Gas is on the rise, you can’t help but notice. Only those in a truly local, non-motorized economy are insulated from its effect on the wallet. Ouch. Nothing so consistently messes with our costs of living from filling up our tanks, to filling up our pantries. The rise in energy costs is nearly unavoidable. Already in the middle of a “green” trend, energy jumps into an even higher priority role on the national stage.
There are the drillers and frackers – they think America is on its way to energy independence through finding our own fossil fuel reserves. It’s like seeing a kid get a huge tin of caramel corn at Christmas. The kid eats some, goes into a sugar altered state, then hugs the tin to their chest imagining all of the sugar filled days ahead. Within a week or two though – depending on how hungry and how vulnerable the popcorn supply is to breaches of security – the kid realizes that the popcorn will actually not last forever, though it is a sizable pile. The kid feels greedy and desperate to keep his pile intact. He may go into conservation mode, he may gorge himself to the point of illness, or he could mishandle the tin and spill a sizable amount.
Fossil fuel is finite. I don’t care how much you find, it will run out. Extracting fossil fuel has a huge cost to the entire planet. Some of the costs are not retrievable, like when the extraction causes a permanent change in an ecosystem (which is pretty typical). Mountain tops do not grow back, extinct species do not regenerate themselves, water and air do not spontaneous clean themselves. These two simple facts – that fossil fuels are finite and that the extraction processes cause permanent damage – are all the reasons that many of us need to realize that there is no positive future in fossil fuels.
Even financially fossil fuel only makes sense for a very few for a short time. The AP just reported on a study of 36 years of domestic oil drilling and found zero correlation between domestic drilling and lower gas prices. They report that if anything an increase in price was shown as domestic drilling “ramped up”. The US does not control gas prices. We don’t have enough oil to impact the global market. It makes no sense to invest in such a volatile market and risky infrastructure when there are viable alternatives.
Our energy usage is spread throughout our lives, commercial use, transportation, construction, residential use. Our energy policies must be comprehensive and ask for changes in every sector at every level. Americans use more energy than anyone else on the planet by far; we are only 5% of the population but use 20% of the energy. Progressives view this as being bad global neighbors, we are wasteful while others are rationed. They might picture a gluttonous neighbor throwing a party, trashing the area while the next door neighbors are trying to subsist on funky water and mush. (Time did an interesting comparison and contrast of global weekly family food budgets here.)
Many time Republicans like to paint those that are environmentally conscious as “tree-huggers”, which honestly doesn’t sound that bad to me, but it is a not-so-coded code word that signals to the audience that not only does this person like trees, but this is a certain type of person. “Tree hugger” is code for “bleeding heart liberal” or someone who lets emotions run wild around nature and weak little cute things. This person is not strong, cries a lot and meddles in other people’s business; they interrupt natural law and the “survival of the fittest” test that is life. There is an undercurrent of extreme distaste for this sort of person running through the Republican party and it is causing them to use the rhetoric of the short sighted.
It is easy for Republicans to rally against weak environmentalists, they have models to emulate. The Arnold Schwarzenegger characters gave use many examples of how cool it is to dominate without regard for nature or energy consumption, using products like gas guzzlers and tough guy language. We all learned the swagger and witicisms of overindulgence, Republicans suggest that those carbon intensive indulgences are the rights of Americans to use and abuse as they see fit. Energy consumption is flaunted as a status symbol. Gingrich made a great illustration of this point in his quip, “you can’t put a gun rack on a Volt”. He is purposefully drawing that line between his people and their people. His people shoot guns and use gas; their people don’t like guns and drive small (wimpy) electric cars.
Well, maybe someone who likes to provide meat for their family via hunting also cares about converting their transportation energy usage to something cheaper and more sustainable. Actually several people responded to the Newt quip with photos of how they did indeed have gun racks in their Chevy Volts. It doesn’t serve Newt to have these people in his camp, it mixes ideologies. His point, why he made the quip, was to illustrate why his crowd should not favor tax supported incentives to increase the number of electric cars on the road. For Newt, it is a problem to have tough guys (or their toys) making electric cars look manly. It starts to break down this consumption driven lifestyle that much of his philosophy is based on.
Newt isn’t going to ask his constituents to cut back on their energy usage. He would rather continue using up the finite resources this planet holds. The values behind that seem greedy to me (because I think progressively around this issue), but in the spirit of CivilTongue, I’ll dig deeper (if someone else has ideas, I would love to hear them.) Tradition in this country is a big part of our ideas around growth and “bigger is better”, or “more is better”. When our ancestors first settled this land, the resources must have seemed unlimited and there for the taking. Folks could and did fashion luxurious estates out of fields and forests. The privileged class lived quite well, and every generation wants to improve life for future generations. Perhaps this is the sort of tradition that is recalled in the minds of consumer driven conservatives. I have to call them this because, obviously, “more is better” is not a conservative mentality at all. I don’t think Newt got the new memo that “less is more”.
Newt might have other values in mind around the environment. If he is a Christian and follows those teachings, he might feel as if he – as man – has God granted dominion over all of the land. As a leader he would have even more so. Perhaps he feels like he is delivering a good life to the people if he allows resources to be extracted. I know that many Christians feel strongly the call for stewardship of the land, which means sharing it peacefully with other humans, animals and plants.
The values involved hit both conservatives and progressives right in the heart – the environment is about family. Family traditions/locations, family health, family prosperity, future generations. There must be a balance of a decent and comfortable life with leaving enough planet for the rest.
The easy way to a more sustainable energy future is to get serious about our waste. At home, at the office, in construction, in demolition, in our schools, in our churches, on the road and across the ocean. Models and examples of a less consumptive lifestyle exist around the planet, we need to note them and make use of them. In the US, we seem to pay attention best when things are monetized, so lets monetize the waste…or the savings! The incentives for saving energy should be as direct and immediate as possible, it is the easiest way to make the neural connections that enable a habit to form. Curbing our wasteful energy usage would be least painful if there was a way that some of the up front costs of retrofits and more efficient technologies could be amortized to fall in line with our current energy costs.
In this country, we often live as “Kings of our Castles” and certain political ideologies promote that exclusive, privileged image as if it is the American ideal. (There is so much symbolism packed into this concept of American daily life that I will have to do a blog post later just about that. ) We can’t all be kings and queens (we got rid of them on purpose). It actually woks better if we can act in groups with a group consciousness. Trimming energy usage here and there, learning to reach out to friends and neighbors to pool resources, accepting a new way of doing things – these are the easy ways of easing the energy burden. Ruined ecosystems, pollution, illness, garbage, expense, war, and consumption driven culture are the hard ways of sticking with fossil fuel extractions.
America’s frontier days are over. We have explored and extracted quite a bit from our lands, the next frontier is in our own brains. We have to use our ingenuity – something all Americans have a tradition in – to be smarter about what we have and how we use it.