What we need here is a little R&D
Thank God for the small people. Or at least allusions to them. BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg’s gaffe gave Barack Obama a brief reprieve from the pundit pummeling that mostly dismissed his first Oval Office speech as more slick than oil.
But some columnists, Grist’s David Roberts for one, did spot a glint of promise in Obama’s fuzzy language. Roberts liked Obama’s mention of the need to ratchet up investment in energy R&D.
Show me the money: The feds now spend about $5 billion a year on energy research. Sounds like a sweet chunk of change until you realize they’re shelling out $80 billion a year for military R&D. Andrew Revkin, writing in the New York Times Dot Earth blog, feels a serious coin commitment to research is so critical that he dares to raise the specter of a two-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax.
Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be legions of lobbyists out there for innovation (and energy efficiency, for that matter), while there are potent forces fighting on the side of coal companies and utilities, financial institutions eager to trade carbon credits, manufacturers and retailers of today’s consumer products. Can Obama take on that role — championing shifts in investments and priorities that can help build a new generation of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and investors focused on forging an economy and lifestyle for the long haul?
Alms for the poor: Bill Gates followed the same path in a recent Wall Street Journal interview. He’s the lead talking head for the American Energy Innovation Council, a posse of big-name corporate execs pushing the feds to raise their stake to $16 billion a year:
Cheap energy is key to the poor. It’s the price of fertilizer, or getting to the hospital, or getting a C-section at the hospital. The world needs us to lead on [energy research]. Other countries aren’t funding it well, or aren’t equipped to do it.
Feel the pain: That seems to be the best shot at pumping up energy innovation, given that oil companies still feel it makes more financial sense to spend billions in risky, deepwater drilling than in investing heavily in alternative energy. But Anatole Kaletsky, writing for The Australian, argues the time has come to squeeze Big Oil to have a change of its cold, cold heart:
The Obama administration’s strategic objective, beyond sealing the gusher and cleaning up the mess, should be ensure that drilling for oil becomes prohibitively expensive. The oilmen and investors must be forced to recognise that the true costs and risks to society of oil exploration are far greater than the costs and risks of investing in alternative energy or nuclear power.
It’s the addiction thing: Then there’s the rest of us. The U.S. burns through an average of almost 18,000 barrels of oil a day, more than double what China, the #2 glutton on the list, consumes. (Check out this graphic in The Guardian to get the not-so-pretty picture.)
Such shiny skin: While almost 70 percent of our oil consumption goes to transportation, we aren’t exactly cutting back on plastic toys, water bottles, or bath oils stinking with petrochemicals. Ronnie Cummins, founder of the Organic Consumers Association, bemoans the presence of BP in our bathrooms.
Does it take a catastrophe like the BP oil spill to remind us of the pressing need to cut our oil consumption? Are people finally outraged enough to stop using petrochemicals to bathe and beautify? Would you be willing to switch to organic cosmetics to save a sea turtle, keep our drinking water safe, and our beaches beautiful?
Oils R’ Us: And the Miami Herald quotes Jorge Pinon, a former BP exec on all little things we do to keep feeding the beast:
Every time I see a new subdivision being built west of the Turnpike, that’s good news for oil. Every time I go by a Toys R Us store, and I see a full parking lot, that is good news for oil.