Ask Auntie Pinko
March 17, 2005
By Auntie Pinko
We'll be having a presidential election in 2008. By then the
Iraq war will be nothing more than a bad memory. So what might be
the big issues in 2008? Healthcare, education, jobs. All issues
on which our party is ideologically confident (even if they haven't
been winning us elections).
But another big issue in 2008 might be energy. Internationally,
oil production and refining are not keeping up with the ever-increasing
consumption of a fast-growing China. Energy prices that are high
now could be significantly higher by 2008. So what would Auntie
Pinko's "National Energy Policy" encompass? Could Auntie Pinko's
NEP keep us economically competitive while also making us less reliant
on energy imported from unstable regions of the world?
Auntie sure hopes you are right about the war in Iraq! Being old
enough to vividly remember Viet Nam, I have a hard time sharing
your confidence. But I am willing to admit the possibility. Assuming
you are right, and U.S. involvement in Iraq is over in 2008, I tend
to agree with you about the importance of energy policy as an issue.
It's an area fraught with unpleasant alternatives, and one that
leaves any political party vulnerable to negative portrayals, no
matter what choices are made. We should start thinking, now, about
how to communicate effectively.
There are essentially four categories of energy source available
in the world. Extractive (fossil) sources include coal, oil, natural
gas, and nuclear fuels. Kinetic sources include hydro power and
wind power, as well as primitive engines powered by human or animal
muscle power. Direct sources include solar and geothermal power.
And, finally, organic sources include wood and chemicals such as
methane and ethanol, and (mostly organic) solid waste.
Large portions of the world, including the United States, rely
on an economy that requires heavy uses of energy for transportation
and communications, and the rest of the world is increasingly demanding
the benefits of such an economy. Complex geopolitical interactions
make it almost impossible for any one country or region to make
effective unilateral decisions about energy consumption. (A fact
which has obviously passed the current US administration by.)
If the Democratic Party is to advocate successfully for a beneficial
long-term energy policy, we must take into account the economic
and cultural realities governing the lives of Americans, as well
as the very real and grave environmental realities looming ever
closer. And with all the will in the world to make the substantial
changes required for long-term sustainability, we must be wary of
the consequences of making the perfect into the enemy of the merely
good, or even of the possible. A truly viable, valuable energy policy
will have to be complex, and complexity is the enemy of clarity,
especially in political communications.
Fortunately, there are many things we can put in the center of
a policy that are both progressive and relatively palatable. There
is also one key strategic goal that should be eminently "salable"
to the American people: make America increasingly energy independent.
We can do this by having three main strands to our energy policy:
- First, reduce consumption. We must promote the manufacture,
use, and sale of the most energy-efficient technology, and discourage
inefficient applications. Programs such as LIHEAP should be
revived and strengthened to minimize the economic impact of
increasing energy costs on the poor who have no other choices
for reducing their consumption of "survival" energy, while programs
such as low-income weatherization and furnace replacement assistance
can help reduce consumption.
- Second, we must promote the diversification of energy sources
used, and the widespread adoption of new energy sources, through
research into new technologies, both for production, and for
use. This can be accomplished through a blend of research subsidies
and rewards, and the removal of "corporate welfare" subsidies
from existing inefficient and polluting technologies.
- Third, we must promote the adaptation of existing energy
production to lower its environmental impact. Again, research
subsidies and rewards would be effective here, combined with
disincentives for high-impact energy production, combined with
incentives for low-impact production.
In order for these three goals to be effective, though, there
must be another element to America's energy policy: public education
and awareness. A substantial and long-term effort will be needed
to make all Americans "energy literate." We must track progress
toward the twin goals of environmental sustainability and energy
independence, and hold ourselves accountable for that progress.
It won't be easy or glamorous. And it certainly won't be as fast
as some of us would like. But if it is done right, Matt, it could
transform America forever, free our economy from volatile international
pressures, and assure our great-grandchildren clean air to breathe,
clean water to drink, and clean land to inhabit. That's worthwhile
to Auntie Pinko, Matt, and thanks for your question!
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