The Mustache and Lugar
Chip mentioned The Mustache’s latest column here. A couple of people wanted to see excerpts, as it’s hidden behind the $elect subscription wall.
The basic point of the column is that "Dick Cheney and Big Oil" have taken control of the energy debate by defining "realism" with …
… this patronizing, pat-you-on-the-head view about alternative energy — hybrids, wind, solar, ethanol — which goes like this: "Yes, yes, those are all very cute and virtuous, but not realistic. Real men know that oil and fossil fuels are going to dominate our energy usage for a long time, so get used to it."
But, he says, there are signs of strain in the Republican coalition. More groups on the right are coming to realize that leaving oil behind — and fast — is the only "realistic" option if we want to avoid serious pain down the line.
Mostly, though, the column amounts to, "hey, look at Lugar’s speech!" Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) makes the same points more eloquently. I’m including a long excerpt below the fold, but I encourage you to read the whole thing.
The gasoline price spikes following the Katrina and Rita hurricanes underscored for Americans the tenuousness of short-term energy supplies. But, as yet, there is not a full appreciation of our economic vulnerability or the competition that is already occurring throughout the world.
In a remarkable moment during the State of the Union Address, President Bush caught the attention of the nation with five words: "America is addicted to oil." Those five words probably generated more media commentary than all the rest of his remarks from that evening combined. I had an opportunity soon after the speech to talk to the President about energy, and he admitted that he had not anticipated the impact of that statement or that some commentators would find it incongruous. I believe he is genuine in wanting to devote more focus to pursuing alternative energy sources. But his Texas roots, his administration’s high-profile advocacy of opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, and other associations with the oil industry have created long-standing public impressions that the President is an oil-man who believes in the oil economy.
Though not hostile to alternative energy sources, the Bush administration clearly downplayed their significance during the early part of his presidency. Vice President Cheney, who oversaw Bush Administration energy policy, stated on April 30, 2001, "Years down the road, alternative fuels may become a great deal more plentiful than they are today. But we are not yet in any position to stake our economy and our way of life on that possibility. For now, we must take the facts as they are. Whatever our hopes for developing alternative sources and for conserving energy – and that’s part of our plan – the reality is that fossil fuels provide virtually 100 percent of our transportation needs and an overwhelming share of our electricity requirements. For years down the road, this will continue to be true."
For decades, the energy debate in this country has pitted so-called pro-oil realists against idealistic advocates of alternative energy. The pro-oil commentators have attempted to discredit alternatives by saying they make up a tiny share of energy consumed and that dependence on oil is a choice of the marketplace. They assert that our government can and should do little to change this. They have implied that those who have bemoaned oil dependency do not understand that every energy alternative comes with its own problems and limitations. Lee Raymond, the former CEO of Exxon offered an example of this line of reasoning in 2005: "There are many alternative forms of energy that people talk about that may be interesting. But they are not consequential on the scale that will be needed, and they may never have a significant impact on the energy balance. To the extent that people focus too much on that — for example, on solar or wind…– what they are doing is diverting attention from the real issues. And 25 years from now, even with double-digit growth rates, they will still be less than 1 percent of the energy supplied to meet worldwide demand. I am more interested in staying focused on the 99 percent than the 1 percent."
Indeed, advocates of alternative energy must resist the rhetorical temptations to suggest that energy problems are easily solved. They are not. Relieving our dependence on oil in any meaningful way is going to take much greater investments of time, money, and political will. There is no silver bullet solution. But the difficulty of solving the problem does not make it any less necessary. The President’s State of the Union address indicates that he understands this.
Whether or not one classifies America’s oil dependence as an addiction, the bottom line is that with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States consumes 25 percent of its oil. If oil prices remain at $60 a barrel through 2006, we will spend about $320 billion on oil imports this year. Most of the world’s oil is concentrated in places that are either hostile to American interests or vulnerable to political upheaval and terrorism. And demand for oil will increase far more rapidly than we expected just a few years ago. Within 25 years, the world will need 50 percent more energy than it does now.
With these basics in mind, my message is that the balance of realism has passed from those who argue on behalf of oil and a laissez faire energy policy that relies on market evolution, to those who recognize that in the absence of a major reorientation in the way we get our energy, life in America is going to be much more difficult in the coming decades. No one who cares about U.S. foreign policy, national security, and long-term economic growth can afford to ignore what is happening in Iran, Russia, Venezuela, or in the lobby of the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli. No one who is honestly assessing the decline of American leverage around the world due to our energy dependence can fail to see that energy is the albatross of U.S. national security.
We have entered a different energy era that requires a much different response than in past decades. What is needed is an urgent national campaign led by a succession of Presidents and Congresses who will ensure that American ingenuity and resources are fully committed to this problem. We could take our time if this were merely a matter of accomplishing an industrial conversion to more cost effective technologies. Unfortunately, U.S. dependence on fossil fuels and their growing scarcity worldwide have already created conditions that are threatening our security and prosperity and undermining international stability. In the absence of revolutionary changes in energy policy, we are risking multiple disasters for our country that will constrain living standards, undermine our foreign policy goals, and leave us highly vulnerable to the machinations of rogue states.
The majority of oil and natural gas in the world is not controlled by those who respect market forces. Geology and politics have created petro-superpowers that nearly monopolize the world’s oil supply. According to PFC Energy, foreign governments control up to 77 percent of the world’s oil reserves through their national oil companies. These governments set prices through their investment and production decisions, and they have wide latitude to shut off the taps for political reasons.
I am not suggesting that markets won’t eventually come into play to move America away from its oil dependence. Eventually, because of scarcity, terrorist attacks, market shocks, and foreign manipulation, the high price of oil will lead to enormous investment in and political support for alternatives. Given enough time, overcoming oil dependence and imbalances is well within the scope of human, and indeed American, ingenuity. The problem is that such investment cannot happen overnight, and even if it did, it will take years or even decades to build supporting infrastructure and change behavior. In other words, by the time a sustained energy crisis fully motivates the market, we are likely to be well past the point where we can save ourselves. Our motivation will come too late and the resulting investment will come too slowly to prevent the severe economic and security consequences of our oil dependence. This is the very essence of a problem requiring government action.
The first step is to admit how grave the problem is. Hopefully, we will look back on President Bush’s declaration that America is "addicted to oil" as a seminal moment in American history, when a U.S. president said something contrary to expectations and thereby stimulated change. Like President Nixon using his anti-communist credentials to open up China or President Johnson using his Southern roots to help pave the way for the Civil Rights Act, President Bush’s standing as an oil man would lend special power to his advocacy, if he chose to initiate an all-out campaign for renewable energy sources.