Providence Journal, April 22, 2006
On this Earth Day, energy issues and the environment come together more than usual. We are, as President Bush has said, "addicted to oil." But we don't seem very serious about getting off it.
Oil prices are surging, and yet the world uses more and more of the stuff. Much of the money that's paid for it goes to corrupt dictatorships that wish us ill. And the use of that oil and other fossil fuels causes climate change.
You'd think Americans would be more concerned about this. But any such worry has been slow to express itself in personal behavior. We drive big cars and live in sprawling exurbs, all the while taking on bigger and bigger debt to do so. We underfund mass transit, and many environmental leaders -- who tend to come from the population's affluent segment -- use more energy per capita than most other people: on huge houses, lots of cars, the occasional private jet . . .
While some parts of the economy exhibit more fuel-efficiency than in the past, Americans are still very wasteful, and we've been slow to implement substantive reforms, such as higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars. (See an editorial here soon on CAFE standards.)
Meanwhile, politicians demand that the price of gasoline and other oil-derived products be lowered -- whereas it should, if anything, be raised, to encourage fuel-efficiency and alternative energy sources. Hypocrisy makes the world go round.
And when people try to offer cleaner, cheaper forms of energy, NIMBYism or out-and-out political sleaze stop such alternatives to the status quo in their tracks. Consider the plot between the congressional delegation of oil-rich Alaska and some Cape Cod summer millionaires, led by fossil-fuel-company heir Bill Koch, to keep windmills from being built near his place on Nantucket Sound.
It must be said that America has made many improvements since environmental legislation that began during the Nixon administration, especially in air and water quality. Still, our swelling population and continued profligate fossil-fuel use undermine these improvements, and perhaps even reverse them.
Who knows what the critical mass will have to become before we truly care about energy and the environment -- $125 for a barrel of crude oil?
Reprinted with permission from the Providence Journal.