Yesterday, I was on The Alyona Show, a sharp public affairs talk show run, oddly enough, by Russia Today. The topic was the politics around oil subsidies. Here’s the clip:

I don’t have a ton to add, but here’s one point I was pondering on the bus this morning.

You often hear people (like me!) say that there’s not much point in ramping up domestic drilling since we wouldn’t get substantial oil for 10 or 20 years and even then we wouldn’t get enough to substantially affect the price of oil or gas. Their reply is, “If it takes 20 years, that’s all the more reason to get started.” After all, if there’s no short-term solution, better get started on long-term solutions.

Then there’s a similar argument, where I say, “The only way to protect ourselves from oil is to reduce the amount we use, and the way to do that is to ramp up fuel efficiency standards and change land use patterns to encourage density and public transit.” Then they say, “But that will take 10 to 20 years and even then it will only marginally reduce demand.” And I say, “If it takes 20 years, that’s all the more reason to get started.”

So yeah, you can’t use that “that’ll take too long” argument in one case and not the other. Any solutions is going to take a long time! Are the arguments neatly parallel, then?

Well, no. Because the first case, drilling, is not actually a long-term solution. It is conceivable that some day we could reduce oil demand enough to insulate ourselves from oil shocks and shortages. Maybe it’ll be fast, maybe it’ll take a long time, but it’s an actual solution.

There is no conceivable way we’ll ever drill enough to become “energy independent.” It is not physically possible. No matter how much we drill, we will still, eventually, have to substantially reduce oil consumption. All drilling will do is buy us some time, and not very much time.

Worse, the more we delay the real solution, the harder it gets — oil-friendly infrastructure is further entrenched, oil gets more expensive (which matters because it’s going to take lots of oil to get off oil), and the money we could have been spending on real solutions will have been leaving the country to go to Saudi Arabia.

Anyway, a polity with a modicum of wisdom and foresight understands that the responsible thing to do is get started on real solutions rather than scrambling, delaying, and dumping ever-growing problems in its children’s laps. Anybody know where we could borrow a polity like that?