Friday, June 12, 2009

A Keen Eye for the Obvious

Back when I was a young’n in New Mexico, it was a mild insult to tell someone, “You have a keen eye for the obvious.” That phrase was usually used when somebody stated something everybody already knew or should have known. OK, I’m going to plead guilty to having a keen eye for the obvious. Sadly, I must also state that most of our national leaders seem quite blind to the obvious, making it necessary that we remind them of a very apparent problem they are studiously ignoring. I’m speaking of our national energy policy or lack thereof, and the possible consequences of that lack.

Energy is something we absolutely must address in the US. It is an economic problem when we import so much of our oil. However it is even more important as a national security issue. Much of our energy comes from parts of the world ruled by tyrants who do not like us, and where governments are not very stable. Just one of those tyrants could throw the entire western world into an economic tailspin and possibly at the same time weaken our national defenses.

Can you imagine what would happen if, for example, Iran were to go to war with its neighbors and cause them to stop or curtail oil shipments? All it would take is closing the Strait of Hormuz to make a major dent in world oil supplies. Energy prices would go through the roof and our economy would tank.

Worse, if we needed that oil for national defense we might have to curtail our response to a military attack. How would we defend against some rogue state like North Korea if we didn’t have enough fuel for our tanks, warships, and military aircraft?

It might not even take a national ruler to cause such problems. If the Islamic fanatics get the right weapons they could disrupt our oil lifeline.

All this is pretty obvious when you think about it. Yet many in congress and the administration seem not to have thought about it. Our “energy policy” in this country seems to be based on what we will not do rather than on what we will do. We will not drill for more oil. We will not build new refineries. We will not put windmills where Senator Kennedy can see them from his vacation home. We will not build nuclear plants. About the only sources of new energy allowed are a few things like solar cells. Those help somewhat, but it will be a long time before they come anywhere near meeting our energy demand.

Of course conservation is also mentioned and is important. However we aren’t going to conserve our way out of our dependence on foreign oil, at least unless we all stop traveling and turn our thermostats down to about 50 in the winter. Those who think conservation will solve the problem should look at what it realistically might save. Then they should check that against our energy needs, both now and in a hopefully growing future economy.

In fact there is almost certainly no single solution to our dependence on foreign energy. Conservation must play a part but so must new energy sources like wind, solar, geothermal, and tar sands. We must also expand domestic production from current sources by opening up more areas to drilling and by allowing more refineries and nuclear plants. There is something there to offend almost every special interest, but we must not let those special interests determine our policy. We will all have to conserve. Kennedy may be able to see a windmill from his vacation home. The nuclear Nervous Nellies will have to accept some modern nuclear power plants. We will have to allow offshore and other drilling.

All this will take time so we should start now. President Clinton objected to some increased drilling because he claimed it would take ten years to pay off. Well, the drilling was prohibited and ten years later we were in an energy crisis. Had drilling been allowed ten years earlier, that crisis would have been at least somewhat ameliorated.

I’m reminded of a statement attributed to Napoleon. He wanted to plant trees along a certain street to beautify it and provide shade. An aide objected, “But sir, it will take 20 years to get the benefit of those trees.”

Napoleon is said to have responded, “In that case, plant them immediately!”

Like Napoleons’ trees, our energy programs will take time to pay off. That is all the more reason to start now – we need the results as soon as we can get them. Now is the time to initiate a multi-pronged attack on this problem. It is near criminal for the president and congress to ignore it. We can understand the reasons of course. Real solutions to the energy problem will step on a lot of toes. However the risk of being cut off from our foreign energy sources demands an all-out response.

Sadly, few in congress or the administration have the guts to stand up to the special interests blocking our improved energy production. I fear we will pay for this when some mid-eastern tyrant causes more trouble. The only solution is for the citizens to hold the politicians’ feet to the fire on this subject.

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