Un-goddamn-believable. Of all the sops to offer the conservative base of the GOP whose enthusiasm John McCain has thus far failed to inspire, John McCain goes for broke (morally and logically) with overturning the ban on offshore oil drilling?
I always figured that if McCain was going to turn hard right on anything, he’d do it on the economy with a low low taxes lower lower regulation scheme to make all the free marketeers and I-bankers piss themselves with glee. Or he’d start sending coded messages to the Christian right about making sure he nominates a justice who overturns Roe v. Wade. I did not think he’d do it on the environment or energy. Not because I thought he was a passionate tree-hugger or anything, but these two issues are 1) closely intertwined and 2) can be effectively addressed with straightforward policies.
The economy is a complicated behemoth with a lot of moving parts whose future is chock-full of unforseen consequences and influenced by future events impossible to predict. Imagine announcing to the nation on Sept. 10, 2001 that you’ve got bipartisan support to balance the budget, maintain present interest rates to cap inflationary pressure, and you’ve got a plan to encourage more participation in the capital markets by everyday Americans so every one can strike it rich. Economists would raise a host of objections, and other economists would laud the plan, but not a one of them would say “But what if a bunch of religiously-motivated aviation enthusiasts get so tired of being turned down for sex at clubs and bars and decide the only way they’re going to get any tail at all is to fly passenger jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and get at some virgins?” Not a one would say that. Offshore drilling as a way to manage America’s energy need is another story.
The challenges facing America in terms of oil are both short- and long-term. The high price of oil is and has been for some time now putting serious inflationary pressure on an already stressed American economy – you don’t have to be an economist to understand that high oil prices push up the cost of transporting all that stuff you buy, and retailers have to pass that cost on eventually. Plus, petroleum is the feedstock for any number of industrial and consumer goods, meaning that companies that make the stuff are going to experience pressure on gross margins and have to charge you more to make up the difference. Short-term, those issues have to be addressed in order to right the American economic ship.
Long-term, we have got to come to grips with the fact that we can’t base our economy around dead dinosaur goop that we suck out of the ground with huge drills. It’s not foreign oil that we need to end our dependence on, it’s OIL that we need to end our dependence on. All of it. Commercial transport like sea freighters, planes, it’ll be a while before those things can be reasonably expected to be manufactured with power plants that don’t burn fossil fuels of some type. But we can sure as hell do something else for our cars and our energy grid. And that’s why McCain’s announcement is incredibly, undeniably, harmfully, stupid.
“We must embark on a national mission to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil,” he said on Monday. “We have untapped oil reserves of at least 21 billion barrels in the United States. But a broad federal moratorium stands in the way of energy exploration and production. . . . It is time for the federal government to lift these restrictions.” That moratorium, by the way, is one he supported in 2000. Just like he supported opposing oil exploration in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and the Everglades.
There’s no delicate way to say it – we’ve got to stop putting off the inevitable with the oil supply with these short-sighted plans to find more of it elsewhere. Oil was always a finite resource, but with China, southeast Asia, and the Latin American Third World starting to burn gas at an incredible rate, the timetable is far shorter now. McCain’s plan to overturn the offshore drilling ban fails to both alleviate the short-term oil supply problem and the long-term oil dependence problem.
21 billion barrels sounds like a lot. Unfortunately, it isn’t. The Energy Information Administration forecasts that oil consumption in 2008 will 87 million barrels per day, and 92 million by 2010. If we start drilling and the oil starts flowing by 2010, that’s enough oil for a whopping 228 days of global oil consumption. Not even a full year. If we want to keep it all to ourselves so we don’t have to keep funding terrorism in Saudi Arabia, that 21 billion barrels off the American coast is good for about two years and eight months. Sweet. So let’s do nearly irreversible damage to a fragile ecosystem so that we can put off a difficult choice for less than three years. It’s like deciding not to quit smoking because you found a couple cigarettes in your couch cushions and what the fuck, they’re there, you know?
I was willing to dismiss his harebrained support for that risible “gas tax holiday” idea as a one-off populist appeal his campaign would use to contrast their man with the “out-of-touch” Barack Obama and his elitist contention that America would maybe need the billions of dollars the tax provides for stupid bullshit like highway maintenance. What hard-working blue collar American worth his or her Richard Petty decal doesn’t like a good pothole, after all? Gunning your F-150 over one of those babies is what this country is all about!
Unfortunately, McCain has made it clear with this offshore drilling idea that it wasn’t just a one-off. Rather than having the good sense and political courage to force this country to make some hard choices, to say “I will have the nation’s first post-petroleum presidency,” the senator is acting as an enabler for continued dependence on fossil fuels and failing to stimulate real, substantive government investment in alternatives. Tax breaks for ethanol might sound nice, but nothing jump-starts real and rapid innovation like urgent need. You gonna figure out how to break down an oak door faster when you’re just leaving the house for a walk, or when the room you’re in is on fire?
Bad enough the Japanese had to figure out home video for us, they’ve got to show us how to fix our energy problems too?