Time to get un-addicted to oil
— Rona Fried, Ph.D., is CEO of SustainableBusiness.com, a news and networking site for green businesses: including a green jobs service and a green investing newsletter. Any views expressed here are her own. —
Over the past 30 years, four U.S. presidents chose to continue down the fossil fuel path of least resistance instead of investing heavily in energy efficiency and renewable energy – the only long-term solutions that can avoid catastrophic oil spills like the one we are witnessing today.
We have all the technology to transition to a clean economy that gives us the energy we need without destroying biodiversity, ecosystems, human life and the economy.
Studies show that a full 50 percent of our energy demand can be eliminated through energy efficiency and another 25 percent can be fulfilled by renewable energy right now. The only thing holding the clean economy back is resistance and lack of will among our politicians, the American people, and, of course, the fossil fuel industries.
According to the latest Monthly Energy Review from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), renewable sources (biomass, biofuels, geothermal, solar, water, wind) contributed 10.94 percent of domestic U.S. energy production in January 2010, up 3.7 percent from January 2009.
The renewable energy industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, and that’s with spotty government support. Imagine how much faster this infant industry would have matured over the years if it received the billions of dollars in annual subsidies the oil industry has.
Why do we continue to put our economy and environment at risk by relying on dirty, outdated fossil fuels, when we know our economic growth as well as protection of our environment depends on clean energy?
All the hoopla about “Drill, Baby, Drill”, ignores crucial facts. First, expanded offshore drilling in the Atlantic and the Gulf would provide less than a two month supply between now and 2030 (EIA data shows the U.S. consumes 25 billion gallons of oil every month).
Second, offshore drilling doesn’t increase our energy independence because the oil is sold on the world markets, not just domestically.
Third, oil drilling increases greenhouse gas emissions, which we can no longer afford, and sets the stage for disasters on the scale we face today.
While offshore drilling would lower gas prices by less than 2 cents per gallon in 2030, the Obama administration’s new fuel economy standards – which require fleets to average 34.1 mpg by 2016 – will save $1 per gallon.
Raising these standards even more, using homegrown biofuels, developing a 21st century transportation system, dramatically increasing energy efficiency in homes and buildings, and prioritizing renewable energy sources, would eliminate the need for offshore drilling.
That’s why Energy and Climate legislation is so important. It would, for the first time, set national targets and provide strong incentives for increasing renewable energy sources as a share of the total energy pie. Although it will be difficult to pass, it puts a price on carbon, which would finally create a level playing field between fossil fuels and renewables.
A slew of Fortune 500 companies from General Electric to Google are advocating for a strong bill because they see enormous business opportunities in supplying green products and services. But they are holding off investing heavily until the “rules of the game” are the same for all businesses. And wind project developers are pulling out of the U.S. because of the uncertainty related to the bill.
In a high stakes move, Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) announced they will introduce the Energy Bill May 12. They are betting the dramatic oil spill will help, rather than hurt, momentum. So far, the package includes offshore drilling with generous revenue shares for coastal states that allow it – but they may make last minute changes. Many Democrats would vote against a package that includes drilling, and, of course, Republicans will filibuster mandating 60 votes for passage.
On May 5, Senator Kerry (D-MA) said the bill will be on the docket “very, very soon.” If offshore drilling remains in the bill – one more attempt to get a few Republican votes in the face of their inevitable filibuster – it could be hard to get 60 votes if many Democrats vote against it.
In the meantime, it’s interesting that the relentless television ads promoting oil drilling have suddenly disappeared. Their propaganda along with the Republican mantra, “drill, baby, drill,” has convinced Americans that oil drilling is safe and necessary.
Polls show that Americans’ concern about climate change is the lowest in a decade in contrast to the rest of the world, where it is the #1 concern.
Climate denial is alive and well here – Nashville, Tennessee is under water – when will we connect the dots? They received a half year’s rain in just two days! The Washington, DC area was pummeled by unprecedented amounts of snow this winter and the Midwest saw historic floods. The permafrost in Alaska is melting and entire forests are falling into the water. Wildfires in the West now occur year-round, glaciers melting worldwide, invasive insects destroying millions of acres of forests, what more evidence does it take?
The first electric cars are being introduced this year – how many people will buy them? How many people still drive gas guzzling SUVs? How many people are making energy efficiency improvements to their homes and businesses?
Instead of pushing a Climate Change bill that forces President Obama’s base to swallow an inappropriate emphasis on fossil fuels (oil drilling, “clean” coal and new nukes), he should use this disaster as an opportunity to demonstrate to America that we do indeed need to get off the oil addiction.
He should re-enact the offshore drilling moratorium and shelve plans to allow Shell to drill in the Arctic this summer – where the Coast Guard says a spill would be a nightmare scenario.
Instead, Obama should announce he’s requiring all new cars to be manufactured with existing plug-in technologies that get 100 miles per gallon by 2015. And he should make a major speech to the American public educating them about the facts and urgency of addressing climate change and their responsibility to participate.