After putting the kids to bed last night, I flicked the television on and prowled for something to watch – mostly biding time until The Daily Show came on. I ended up flicking between the Jays game and the equally woeful Glenn Beck. I’m not sure why I do this to myself, maybe my blood pressure is too low?
As anyone that has ever watched Glenn Beck knows, the show is all about watching this guy use others to stoke his own fevered self-image, and this episode was no different. During one of the segments I caught (between innings), he talked to some guy about Obama’s energy policy and promised that “in tomorrow’s CNN.com I blow the lid off of Time’s article on the tire gauge issue”. Naturally, today I pulled that up, wondering what possibly this egomaniacal blowhard offer. Alas, nothing. Not a thing.
His basic premise is that doing little things like checking your oil pressure and regularly maintaining your car don’t solve the real problem, they are distractions. To whit (emphasis mine):
No one, including John McCain, disputes that keeping your tires inflated will help you get better gas mileage. But so will emptying your trunk, buying a hybrid, not using the heat, and driving naked. The point is that none of those things are solutions; they’re unsustainable gimmicks that distract people from solving the underlying crisis.
Take a moment to scrape the image of Glenn Beck driving naked and the come back, I’ll wait here.
I will agree with Beck to a point, maximizing fuel efficiency is not a solution, it merely buys us time. However, where we disagree is what exactly the underlying crisis is. I would argue that the real crisis is the looming environmental one, and that real solutions come from a combination of advances in renewable energy technology and social/lifestyle changes to reduce overall consumption, but Beck switches the argument to energy independence and security:
But let’s follow his yellow brick road for a second anyway. If we all put on our Jimmy Carter sweaters and used less oil, we’d still need millions of barrels. How about making sure those barrels come from America by starting to drill for it now? We’ll never be truly free until we’re completely free from Middle Eastern oil.
In short, he accepts the Bush premise that the problem is not that we use too much oil and gas, but that there isn’t enough of it in the US. I will allow that energy security is an important issue – if the West didn’t need Mid-East oil so damn much the politics of that volitile region would be far less important and perhaps less likely to erupt into global confict. However, I would proffer that the solution to even this problem is not finding more oil, it is reducing our dependence on it oil outright. Finding puddles of new oil in the Americas only (maybe) buys a little time and is only, to use Beck’s own words, an “unsustainable gimmick”.
How exactly a limited, non-renewable resource is supposed to be anything but unsustainable is beyond me, but it goes nowhere in finding a solution to the looming environmental crisis and it won’t put but a dent in America’s energy dependence on foreign oil. In fact, it is not even a very good gimmick when we consider that it can take ten to twenty years to go from regional exploration to resource assessment to field delineation to production and will therefore will be of no benefit to us now, whereas cutting consumption can show results by next payday.
If I could believe for a minute that the search for regional oil would be used simply as a stop-gap measure while real, concerted efforts were being made to search for renewable energy technologies, which I will call the Paris Proposal, then I would be the first to say “drill away”. Hell, I’m a geophysicist and think seismics is cool. However, from what I’ve seen recently, it’s $4 per gallon oil that is finally waking Americans and Canadians to the fact that what we are doing is not sustainable at current consumption levels. We are only now finally starting to change our behaviour. The economic environemt is only now such that politicians and business are beginning to talk of sustainability in a serious way.
Even if were to find appreciable and accessible gas in the Arctic, it would only serve to push the changes that we will be forced to make further into the future, where the environmental consequences of our delay will be far worse, and far, far, more immediate. The search for oil and gas in deep water and in the Arctic will cost billions before a drop makes it to your gas tank and will still leave us looking for alternatives down the road. At best it might buy us a year or two, maybe a few, but certainly no more. Why not make the responsible decision now and put every effort into getting off of the petroleum treadmill?
This is no time for conservatism, conservative thinking looks backwards when we need to look ahead. I don’t know if Obama is really serious about his energy policy, much like I’m not sure how serious Stephane Dion is about his recent greening, but the fact that national leaders are willing to put their futures on the line with campaigns based on environmental issues is both a great sign and a testament to just how serious things have gotten. This is no time for conservatism.