Monday, December 13, 2004

Oil, Resources, and Responsibility

Okay, so what qualifies as Common Sense and Comity?

How about wise use of non-renewable resources? We know the supply is finite, yet we allow our needs to be formed around the fastest method of consumption. When we had the pants scared off us with the Arab Oil Embargo in the mid-1970's, it was amazing how many smart things we did to reduce our consumption Yet by about 1980 when the heat (ha) was off, we went right back to our wasteful ways. Increasing auto efficiency actually fell substantially when we allowed SUVs to be classified as trucks, thus exempt from improvement like cars. It is only through personal price shocks do we begin to modify our behavior, even though our longer term interest would benefit from conservation. Do many in power seriously suggest taxing non-renewables to 1) encourage conservation and increased efficiencies 2) use the tax to subsidize the development of conservation and increased efficiencies. The net result could be the same amount of money spent, but far fewer non-renewables consumed (with the obvious reduction in the U.S. of need for foreign oil imports). This is obvious win-win territory, folks.

I submit that governments, who we ostensibly trust to look after our long term interest, are the bodies that must create the environment to bring about the change needed. At least in the U.S., whether Democrat or Republican in control, the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) of vehicles has only barely crawled upwards since 1980. Why is this, you might ask? I asked Sen. Ted Stevens, outgoing most powerful chair of the Appropriations Committee, about this time last year and he said he and his Senate colleagues were willing to let the market dictate the price. I assert that we have waited 20 years too long and that government's place is to protect us from the corporate greed which we cannot really resist. (Reflect back on Teddy Roosevelt bucking the industrial monopolists as president, then compare him to George Bush).

Some say the auto industry fought against better fuel efficiency, since they thought the only way to make vehicles more efficient was to make them lighter. I can hear the auto insurance industry going "YES", as lighter SUVs would cause less damage when they hit others in accidents. And the auto industry would gain from a little investment in research and be able to increase the cost of vehicles. So if not them, that only leaves the oil industry. This is no big surprise.

The oil industry makes its bucks on extraction and transportation. The less that amount is, they make less money. And looking at who controls the political agenda through donations to politicians, the top giver is the oil industry. We the people could not begin to equal the power by the lobbyists and corporate givers, much less touch the influence the oil industry has on many countries.

Now, as an Alaskan for over 30 years, I've seen how the oil industry bought up the state. Some would even argue the citizens were bought off with our Permanent Fund dividend program, though that was not the original intent. But more on Alaska and oil in another episode. If you can't wait, I offer a link now:

So to the original question, Common Sense would indicate that we would get the biggest bang for the buck, or every gallon of oil we consume. Industry works against that common sense and they use their influence and control to make sure the political system doesn't mess with them in their desire for the short term profit. Comity would suggest that we respect others and not leave the world a worse place from pollution, climate change, and the wasted remains left after we get done using the best part of whatever it is we consume.

The big question is how to overcome our short term greed to allow a better long term future in our world. The Kyoto Protocol, though not perfect, was a big first step. Yet the U.S. Senate refused to ratify it after the Clinton administration signed it, and now George W. Bush rejects it outright, not seeming to care that it will cost all of us us long term. He rejected the conclusions of the most recent and internationally recognized climate change study of the Arctic polar regions (as did Ted Stevens, who indirectly helped fund some of it) . Oh no, Mr. Mankind can't be responsible for this documented change! We spend far more on insuring our homes and cars against disaster than we spend on mitigating climate change and the odds against personal disaster are much less than the odds we are messing with the climate through our impact to the atmosphere of our home planet. The costs of mitigation are beyond coping and the longer we wait the greater those costs. Worried about Florida messing up another presidential election? In a generation, it's as possible as not that a good deal of Florida will be under water. Did you think the idea of the recent movie The Day After Tomorrow was far-fetched? While dramatized, there is science behind the impact suggested.

Earth will survive, our societies as we know them might not. This may be the first time on earth that climate change was brought about by mankind. And it won't be pretty.

End of gloom and doom for today.


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