U.S. Energy Policy: burn America first!

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In the U.S. presidential debates, both candidates have proudly declared that they will expand exploration and exploitation of domestic oil, so-called “clean” coal and especially natural gas with no mention of the impact of burning more fossil fuel on the climate.  The desire to become energy independent is surely a laudable goal, but burning more domestic fossil fuel only makes sense as part of a long range plan for investment in renewable energy and increased conservation.  The problem is that’s not the plan.

Our energy policy is to “burn America first!” 

New technologies have allowed the energy industry to exploit reserves that were inaccessible only a few years ago.  Hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) reminds me of the 17th century Francis Bacon claim that “we must torture mother nature for her secrets.”  Bacon of course was talking about the need for rigorous experimentation at the beginning of the scientific and industrial revolution.  Today, science and industry continue to “torture Mother Earth” so that humans can avoid the discomfort of choosing to conserve rather than burn fossil fuels.

Former-President George W. Bush had the courage to charge the nation with being “addicted to oil” but not the willingness to create policies to deal with it.  The first step in any recovery program from addiction is to admit that we have a problem.  But it seems that neither politicians nor the general public are willing to face this truth – and like other addictions – this one will end badly.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns the result of continued burning of fossil fuels will be sea level rise, melting ice cap, and more violent and unpredictable weather patterns affecting the economy and livability of the planet.

If the government agency responsible for environmental quality reports that climate change will undermine the future of the economy and quality of life everywhere….. why don’t the candidates have a policy to address this problem?  Of course, they can’t or dare not if it should lose them votes.  Both have learned from the public response to President Carter’s famous 1977 “cardigan sweater speech” in which he told us that the United States was the “only major industrial country without a comprehensive long range energy policy.”  Thirty-five years later – this is still true!

Carter reminded us that the energy we can save through conservation is greater than the amount we import.  He challenged Americans in a speech from the Oval Office to “not be selfish or timid” but to “put up with inconveniences and make sacrifices” or face a “national catastrophe.”  The response of the press and many people was to ridicule “President Cardigan” for his symbolic action of turning down the heat in the White House and wearing a sweater.  And of course Carter was a one-term president.

We can’t expect any politician to take an unpopular position (that might inconvenience people) when they are continually running for election.  The structure of politics is such that those serving in congress can only afford to have a 2-year planning horizon, presidents – a 4-year, and senators – a 6-year planning horizon.  Even good, intelligent leaders like President Carter, could not afford to think about the 7th generation and remain in office.

Both President Obama and Governor Romney have spoken in favor of government policies to reduce carbon emissions in the past, but they realize that asking American’s to deal with the reality of climate change is unpopular and may cost them the election.  So they avoid the issue.  We can’t wait for our leaders to lead on climate change!

Leadership must come from you and me…

Politicians will only be able to address the difficult truth if people like you and me take personal actions to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels.  By taking individual actions, we can begin to shift the way we think!  We must “start a parade” and if it is a big enough parade, the politicians will jump right up front and carry our banner!

Personal change alone will not make a big enough difference  – BUT  – unless each one of us makes a commitment to changing our behavior, politicians will never find the political will to sponsor much needed policy initiatives.  We must begin by turning out the lights when we leave a room, hanging our clothes out to dry in the sun, riding a bike, and….. well you know.

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I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends.  And for more ideas, videos and challenges, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   Go here for more of my World.edu posts.  To get a college degree see: UMass Sustainable Food and Farming.

2 thoughts on “U.S. Energy Policy: burn America first!

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