Tuesday, May 11, 2010

We All Want Something To Do

Listening, reading and watching stories that are emerging about the Perfect Storm that is the BP Oil debacle, I am becoming frustrated with the discussions masquerading as punditry. As the oil continues to foul the ocean and closes in on our shoreline, it is increasingly difficult to listen to the idiots on the Faux News Network and others of their ilk.
Not long after September 11, 2001, I grew frustrated with our malenfant president. Remember George W, aka Shrub? I wrote the following to various newspapers, without success. I continue to believe that our nation needs to get serious about ridding ourselves of Middle East oil dependence, but not by following the idiotic chants of bimbo Sarah to "drill, baby drill."
Here's what I said before, and I continue to believe in the basic message.

In his several messages to the American people, (then) President Bush consistently veered away from asking anything serious of the American people in the battle against international terrorism. “Go about your lives,” “spend money,” perhaps even, “visit New York.” I am of a generation that remembers John Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you . . .” I remember WW II rationing, saving everything for the war effort, blackouts. Now our boomer President asks us to continue our profligate ways, so as to demonstrate our resolve not to be intimidated.
Now it may be a failure of vision – the Bush boys never understood that “vision thing.” But it seems to me that we have (had??) the finest opportunity since the dark days of gasoline lines in the 1970s to move this nation forward on the energy front. George W. should be asking us to spend and to sacrifice, on energy. President Clinton blew the best chance in 25 years to reform our health care system. I would hate to see us blow this opportunity to finally free ourselves of 20th century thinking on energy.
I realize that our vice president (Dickie Bird, aka Darth Vader) thinks that conservation is a mere personal virtue and not worthy of strategic policy making, but I would suggest that perhaps his administration is simply incapable of thinking fresh. They seem captured by their own past and by their links to Big Oil. But here we are once again, forced to create and maintain shaky alliances with Middle Eastern partners to preserve our connections to oil, so we will be able to continue powering our way in the world using early 20th century technology.
Now it is clear that bombing Afghanistan was not something we were hankering to do. And it is equally clear that we could not do what was required in Afghanistan without the tacit support of the neighboring countries. So the shaky alliances are more than useful. They are necessary, vital even. And I concede further that we will need Middle Eastern oil for some time. Every time I get on a highway leading anywhere, I find it populated with monstrous SUVs. Once, when pulling into a local Maryland supermarket parking lot, I reeled from the sight of someone pulling in to park his . . . Humvee. Think of that . . . a $100,000, supremely ugly, military troop carrier in use to carry home a six-pack of beer and some diapers. How . . . efficient. Isn’t the owner proud?
Why, instead of prattling on about drilling in an arctic wildlife refuge, can’t our President lead for once in some new, productive . . . innovative direction? Are we really that captured—bought and paid for—by Big Oil, et al that we can no longer expect anything creative and sensible from our Presidents?
This, I suggest, is a time for sacrifice, and for creative thinking.
Could we not as a Nation consider investing in conservation over the next 10-25 years? We might begin by buying and using only energy efficient appliances:
• Investing in energy-saving applications such as insulation,
• Investing in new technology such as solar appliances,
• Buying only automobiles that get 25-30 miles per gallon. In ten years, SUVs would be a thing of the past, like bell-bottomed trousers and tie-dyed shirts.
• Here’s a biggie: a Federal or state car tax that is based not on value or age, but on gasoline mileage. Cars that get 40 mpg or above are assessed no tax; cars that get 30-40 mpg pay $50 per year; cars that get 25-30 mpg pay $100 per year; cars that get 20-25 mpg pay $250 per year; cars that get 15-20 mpg pay $500 per year; cars that get less than 15 mpg pay $1,000 per year. Assessments are based on original design testing. Aging will not improve them, so the tax stays in place as the cars age.
Creative Thinking
Then our President and the Congress should agree on a heavily funded research initiative on new energy sources that could become practical alternatives to our current reliance on fossil fuels. If we’re going to invest, put, say, $50 billion on the stump (if you don’t like the dollar amount, choose your own) and get companies to propose research and eventually demonstrations for new approaches. Open the competition to any and all companies—so long as they have attractive ideas and the capability to implement their research proposals, allow them to compete. Use the National Academy of Sciences to serve as the review panel.
Make this an ongoing research commitment, much as we have done in biomedical research. Throughout our history, US industry has responded magnificently to crises, especially when there’s money involved. Our national investments in defense and space research have yielded immense returns in technology that have proven their value in all kinds of commercial and industrial applications. We have been fooling around with investments in energy, but as often as not, the investments are intended more to prop up particular industries than to advance our knowledge base. It is time now to use our technologic base and our money to move us into the 21st century in the energy realm.
Our President should commit us, as John Kennedy did in the last century, to a meaningful goal. Instead of going to the moon, perhaps he might consider a goal of energy independence (OPEC independence??) in 20 years. It would be nice to think that this horrific shock to our national psyche created the national will to change our country from the biggest, baddest energy hog on the planet, to the most creative, energy efficient country on earth.
So, how about some fresh thinking, President Obama, and our overpaid, bloated Congress?
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