Energizing the Race to the White House
One of the less-discussed aspects of John McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate is her street cred in standing up to the oil companies that essentially own the state.
Of course, she was demanding that they do more drilling, but anyone who can be said to have a reputation for staring down big oil brings something to the table in this strange and historic election year.
What is increasingly lacking at the table, however, is common sense.
I know you all hate it when I constantly quote The New York Times, but they haven't been the "newspaper of record" for 100 years by being wrong all the time.
An Aug. 9 editorial concluded with this irrefutable truth -- "Here is the underlying reality: A nation that uses one-quarter of the world’s oil while possessing less than 3 percent of its reserves cannot drill its way to happiness at the pump, much less self-sufficiency. The only plausible strategy is to cut consumption while embarking on a serious program of alternative fuels and energy sources. This is a point the honest candidate should be making at every turn. "
(Click here to read the full editorial.)
I find it hard to argue with this statement, although I have learned that anybody can argue with anything at any time.
Nevertheless, if we are to bring this country back from the brink, it is time to recognize a few realities and stop arguing for argument's sake.
Some of my regular correspondents like to argue that "the market" will solve this problem in a more effective way than government interference ever could.
Not one to blindly trust government at any level, I nevertheless continue to believe that good or ill, government can be a democracy's clearest manifestation of the public will and it's time we started exercising that will over the corporate interests that have hi-jacked it.
On the same day The Times published the above-cited editorial, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Thomas Friedman made some interesting observations about a place where government saw the writing on the wall and changed the course of a nation for the better.
(Hint: It wasn't here.)
Like the U.S., Denmark was hit hard by the Arab oil embargo of 1973. Unlike the U.S., which breathed a sigh of relief when it was over and started building SUVs, Denmark decided it would never again allow itself and its economy to held over a barrel (pun intended) by sheiks in Saudi Arabia (the country where our attackers actually came from).
Instead, the Danes "responded to that crisis in such a sustained, focused and systematic way that today it is energy independent," Friedman wrote.
"Danes imposed on themselves a set of gasoline taxes, CO2 taxes and building-and-appliance efficiency standards that allowed them to grow their economy — while barely growing their energy consumption — and gave birth to a Danish clean-power industry that is one of the most competitive in the world today. Denmark today gets nearly 20 percent of its electricity from wind. America? About 1 percent."
They pay $10 a gallon for gas, but it has not crippled their economy because they undertook a green revolution, the kind Barack Obama has outlined. If you want to know what that might look like eight years from now, just look across the Atlantic.
"In the last 10 years, Denmark’s exports of energy efficiency products have tripled. Energy technology exports rose 8 percent in 2007 to more than $10.5 billion in 2006, compared with a 2 percent rise in 2007 for Danish exports as a whole.
"It is one reason that unemployment in Denmark today is 1.6 percent," Friedman wrote. In 1973, Denmark obtained 99 percent of its energy from the Middle East. Today it is zero.
"Because it was smart taxes and incentives that spurred Danish energy companies to innovate, Ditlev Engel, the president of Vestas — Denmark’s and the world’s biggest wind turbine company — told me that he simply can’t understand how the U.S. Congress could have just failed to extend the production tax credits for wind development in America," Friedman wrote.
Why should we care about Denmark? Friedman asks.
“We’ve had 35 new competitors coming out of China in the last 18 months,” said Engel, “and not one out of the U.S."
But instead of continuing those incentives to innovate and make us energy independent and thus break the chain that lashes us to the global madness that is the Middle East, we give subsidies to oil companies enjoying record profits and consider giving them leases to drill in our struggling oceans when they aren't even drilling in the places on dry land which we gave them for a song.
And in case you were wondering, those subsidies may be killing us.
This article in Reuters notes that a recent U.N. study has concluded that fuel subsidies envisioned as a way to bring energy to poor countries not only benefit the rich instead (SURPRISE!) but are hastening global warming.
As Alister Doyle writes, "Abolishing subsidies on fossil fuels could cut world greenhouse gas emissions by up to 6 percent and also nudge up world economic growth," the report showed.
"Some countries spend more on subsidies than on health and education combined ... they stand in the way of more environmentally friendly technologies," Kaveh Zahedi, climate change coordinator at UNEP, told a news conference.
"Smarter subsidies such as tax breaks, financial incentives or other market mechanisms could generate benefits for the economy and environment if properly targeted, it said. It pointed to subsidies to promote wind energy in Germany and Spain aimed at helping to shift from fossil fuels," the report said.
Hello! Are we tired of being the dumbest people in the world yet? Why are we hesitating to do something that countries all over Europe are already demonstrating can be done, with a little focus, a little backbone and a little faith in ourselves?
If hundreds of thousands of small personal donations can overcome the grip large donors have on politics, why can't the same strategy overcome the grip fossil fuels have on our economy?
Surely, it can't because it is beyond our reach. We've reached the moon. The only explanation is that we're too lazy to try, and that does not seem terribly American to me.
As Barack Obama said, we're a better country than that.
That seems like the sort of drumbeat that bunny should be setting.