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July 14, 2008
While We Debate
Drilling, Climate Change Continues to Loom
In the middle of the week came a hiccup to the summer’s
discussion on energy – oh yes, there is still global warming to
The hiccup wasn’t
anything out of the ordinary. It was the Bush Administration,
repudiating fuel economy standards as a way to address climate change,
just as it’s done basically since it first flip-flopped on the issue
soon after the 2001 inauguration. But the rejection of the advice from
some of the most experienced voices at the EPA was a reminder that
energy isn’t as simple as finding stuff to burn.
Ultimately, it will be on
the shoulders of John McCain or Barack Obama to address these questions.
As both issues became more obvious, there was inaction at the top. Then
again, what else did we expect from a president who named as his first
Energy Secretary a guy who twice in the Senate introduced bills to
abolish the Department of Energy?
So far this summer, the
answer to the energy issue has been distilled down into whether to drill
in the Alaska wilderness or off the Gulf Coast. Since both combined
would put a very little dent in the nation’s energy needs, the
conversation will have to get a great deal more adult before something
worthwhile is produced.
Not only does that mean
figuring out how to provide energy for both transportation and home
heating (not to mention industry), it means doing so in a way that will
minimize the impact we have on the world’s climate patterns.
That would have been a
difficult enough road to navigate given time enough for planning, but
unfortunately both problems will have to be addressed when both are
approaching crisis levels.
The approaching winter is
expected to provide a good deal of sticker shock when it comes to home
heating bills, and the price for electricity – according to every
estimate – is projected to just keep rising. With home budgets already
squeezed by the price of gasoline and the rising cost of food, not to
mention mortgages and credit card debt, it could be that the true
economic reckoning for this will come some time in the near future.
This comes at a time when
James Hansen, widely acknowledged as one of the world’s leading experts
on climate change, told Congress that if there isn’t a fundamental shift
in Washington’s attitude in the next year a tipping point could be
reached. After that time, there may not be much point in doing anything
about it, he said.
Hansen’s forecast is
outside the mainstream of climate scientists, many of whom are said to
privately worry whether such dire pronouncements don’t prevent the kind
of attitude shift necessary to address the problem. Unfortunately,
recent history on the issue is that Hansen regularly says things outside
the mainstream, and it is usually the mainstream that eventually
embraces his conclusions.
What this means is
developing a plan, a roadmap, a strategy – a something that takes along
lines more complicated than whether they can turn a profit. Whatever
solution is struck upon needs to make economic sense in a way that the
profits aren’t dwarfed by costs created indirectly. That is, maintaining
America’s reliance on cheap energy while mortgaging climate patterns we
depend on for food.
Although the topic of
energy and global warming are very closely intertwined in many respects,
finding ways to tie up the loose ends requires nuance and deliberation.
Each day that Washington remains squarely focused on whether to drill or
not to drill is time spent squabbling over details while the window for
sound planning closes.
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