bakery breadPresident Obama’s decision to expand offshore drilling leases seems to affirm the power that the “drill baby drill” battle cry holds in the American energy conversation. Turns out a short, simple, much-repeated slogan holds more currency than detailed policy arguments from clean-energy advocates.

I want to tease out a connection between “drill baby drill” and what you might call the forward-looking bright green vision. Sean Casten is fond of a Soviet bread-line metaphor: Hungry Bolsheviks standing in line for bread can probably imagine more of the same stale, dry white bread. When they demand more, they’ll probably call for more of the same stuff. Because when stale bread is all you’ve ever known, it’s nigh impossible to envision a boulangerie with pastries, bagels, sourdough rolls, all sorts of different and better baked goods. It’s a matter of imagination.

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Maybe the same dynamic holds for clean energy. When all that most of us have ever known is auto-centric, gasoline-dependent living, the best change we can imagine is more, cheaper gas that enables more, cheaper driving. Hence the allure of “drill baby drill,” the slogan that caught on during the 2008 GOP presidential campaign, continues to appear in Sarah Palin speeches, and remains a battle cry of the clean-energy-averse right.

It’s more difficult to imagine a world with a dozen appealing flavors of transportation—smart cars built exclusively for zipping around cities, neighborhoods designed for walking, pervasive urban light rail, high-speed rail connecting cities, car-sharing programs for vacations and whatnot. When people sample these, they start asking for more than the stale, dry options of the past.

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