Monday, June 14, 2010

Another Moment For Something Big

Presidents usually reserve Oval Office addresses for something big or important. Tomorrow night I have a feeling we may finally get one of these from my friend Barry. I've been waiting for it ever since he gave his speech on race relations from Philadelphia during the campaign for the Democratic nomination. I've had hints of it here and there but he since taking office, he's been a rather cautious operator despite the seemingly big things that he's accomplished. None of them, the stimulus, health care, the Cairo speech, Afghanistan, have all felt somehow obvious or merely middling to me. No bold strokes in a dangerous era when bold strokes of a sort might be warranted (as opposed to those of the former resident which, Afghanistan at the time aside, rarely seemed necessary for all the macho bravado).

But after watching the northern Gulf of Mexico gradually turn to the color of a really good gumbo, I think we may be in for a genuinely bold move. I think we may be about to see a rallying cry and serious effort to change our nation's ways in the realm of energy production and use. As an oilman, I often thought GWB after 9/11 would have made the perfect character to have a sort of Nixon in China moment as the right guy to really understand oil while at the same time recognizing how important it was for the US to begin weaning from the oil teat, particularly as it related to importing from the middle east. But then I remembered that for the most part, GWB didn't understand anything so it could never have happened.

So here we have the worst environmental disaster in US history unfolding daily before out eyes not but a few weeks after Barry declared that oil drilling was pretty safe. We see some new footage every day as the devastation spreads further along the coast and wonder how far it will go and when the gusher will finally be stopped. We see a company in charge that effectively lied about the amount spewing and controlled the information so well that the administration failed utterly to recognize the lies. The result of that failure was incredible delay in preparing for inevitable landfall of oil on the one hand, and enabling the imposition of the still questionable tactic of spraying thousands of gallons of an untested dispersant in the oil as it spewed from the depths to keep it from ever reaching the surface; and hence land as well as our eyeballs. Now we wait while the reality sets in that from the beginning, only relief wells have a chance of stopping the gusher and that it will be mid-August or so at the earliest before we see if they work. If any problems intersecting with the 7 inch pipe at approximately 18,000 feet below sea level crop up (and gee what are the chances of THAT at this point?) we could be seeing Christmas as a worst case scenario for an end to the gusher. Keep in mind as well, that the relief wells are subject to the same risks that this initial well was subject to.

So the Something Big. First, the moratorium on new deep drilling will be extended until some new technologies are in place. The existing wells will be restarted under the condition that relief wells are started now until ready for emergencies. A similar rule was only recently and inexplicably watered down for deep water operations in Canada. Next, oil companies will need to invest directly in R&D for new technologies to protect against and deal with accidents of the sort we now see in the Gulf. Why? Because since we've sat on our fat asses for 30 years as a nation following the warning we received (from the Oval Office) from that pill of a president Jimmy Carter in 1977, we have greatly increased our oil usage while doing almost nothing to make it a more efficient method of generating energy or less damaging to the environment. For now, we have to continue drilling in the Gulf because it is the only viable source for our own oil in any useful quantity, but it HAS to be safer.

39% of our energy comes from petroleum. Of that, 60% is now imported. This means about 25% of our oil-based energy comes from overseas. Much of it from places filled with people who don't like us and want to harm us. We use a lot of energy to live the way we do. We use 25% of the world's energy, have 22% of the world's GDP and 5% of the world's population. We are hardworking, rich, and wasteful. We use almost twice the energy per person in the US as in Japan and Germany. And we use about 20 times more energy per person as those up and coming economic powerhouses, India and China. We have the ability to do what we have done so often in the past century, lead the world in something important.

We need to get away from the foreign oil teat specifically and all oil in general. I look for Barry to declare an effective equivalent to JFK's New Frontier, a challenge that may seem impossible for Americans, or anyone for that matter to do. Make massive investments in currently non-existent technologies. These will be in all sorts of diversified renewables and cleaner energy producers together with building the infrastructure to bring the supply from the generating source. And there will be more nuclear facilities, but these still take many many years to build.

This is not an easy task and it's complicated by the fact that we have waited til well beyond crisis range to start a serious discussion about it. Jimmy Carter exhorted us to get control of our energy habit before it got control of us. We didn't listen. I hope that after tomorrow's speech, the energy will be on the side of changing our ways once and for all.


KwaveD said...
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KwaveD said...

Gravitar have you not seen the heavens lately? How the stars are aligned? Which Chalice is being filled and which lies empty?

There is little to no chance that Obama will take ANY "bold" actions against BP (or any mega-corp) --- doing so goes against his ever deepening embrace of the Ideologies of Finance and the sort of unfettered greed mindset that has allowed occupation of far off lands for profit without regard for our fellows and for Gaia.

Mother Earth holds no sway in this mindset -- it is nothing but a resource, and god help you if you get in the way of the Imperialist's access to what they WANT or NEED in some matter of perspective and perception.