Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Who will tell the people?

So, the politicians have finally decided they need to do some pandering about the high price of gasoline. Former-failed-Texas-oilman-and-frog-exploder-in-Chief will stop filling the strategic petroleum reserve, "investigate price gouging" (of which I would imagine there is none to speak of) , and suspend environmental regulations on gasoline formulas. That will accomplish nothing except to a) stop the strategic petroleum reserve from growing and b) poison the atmosphere. The Republicans in Congress want to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and blame environmental regulations for high gasoline prices in the first place. Bush claims that we wouldn't have these high prices if new oil refineries had been built recently, and blames environmentalists for stopping them.

Actually, the oil companies haven't wanted to build any new refineries. The reason is that they know there won't be any petroleum to refine in them. We could drill for oil in ANWR -- and we'd get enough to last us for a few months.

But the Democrats actually have an even worse idea. Yes they do. They want to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline (and we all know what happens to taxes that are suspended when it comes time to un-suspend them). Of course, what we really ought to do, and should have done 20 years ago, is to increase the gas tax by four or five times. (We could use part of the money to increase the personal income tax exemption and provide refundable tax credits for low income people, to repair the distributional consequences; and invest the rest in mass transit.)

Evidently there is nobody in political office in this country with the integrity and courage to stand up and tell the people the truth. The price of energy will be volatile -- it will go down a bit, and then up again -- but in the years to come, in the long run, it will just go up. This is a permanent situation, not an abberation or a passing "bottleneck" in supply. We cannot help the situation even one little bit by drilling for more oil, building oil refineries, or making the air even more poisonous than it already is. Our only hope is a national mobilization, on the scale of World War II, to use less fossil fuel -- much less. Starting ten years ago.

I don't hear Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, not even John Conyers or Henry Waxman, saying anything like that. Like commenter Bo on the previous post says, we are in deep, deep denial. Or, to put it less delicately, we have our heads in a very awkward place.