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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Bizarre and Depressing Politics of Energy Production

Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats are in the process of doing a slo-mo cave, on opening up parts of the US continental shelf to oil drilling. John McCain did that reversal sooner, faster, and better, quickly turning his rallies into DrillFest ’08: “We’re gonna drill here! We’re gonna drill now!”

Another nail in the coffin of John McCain the Maverick Truth Teller; the will or capacity of the Democrats to stand up for principle was cremated long ago, a thin envelope of ash on the national mantelpiece.

The reasons for these shifts are not obscure: a majority of Americans turned on a dime as the price of gasoline soared and now (sorta) favor drilling. While we might see the political reaction to this as “responsiveness to the electorate,” however destructive the result, it’s worth noting that the fact that a majority of Americans also favor universal healthcare has not made politicians snap to in quite the same way.

Could this be because when you do what the energy companies want on drilling, you get money, and when you do what the people want on healthcare, you lose money from the insurance, pharmaceutical, and healthcare companies?

It’s almost not worth rehearsing the reasons increased domestic drilling won’t meaningfully impact the price of oil or gasoline (certainly not quickly, likely not ever): it would take a decade, under the best of circumstances, to bring new sources on line; the amount, in relation both to domestic and to (growing) global demand would be trivial.

The arguments for not drilling are also not terribly new or different: despoiling coasts BAD (including the economic danger to fishing and tourist industries); extending and increasing the use of fossil fuels STUPID (if your basement is flooding, it doesn’t make sense to run down there and see how many more spigots you can open).

I apologize for attempting to look at these things with a modicum of logic; I know that’s not cool. The Republicans have built a substantial industry, going back three decades now, of responding to conservation (and other) issues not with measured rational responses but with ridicule. This is the Bully in the High School Cafeteria political strategy.

Jimmy Carter is arguing that we save energy?

Nice sweater Poindexter!

Logging is endangering ecosystems?

Namby Pamby lefties favor owls over jobs!

Obama suggests efficiency measures?

Here’s Obama’s energy policy: a tire gauge!

I’m not much of a (lesser of the two evils) Obama fan; he’s begun to hedge on drilling as well. But it seems (again, I apologize) logical to me, that we would do better to rely on measures that we can take today, on our own, and at no significant net cost, rather than trusting that feeding more of our environment to ExxonMobil and friends will help us on the energy front.

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