The Oil Drum gets it right:
Simplistically there are two approaches a government can take to a crisis. They can do something about it, or they can do nothing. Back in the days of President Carter the nation tried the first approach when faced with an energy crisis, this time we are trying the second.
For a detailed analysis of why that is, check Michael O'Hare's analysis of Bush's energy proposals. The basic problem is that Bush is abandoning energy reform to the free market, which really isn't going to do the trick. The idea that we can simply drill our way to safety is flat insane, and here's why: No expert believes ANWR, or anywhere else in America, will provide the sort of superwell capacity that'd free us from foreign oil. It just won't happen. That means we've got to discover more foreign oil, even though discoveries are falling, the size of the discovered wells are falling, and many of the sites we currently rely on are slowing their production.
But let's bracket all that for a minute. New oil discoveries don't just need to sustain our mostly flat consumption -- they need to feed the growth of China and India. China, for their part, is using 850,000 more barrels per day. That means, every morning, China's need for oil is 850,000 barrels higher than it was the day before. So while we're trying to supply ourselves with petroleum in a world where discoveries are drying up and production is dropping, China is demanding an absolutely staggering, and ever-growing, amount of crude.
And this isn't just an energy issue, China's needs have serious, and seriously problematic, geopolitical consequences. Because they have to get more fuel, and because most suppliers are tied up meeting our demand, China's having to cozy up to providers who we've left alone, which means countries we've tried to economically isolate. So Iran is now a major trading partner and a key source of China's oil and natural gas. That means Iran now has a non-EU customer that allows them to blunt the economic pressure Europe and America can apply, making our efforts to kill their nuclear program essentially hopeless. Not only that, but China's got a security council veto, which has not only found itself working in Tehran's favor, but also in Sudan's, another important source of China's fuel imports.
Bush's efforts don't move us off oil, they just pretend we can find more. We can't. And even if we did, it wouldn't be enough. There's too much demand emerging for a resource whose supplies are falling -- the economics don't work out. So what we're doing, in the final summation, is essentially nothing. We're hoping things change, or that the market does the work on its own. But the market can't go drop because China and India ensure demand is going to continue skyrocketing. The only sane option is to try and reduce our oil usage, thus freeing up more stable providers for China; and to try creating technologies that can help both us and developing nations exit the oil era. Simply doing nothing, alternatively, is a very, very, bad strategy.
Update: By the way, want to know the easiest test around for judging the seriousness of an energy plan? Watch for whether or not it mentions an increase CAFE standards. If it doesn't, you have another "let the market do its magic" piece of politician pabulum. Bush's didn't.
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