The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

No Energy

Long before oil reached $130+ per barrel, I argued (e.g., here, here, and here) for energy independence on both environmental and national security grounds. I commented that our collective failure to achieve energy independence in the 35 years following the first oil embargo of the 1970s was a profound failure in leadership—a failure shared by both Republicans and Democrats. Their collective inertia on this issue is despicable, and today, the American people and the American economy are suffering as a consequence.

Although John McCain has no cohesive strategy for energy independence, he is suggesting a few pragmatic baby steps—more drilling off the continental shelf of the US is one of them and an aggressive program for the development of better battery technologies (for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles) is another. Like Barack Obama, who (as always) speaks in generalities and offers little that is substantive) McCain is in favor of alternative energy programs (who isn’t?), but like Obama, offers no strategy for getting them implemented over the next decade.

Obama, on the other hand, has rejected drilling off our coastline or in ANWR (McCain agrees with him on ANWR, incorrectly in my opinion). Obama derisively noted that any benefits from drilling wouldn’t accrue until at least 2013.

A thoughtful person might suggest that if there is, in fact, a five or ten year lead time once new drilling commences, it might be a good idea to start now! Instead, Obama rejects the idea, suggesting instead that we create “green jobs” (whatever those are) and “alternative energy sources” which have substantial lead times themselves.

As an aside, it’s interesting to note that ANWR comprises 19.5 million acres in Alaska. Most of it uninhabited by humans. By most estimates, drilling could be conducted on about 2000 acres—that’s 0.00010256 of the ANWR land mass. Were Congress to think clearly for just a second, they might conclude that 0.00010256 is a very small fraction of ANWR and that sacrificing such a small fraction just might be worth it on national security grounds. But no matter, the environmentalists have spoken and both John and Barack have capitulated.

In reality, both McCain and Obama are both right and both wrong. Obama is right when he states that there will be pain as we make the transition to a new energy future. In fact, it’s one of the most direct statements he’s made in this political season. McCain is right when he suggests that further drilling is necessary as part of a comprehensive strategy for energy independence. But both are wrong when they propose fixes in dribs and drabs. This country needs a defined strategy for energy independence with specific measurable goals and end-dates. Neither candidate has dared to antagonize the special interests that resist such a strategy—whether it’s environmentalists on the Left or Big Oil on the Right.

It appears that neither man has the energy to propose a comprehensive program that is low on abstractions and high on accomplishable goals. It appears that neither has the energy to lead us through a painful period as we make the necessary transition to self-sufficiency. And neither has the energy to buck the special interests that will scream when their ox is gored. Not surprising really. After all, we’re suffering from an energy shortage, aren’t we?