Monday, June 30, 2008

Elephant in the Drop-Off Zone

June 30th – first day of Summer School

This morning, as I walked towards Prairie View Elementary School to escort a child to my wife’s in-home day-care on West Lincoln Street, I witnessed two motorists nearly run down children who were trying to cross the street. I am sick with fear. And I am filled with anger at my community. Because the problem isn’t just these two distracted motorists. It’s how so many of us have chosen to live.

No doubt the summer school curricula will include many lessons on conserving resources and preserving ecosystems and coexisting peacefully on Earth. But what will our children learn about fighting global warming when they are strapped all by themselves into the back seat of a fossil-fueled motor vehicle? What will they learn about overcoming America’s addiction to oil with Mom’s foot on the accelerator pedal? And what will they learn about coexisting with 6.5 billion other human beings when their parents can’t even manage to live in peace with children who walk and ride their bicycles to summer school?

It’s not just that so many of us still deny the connection between our own hand on the gas pump and the blood and treasure that America is forfeiting to occupy the Mideast – we can always blame President Bush instead of ourselves and our neighbors.

It’s not just that we remain blind to the carbon dioxide that pours from our tail pipes – coal-fired electricity is a bigger problem and we can always hang the crime of thermal genocide on evil utility executives.

It’s not just that we are passing more bucks than ever to OPEC and oil lobbyists in Washington – Fed Chair Bernanke is the fall guy de jour for inflating the dollar into worthlessness and driving our nation into bankruptcy.

But there is absolutely no excuse for us to pass the buck when our own schoolchildren are being endangered by…US! Citizens of Oregon*, how can we not see the elephant in the room? Because when we get into our vehicles and drive to congested places like an elementary school entrance, that’s exactly what we become – elephants! Even if we drive a Prius or Vibe instead of an Expedition or Avalanche, our automotive exoskeleton is a veritable pachyderm compared to a child who is trying to cross the street.

It’s time to face some inconvenient truths. The way to stop global warming is to stop driving our children everywhere – including summer school. The way to stop wars for oil is to stop buying so damn much of the stuff – even if that means actually LIVING where we live rather than driving somewhere else all the time. And the key to coexistence lies in choosing to be small and slow and gentle rather than big and fast and powerful.

P.S. If this feels like an attack on you, dear reader, consider how our precious children feel when we fail to see them beyond the anonymity of our tinted glass and beneath our supersized hoods.

* Oregon, Wisconsin, that is

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Election Spin 2008

Now that the final stretch of Election 2008 is underway, Republican spin on energy issues is becoming obvious.

(1) High gasoline prices? It's the fault of environmentalists (i.e. DEMOCRATS.) These guys – and their bosom buddies the trial attorneys and activist judges – have managed for far too long to block exploration and extraction of vast reserves right here in America.

(2) But Mr. McCain, didn’t you say you were opposed to more offshore drilling only a few months ago? $4 gas changes everything, just like 9/11 changed everything. (Remind the people of 9/11 whenever possible.) Next question?

(3) And didn’t President Bush help his brother Florida Governor Jeb Bush to block offshore drilling in Florida? Next question!! (And make sure that damned reporter gets blacklisted – I don’t want any more questions from him!)

(4) How much oil is really available in areas that are currently off-limits, and how soon can oil corporations get it to the (American) consumer? American companies must be allowed to produce more American oil – end of discussion. There shall be no mention of realistic estimates of recoverable reserves, the mind-boggling number of holes already poked into this highly-perforated continent, nor of the brine-laden dribble from US wells which currently average tens or sometimes hundreds of barrels per day rather than the thousands and tens-of-thousands which obtained in the prior century.

(5) What about long lead-times for new infrastructure? What about looming shortages of highly trained, experienced personnel as the aging petroleum workforce retires? Details, details! Again, acknowledging these factors will only detract the public’s 15-second attention span from the Main Point: Everything is the fault of Democrats.

(6) What about leaving some oil in the ground for future generations? Acknowledging that our heirs might have more important things to do with oil than burn it in speedboats, riding lawn mowers, and flights to Vail to play on the powdery slopes shall be Grounds for immediate decapitation. Technology and The Market – not frugality and enlightened restraint – are The Answer. Oh, and by the way, Democrats are the blackguards who always block The Market from optimizing Technology.

(7) What about fairness? Is it RIGHT for five percent of Earth's population to burn more than 30% of the world's motor fuel? Implement Evasion Tactic #1: Government must not interfere with Free Enterprise. It is axiomatic that consumers have a right to purchase whatever they want with their hard-earned dollars – and if that happens to be oil, fine and good. Also Spake Die Markt.

(8) But hold on a minute - do Americans really need to consume so much oil? Isn’t quite a bit of our usage discretionary? Whoaaaa! Stop right there – this is Economic heresy! We NEVER NEVER NEVER distinguish between needs and wants. Economy must grow; therefore Everything consumers (can be convinced to) want is a need.

(9) What about refineries? Obviously more and bigger are better. Once again, the eco-warriors (i.e. Democrats) and their accomplices at the bar and on the bench are to blame for blocking production of domestic oil resources. (Fortunately for the Republican Party, the chances are slim that oil companies really want to invest in significant expansions of their US refining capacity – “It's the lack of supplies, stupid!” So Republicans can make hay on the issue, pin blame on Democrats, but not risk offending any Republican voters who, in the final analysis, would revolt at the prospect of a refinery spoiling their view from their McMansion on the 18th hole.)

(10) What about Clean Coal? Unloose the fetters on Free Enterprise! Let The Market work its magic! (To the extent that the term "Clean Coal" is defined at all, it will be portrayed as a fait accompli rather than a dubious research-stage technology which might never prove practical. Naturally no mention shall be made of the fact that the Federal government recently pulled the plug on FutureGen, Clean Coal’s flagship research project.)

(11) Are the environmental costs of coal mining acceptable? Don’t EVER bring it up!! And if someone else does, tar and feather those unpatriotic left-leaning bastards (i.e. Democrats) who always sabotage good-paying American jobs and block the use of our own domestic energy. (Fortunately, the most devastating coal mining in America happens to occur in historically Democratic territory, so the Democratic Party probably won’t make it an issue of it either. Hey!! What could be better?)

(12) What about Coal-to-Liquids? Go for it! Subsidize it! Provide big tax loopholes – oops, I mean incentives – for it! Next question?

(13) What about Tar Sands? Go for it BIG TIME!! (Tar Sands are especially good because this province-spanning disaster isn't happening in the backyards of any US voters.)

(14) What about Nuclear? YES! YES! YES!

(15) But what about disposal of nuclear waste? Don’t bring it up until we’ve got a political “solution”. (OK, Karl, you're our best spinner ever, now get to work on it pronto! Hmmm…what if the most geologically stable sequestration site turned out to be in a lightly populated state that just happens to be a Democratic stronghold? SWEET!)

Last but not least:

(16) What if oil prices go down?
We got a winner!

a. "Thank God Dubya unsheathed Amerka's mightily sword after 9/11! Otherwise Unser Fuehrer wouldn't be able to twist OPECs greasy arms and make 'em open the spigots."

(17) What if prices really go over the top? What if there are actual shortages? What if rationing proves necessary? EVEN BETTER! Now would-be-emperor George becomes Moses. Not only can all these troubles be blamed on Democrats (see above), but the bumbled invasion of Iraq suddenly becomes a prophetic act of deliverance:

a. "Gosh, here it turns out that Iraq has MORE oil than the Saudis…Thank God Dubya gave Saddam the boot! I mean, just think what would happen if Saddam still controled of all that oil…"

b. "Thank God Dubya has (most of) our sojers and sailors defending (our) Freedom (to consume all the oil we want) right there where (most of) the (world’s remaining) oil is!” (After the people have endured shortages and/or rationing for a few days, politicians of all stripes will tacitly acknowledge that “their” oil is now ours; by then everyone will clearly understand that if The Flow is not quickly restored, our Non-Negotiable Way of Life will collapse.)

c. “Thank God Dubya is opening-up Iraq to Free Enterprise! Now our multinational oil corporations can show the world what real production efficiency looks like – and THAT will bring oil prices back down to Earth again!"

d. "Thank God Dubya is constructing that huge military complex – oops I mean embassy – in Bagdad. Now let's see if Iraqi resistance fighters – oops I mean terrorists – can stop the Free Market from delivering oil to the consumer (i.e. US)!"

e. Oh, and now that rationing is necessary, Homeland Security needs to issue and track National Identity Cards. And maybe Dubya should clamp down a bit more on civil liberties, freedom of association, freedom of the press…

Will the Democratic Party act like the proverbial deer in the headlights if/when Energy comes to dominate the campaign? Unfortunately, refuting the Supply-Side Fairytale in the realm of political “reality” requires that a voting majority must have the rudimentary ability to grasp basic scientific and geological facts. Nor does it help that the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the looming exhaustion of low-entropy, environmentally-benign energy "sources" virtually ensure that our Happy Motoring Days will sputter to a halt rather soon.

The troubles that lie ahead call for much more than “change”. They demand a truly courageous, sweeping new vision of a sustainable civilization – along with equitably-shared sacrifices, hard work, and a pervasive dedication to the common good we-the-people have not evinced since WWII. Unfortunately real citizenship doesn't "sell" anymore. Or that's what we – and our "leaders" – keep telling ourselves.