Right Side: This Is Not a Drill—For Now
I have no doubt that in June of 1969 a magazine editor somewhere wanted a columnist to write a piece on why the proposed moon landing would fail. Yet, as dusk set on July 20 the filed recipes for rhubarb pie were likely desperately being sent to the printer. Such is the predicament with this issue's column on offshore drilling, thanks to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. In March, that Interior Department bureau decided to postpone any leases for offshore oil and gas drilling until 2022. So, while you continue to drive your car and heat your house with some combination of the above two elixirs, 37.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 4.7 billion barrels of oil will stay locked up with the Little Mermaid.
Granted, NASA, the Defense Department and owners of hotels were quite pleased with the fossil fuel can being kicked down the Norfolk Canyon. Others, like Gov. McAuliffe, Sens. Kaine and Warner, the oil industry, of course, and people who don't own electric cars, weren't so happy. So, instead of litigating an issue that is dead for now, I wanted to hold an oil lamp to one jubilant comment made regarding the decision.
Jacqueline Savitz is the vice president of the environmental group Oceana, which by the name, lets us know their work involves conservation of all things oceanic. Upon hearing the good news, Ms. Savitz stated that the decision was "a giant step for our oceans, for coastal economies and for mitigating climate change." She continued by saying that it marks "the shift to a new energy paradigm, where clean energy replaces fossil fuels ... "
No, it doesn't.
I hear this line of thought repeatedly from those who are convinced that your tailpipe is melting sea ice (I do believe that human beings have some effect on climate, though I doubt by how much, therefore causing me to doubt the long-range forecasts of doom). The argument typically states, "We need to switch to clean energy. Now." My response has always been to ask what clean energy currently exists that moves cars, trucks, ships and planes, heats homes, fuels all those two-stroke engines in garages and basically makes the world go 'round. Crickets on a rainy day are louder than their answers. The option simply doesn't exist.
"But if we make fossil fuels so easily accessible and so cheap, we'll never make the change!" Not true. Typewriters were more plentiful than Members Only jackets not that long ago. But, when word processors offered consumers the opportunity to easily correct their projects and not buy paper or ink ribbons, we gobbled them up, despite typewriters still being perfectly adequate. If a viable energy source is made available to consumers, and a personal value is attached to that source, we'll all gladly make the change. Currently, we don't have that source en masse.
What we have now is a cost-benefit analysis that weighs heavily against clean energy. The analysis is that we have decided that there is a price to pay for fossil fuels, and we're willing to pay it. Pollution, or climate change, is not enough to offset its abundance and cost.
Still, inventors and tinkerers keep moving forward. Solar panels are quickly becoming more efficient and cheaper. It won't be long before they can jump the hurdle of cost-efficiently storing solar power that can be accessed on cloudy days. But good luck, any time soon, making the case to millions of homeowners that switching over to solar, with all its upfront costs, is in their best financial interest. It's difficult for people to see beyond the install quote.
Of course, there's also lots of hype about electric cars. Still, the onus is on makers of those vehicles, and there are several now, to show how being limited to an approximate 200-mile range is in your best interest, especially when you'd really like to take your Nissan Leaf to Myrtle Beach without stopping to juice the batteries. Further, electric cars need electricity, which is overwhelmingly produced by coal and natural gas (some of the stuff in the Atlantic Ocean that's being kept off limits by the government).
About 10 percent of America's energy needs come from renewable sources. The rest is from stuff that is now, thanks to technology, more easily accessible than ever before. So, it's not as if there is this giant energy resource out there that we've just chosen not to use. Wait, actually, that's not true, since we have all but Fukushima-ed our chances of expanding nuclear power, which has almost zero carbon emissions.
We have come to the point in this article where (I hope) reality has dawned. Demands are being made to consumers and governments without a way to have them met. We can be shown pictures of cleaving icebergs, migrating mammals, ice core samples and Al Gore-inspired hockey stick graphs, but we cannot switch to something that does not exist on a level that can be accessed by the average consumer.
That day will come, and that will be a good day. The energy version of the typewriter to word processor change will be a destructive one for the fossil fuel industry. That destructive technology will likely have a productive corollary in jobs, services and products, although I can't imagine a full parity in replacement. Further, not using fossil fuels is a net positive for the environment, regardless of one's politics or thoughts on anthropogenic climate change. But, will the current trajectory continue only because of government subsidies (you're welcome, Elon Musk!), or will someone, somewhere come up with that thing, that revolutionary idea or process that gives us the paradigm shift the greenies are clamoring for, and that consumers won't feel bludgeoned with?
Until then the U.S. government should get out of the way of us fueling the engines that drive our economy and come up with better reasons before locking up the Atlantic for another five years.