Barack Obama has made some bold proposals about the direction our country should take in the ruins of the 30 year old conservative domination of
American politics. It’s been a generation since the so-called Reagan revolution and the rise of an inflexible right-wing ideology. In that time
America has fallen behind the rest of the world in many ways... most notably in the areas of social responsibility, environmental awareness and the
development of alternative energies.
Those of us who remember the oil embargo and the energy crisis of the 70’s know that with Reagan we blew it when it comes to energy and have
squandered the decades since. We knew what was coming. We were warned by president Carter, (among others) of what the future held. He put solar
panels on top of the White House only to have them removed by Reagan in one of his first acts as president. In doing so Reagan sent a clear message to
industry that it would be business as usual, that the status quo would hold. In fact it could be argued that the development of the gas guzzling SUV
was as much related to the rejection of energy conservation as it was cheap gas.
The truth of the matter is that president Obama’s energy plan is straight out of the communitarian ideal. It is an ideology dismissed by the right
as hippyish and out of touch. In reality though it’s multi-faceted and the polar opposite of the rigid monolithic system we have today... one that
is as fragile as it is dominating. If we institute Mr. Obama’s plan, will create an economic boom for this country that will last a century.
This summer we saw oil prices reach record highs that were unsupported by the laws of supply and demand. On January 11th 2009, 60 Minutes aired a
segment that confirmed what many of us feared... that they were caused by speculators from outside the commodities market who were buying into oil
futures and deliberately driving prices up. It turns out these speculators were mostly from Wall street hedge funds and investment banks. They only
abandoned the market after congressional investigators began looking into the sudden rise. After they left, oil prices dropped. In short they pulled
the same scam on us nationally that Enron pulled on the state of California in 2000. They manipulated the futures market to jack up prices
creating a phony energy crisis then reaped the benefits. This is a prime example of the amorality and lack of social concern that is one of
the hallmarks of predatory capitalism... but that’s another essay.
Immediately those on the right demanded we open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and to restart off-shore oil drilling. They pushed to open
new areas to development as well, and “Drill baby drill” became a mantra like chant at the Republican national
As with most simplistic slogans; “Drill baby drill”, had little connection with reality. We could remove all restrictions to drilling; but in the
long run, thanks to the nature of oil as a commodity it wouldn’t benefit us at all. Besides the 10 to 20 year lag between start up and production is
the matter of how oil is sold. All the major oil companies pool their product; regardless of source, into a global reserve from which it is sold in
lots at auction to the highest bidder. We could put an oil well on the White House lawn but if we don’t have the money to buy it, we wouldn’t
see one single drop. And, with a historically weak dollar... we have far less buying power than we once did. Many nations such as Venezuela
have nationalized their oil companies and sell it through their own subsidiaries such as Citco... but thanks to the nature of American
capitalism that won’t happen here.
So, where does that leave us? The right proposes that we go full steam ahead and milk our resources for every last drop of energy we possess. To drill
everywhere we can. To gouge the land for coal and shale oil. To remove all so-called “unreasonable” restrictions from industry and in essence
continue down the same old path. It’s true they give lip service to alternatives but that’s all it is. But there are those of us who see a
When we look at the issues facing us; as not just a nation but as responsible citizens of the world, it becomes clear that business as usual just
won’t work anymore.
• Declining resources: Experts debate whether we’ve reached peak oil or not. The truth of the matter is though, even if we had plenty of oil for
decades or centuries to come... the conservation of it, and the development of alternatives is still a prudent policy. This is true regardless of
whether we are talking of oil, natural gas or coal. If it’s a non-renewable resource... it should be used responsibly, not
• Environmental degradation: Even if oil and natural gas are extracted responsibly, the refining process is still a heavy industry that produces a
whole witches brew of toxins that they have not exactly been a careful manager of. As for coal... it doesn’t matter whether it’s deep shaft mining
or mountain top striping, the results are devastating for the surrounding communities and the environment. This earth is our home. Moving is not an
option, and it borders on madness to wantonly pollute the environment just to make a quick and easy buck. We pawn our children’s futures in doing
so. The same arguments apply to nuclear power with the caveat that nuclear waste; which eventually includes the buildings themselves, remains deadly
for thousands of years and must be stored away safely. Something we have yet to figure out how to do.
• Global warming: It’s disingenuous to claim that all global warming is caused by man. It is equally false to say that its an entirely natural
process over which we have no control. As it is, the planet has been slowly warming since the end of the little ice age in the 1820’s. This is not
to say that we haven’t accelerated the process though. CO2 and the other so-called greenhouse gases are a major byproduct of the burning of carbon
based fuels which includes oil, natural gas and coal. And while some debate our involvement in climate change, it behooves us to ere on the side of
caution and work to curtail our CO2 emissions. After all if the science is right, the failure to do so will result in an environmental disaster
for all of mankind. If the science is wrong; we will still be going a long way towards cleaning up the air and we all benefit.
The Bush/Cheney energy plan of 2001 ignored these realities. It also ignored long term solutions, preferring a holdfast pattern which clung
tenaciously to the old way of doing things. This really shouldn’t be surprising since both men have a history in oil and heavy industry and were
advised by CEO’s and lobbyists from those companies as well. In short more time was wasted and nothing changed.
So... what needs to be done? And, where does Barack Obama’s energy proposals and the communitarian ideal fit into all of this? Simple. it restarts
and expands what we abandoned 30 years ago.
• Cultivate new technologies and refine old ones: Solar, wind, geo-thermal, hydro-electric, tidal; even oil, natural gas and coal energy production
have come a long way in the past 30 years. We need to continue developing new technologies and further refine the older ones. We need to remove
grandfather clauses in environmental laws that give older plants a pass when it comes to pollution. Energy producers make huge profits and its time
they end their cries of poverty when it comes to retrofitting older plants. Also the more diversified and decentralized energy production is, the
safer it is from disruption, be that a natural or manmade disaster.
• Rebuild the power grid: The massive power outage of August 2003 showed just how fragile our centralized system is. It was cobbled together as
electrification spread across the country. Each section was built and maintained by different companies with their own standards. The 03 outage was a
direct result of this patchwork. We need to establish and enforce national standards for maintenance. We need to rebuild the grid making it
more efficient so that domino effect outages are eliminated. And, we need to expand burying lines and cables underground wherever possible to protect
them both from attack and the weather.
• Retrofit existing buildings: Millions of older buildings, homes, offices and warehouses exist in this country. We can retrofitting those buildings
to make them more energy efficient; insulating walls, replacing furnaces, pipes, heaters appliances, windows wherever we can. We can give
homeowners significant tax credits to make it happen. We can convert buildings to passive solar where possible and buy any excess energy they
generate. For office buildings and skyscrapers roof top gardens both insulate and cool... they also offer acres of under-utilized space for solar
panels. Couple this with new building standards and you will create a construction boom that will last decades.
• Rebuild our crumbling national infrastructure: Whether it was built with federal dollars or private, it has been allowed to crumble for decades
now while we debate the costs. This is true of interstates and other roads, bridges, docks, canals, airports, harbors, dikes and levy’s, tunnels,
rail etc. And while rebuilding any of these is not specifically a part of energy policy, making them better and more efficient is. This is especially
true of rail. Over 100 years we built a network of rails that was the envy of the world only to allow it to decay with the advent of the
interstate. Restoring rail to its role in the transportation of materials, goods and people will go a long way towards reducing congestion,
pollution and greenhouse gases. In conjunction with this, we need to rethink the automobile. While public transportation is more efficient, it is
unlikely Americans will ever be ready or willing to give up their cars. If we had continued the late 70’s push towards better gas mileage, we
would already have cars that got 50 miles per gallon or better. Now with hydrogen, electric and natural gas technologies, we have the chance to
phase out the use of the internal combustion engine and its air pollutants. Doing so will significantly reducing our dependence on foreign oil in the
• Restore: It can be argued that 19th and early 20th century industries didn’t really understand what their pollutants did. That’s not the
case today however. Now many of them threaten (or actually do) declare bankruptcy to evade their environmental and social responsibilities. They
need to be held responsible. There are places that may be too polluted to ever throughly cleaned but there are plenty of others that can be and it
behooves us to do so. Just as it behooves us to restore waterways and barrier islands. It is not just a matter of tree hugging but it benefits us as
well. Hurricane Katrina would have been nowhere near as severe if the barrier islands and coastal wetlands of south Louisiana were in place to blunt
its force. Conservation is the true cost effective and profitable policy.
Some claim such proposals are too expensive yet the cost of doing nothing is far greater. Some say that the only jobs that it would be
create are either in construction, in energy or in new technologies but that is disingenuous. For each project started; not only the
actual jobs but thousands of secondary jobs will be created as the money for them ripples through the economy. And, since none of them are short term
investments, they will be creating jobs and fueling the economy for decades. The increased taxes they generate will help pay down the deficit and
further shore up our economy. And, more importantly the work needs to be done is here... it cannot be outsourced to India. All that is needed is
the will power to do it. The initial investment may be costly, but doing nothing and hoping a better idea comes along is foolhardy and self
destructive. We should have started this 30 years ago, and this the logic behind president Obama’s energy plan.
If we fail to do this now, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
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