Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The addict and the pusher

At the end of January each year, the U.S. President gives a pomp-and-circumstance, sabre-rattling speech called the State of the Union. This year's was no different, and as ever, it was filled with items that had left-wing America giggling (a call for a prohibition against creating human-animal hybrids) or nervous (talking about Iran with very similar rhetoric once used about Iraq).

But for those of us who have spent any time at all considering the peak oil problem, there was only one true shocker: the moment when the most internationally out-of-touch, most ideologically right-wing U.S. President in our lifetimes admitted the U.S.'s powerlessness over its addiction to oil and proposed a twelve-step program to overcome it:

Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. Here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.

The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly 10 billion dollars to develop cleaner, cheaper, more reliable alternative energy sources -- and we are on the threshold of incredible advances. So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative -- a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants; revolutionary solar and wind technologies; and clean, safe nuclear energy.

We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips, stalks, or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment … move beyond a petroleum-based economy … and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.
"Cleaner, cheaper, more reliable alternative energy sources?" A new "Advanced Energy Initiative" with the goal of "moving beyond a petroleum-based economy"? I mean, sure, some of these ideas are patently ridiculous, like the so-called "zero emission coal-fired plants," and he's clearly thinking more of the security of the United States than he is of the future of the planet. But still, doesn't it just make your heart race? (Both in excitement and in fear, that is--because when an oil baron like George W. Bush starts sounding like an anti-fossil-fuel activist, you know the situation's got to be pretty dire.)

But every addict has his pusher. Like a crack dealer smelling the blood of a junkie with a tentative big toe on the path to recovery, Alberta's Energy Minister responded to Bush's cry for help with an alternative solution. You don't actually have to kick the oil habit, he said. If it's gotten too dangerous for you to venture into the ghetto for your daily fix, how about looking north instead? Why suffer through the inevitable withdrawal that would accompany a real commitment to recovery when you can just turn to your friends the Canadians? We're even located in a squeaky-clean part of town, so there's no chance of running into those ruffians with suicide bombs and funny accents!

And like any junkie choosing between the long, hard road of recovery and the easy way out, America responded. This morning's Edmonton Journal is reporting that the U.S. Department of Energy has changed its tune from the bold statements from the State of the Union: They're predicting that "crude oil from Alberta's oilsands -- not alternative energy sources such as biomass ethanol -- will help halve America's dependence on overseas oil within two decades." How delightful. Maybe this will mean Albertans can expect another $400 handout while the planet goes to pot.

It's a fine little story, really. George Bush is the brave junkie with dreams of a future without his addiction, and the Canadians are the dashers of hopes with nothing but profit in mind. Up is down, black is white, and the idealistic pragmatist who was thrilled to leave the U.S. behind almost nine years ago is hiding under her bed, wibbling, and wondering when the world is going to right itself again.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

You can take a small step that will go a long way to stop the biggest political and environmental threat we face today. You don't have to spend money. You don't have to volunteer your time.

All you have to do is join with hundreds of thousands of other concerned global citizens in the Virtual March to Stop Global Warming.

It's a non-political effort that was launched in April 2005 with Senator John McCain and Robert F Kennedy Jr. to move across the United States via the Internet from one town to the next presenting evidence of the effects of global warming while highlighting peoples concerns and solutions along the way.

Join the Virtual March Be with David Whiteside, Walter Cronkite, former CIA director James Woolsey and the millions of others who demand action when the Virtual March reaches Washington, D.C. on Earth Day 2006.