepare consumers not only for any jumps in world oil prices but for the expected gas price rises under eventual deregulation. Increased efficiency in a high-energy country like the US would help the world energy situation. It could especially benefit the energy-poor third world.

Mr. Kissinger adds to conservation the developing of new supplies of oil and alternative sources, strengthening collaboration among consumer nations, addressing the needs of developing nations, seeking more reliable long-term relationships with producing nations. All these points deserve consideration by the energy policymakers. But conservation is where individuals can begin right now, doing their part to avert energy's often overlooked threat to security.

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