March 31, 2005

Guns and Gasoline: A Reprise

Earlier today I was skimming over some of the content on a message board at which I frequently post and I ran across a link to an op-ed that Tom Friedman wrote which appeared in the 27 March 2005 edition of the New York Times. The op-ed was typical Friedman: thought-provoking, insightful, and unafraid.

In the piece, Friedman makes note of the particular (and peculiar) lack of overt effort that President Bush has made during his tenure at establishing a policy of sustainable energy production and consumption. This seems to be true, as environmental issues seemed to not be pressing for this President or the Congress, and this was especially apparent during the election cycle, as the topics that one could relate directly to the environment appeared to take a back seat to "social" issues, such as Dick Cheney's daughter being a lesbian, and John Kerry's flip-floppitude.

Friedman mentions that the administration has made no effort at providing incentive for people to cut energy demand/consumption and in so doing, is working contrary to the efforts of the war on terror and the stated efforts of democratization in the Middle East. Consider this: much of our imported petrol comes from sources derived in Saudi Arabia, whose government is among the most opressive in the world, receiving a 7 (on a 1-7 scale, 1 being the freest and 7 the least free) on both political rights and civil liberties scales in the 2005 Freedom House report. (For a table showing almost all sovereign states, visit: Freedom House 2005 Table for Independent Countries and the complete report is available HERE.) So, we are financing a crushingly repressive government, flying directly in the face of the supposed efforts by the administration to spread democracy abroad. By keeping our roots and interests firmly rooted in Saudi Arabia, exploiting their resources, we are further inciting terrorists, by treating their homelands as our own playgrounds.

This is so far saying nothing of the increased output of greenhouse gases (which are very real) with the increased usage of currently relatively inefficient automobiles. Current personal vehicle milage averages in the 23-25 miles per gallon, with sports utility vehicles having lower MPG and smaller coupes having higher MPG. Friedman cites an article from Wired magazine exploring hybrid vehicles, stating that hybrid automobiles get forty to fifty miles per gallon and have very low CO and CO2 emissions. Particularly striking to him, as it would have been to me, were the following figures provided in the Wired article: There are currently 800 million cars in active use and with the expected growth of India and China, that number is projected to reach 3,250 million (3.25 billion).

Friedman proposes a basic rubric to help solve the multifaceted problem of this lack of coherent and sustainable energy policy. He proposes creating tax which would peg the price of gasoline at $4 per gallon, even if the price of crude were to decrease. I would assume that this tax would be a sliding one, as gas prices themselves would vary with market forces and that the tax would increase should the price of gasoline increase $4 per gallon. He assumes, perhaps correctly or incorrectly (it remains to be seen), that as a result of the staggering increase in price, people will be compelled to purchase cars that are much more efficient on gasoline, such as hybrid vehicles, or ethanol-based engines. Given the frequently questionable logic of the American public, I won't go to the bank on the idea, in spite of personally being very much in favor of it.

Small steps have been made in recent days by the administration to get baby-step movement on non-fossil fueled vehicles, with the Dept of Energy announcing a deal with GM, working to help push for the creation of publicly available hydrogen fuel cell vehicles at a cost of $380 million. (U.S. goal:
Fuel cell cars for masses in 2020
- MSNBC; Automakers, U.S. to Develop Fuel Cell Cars - Yahoo/AP) These small steps are coming too late, however, as the government has already plundered billions of dollars on the "war on terror" that it is (unintentionally?) helping to finance. Furthermore, the target date is 15 years down the line, even though much of this technology has existed, so far as I can recall, since at least the start of the decade.

Ugh... that's enough ranting for now.


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