By ANN McFEATTERS
Block News Alliance
February 06, 2006
Three decades ago during the Arab oil embargo when former President Jimmy Carter ordered the lights turned off on Washington's famous monuments (as he wore a sweater), Americans freaked out as the price of a barrel of oil rose from $4 to $12. Today's cost is about $70. Consumption has gone up, not down, and use of foreign oil in America has almost doubled in that time.
Everyone notices the irony, of course, of the president, a former Texas oilman (once an oilman, always an oilman?), urging less dependence on oil. For the first time in a major speech outlining his demands, he did not mention his burning desire to take oil and gas from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But part of his plan is to open up pristine areas for oil and gas development for the use of U.S. oil companies.
Nonetheless, it was time for the American president to warn Americans their addiction is a terrible thing.
The politics of oil in the modern world are even more convoluted than they used to be and as shady as ever. Oil cartels control more aspects of life than most of us know. Millions of people, including more than a few Americans, are convinced President Bush began the war in Iraq over oil. The vice president's ties to Halliburton, which has huge government contracts in Iraq, hasn't' helped that perception disappear.
New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, a Middle East specialist who began referring to America's oil addiction in 2003, argues that the Bush administration mistakenly believed that Arab East authoritarianism could be broken without also breaking the U.S. oil habit. One result is that the U.S. push for democratization has now put in power "hard-line Islamic fundamentalists" in Iraq, Palestine and Iran.
So, in Bush's State of the Union address, he said it's time to start reducing America's dependence on Middle East oil by 75 percent by 2025. Does anybody believe that will happen? No.
Even if the White House plan to develop alternative forms of energy succeeds in saving 5 million barrels of oil a day in two decades (a mighty big if), the United States would still consume more oil than it does today.
Efforts by past presidents to ration oil, raise gasoline taxes, promote energy independence, change consumer behavior and spur energy research and development have had little measurable impact on consumption.
The U.S. government does not control the oil markets. It will not order U.S. manufacturers and oil companies to stop buying oil from the Middle East.
But the president's cautious words and even more cautious approach is the harbinger many have been waiting to see arrive - the United States must wean itself from oil or lose its superpower status.
Environmentalists and energy policy activists have been frustrated for years that the U.S. government has been resisting scientific knowledge that global warming is real. This delayed taking steps that will have to occur to make Americans change their energy gluttony.
Research was sidetracked on new energy sources that should have been funded years ago, under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Cars got little and then got huge again as Americans grew oblivious to warnings that cheap gas was not a given. Now millions of Americans are struggling with horrendous heating bills, despite the relatively mild winter so far in many states, because energy-saving houses weren't built as a matter of course and retrofitting was often left to fly-by-nighters.
We're all paying the costs for this malfeasance, negligence and head-in-the-sand mentality. Our children will pay it. But perhaps, with perseverance, our grandchildren won't.
Maybe they'll wear sweaters not just because they're stylin' but because everyone will.
Maybe 16-year-olds will get bicycles, not driver's licenses.
Or maybe in 2025, another U.S. president will give a major speech and warn Americans that this time, it really is imperative to break their addiction to oil.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Toledo Blade.