We love to complain about the lack of a coherent national energy policy. It’s a perennial complaint no matter who is in the White House or which party controls Congress. We blame the oil and gas companies and their hold on our politicians. If Congress had the people’s interests at heart, the story goes, we’d have a rational energy policy in this country that would emphasize efficiency, wean us off the dirty stuff and shift us to clean renewable energy.
Remember the chants from the floor of the 2008 Republican Convention? “Drill, Baby, Drill!” Some energy policy, Democrats cried. Some of them are now a little miffed to watch Obama brag about domestic oil production—it is at the highest level it’s been in 8 years. The President says he’s pursuing an “all-of-the-above strategy on energy”, which appears to mean we need to grab all of the energy we can from any source as quickly as we can. Isn’t that just a variation on “Drill, Baby, Drill”?
It’s an election year and Obama has clearly decided his policy is the best political strategy. And considering the way Americans reacted to recent increases in gasoline prices, who among us can really blame him? He’s giving us what he thinks we want.
We don’t have a coherent energy policy in this country because we the voters do not insist on having one. This is not an Us versus Them problem as much as it is an Us versus Us problem. We want our energy, we want it now, and we want it to be inexpensive.
We arrive at the gas station and want the gasoline to be there and be as cheap as possible. We turn on our furnaces and want our homes to be heated by natural gas or heating oil—again as cheaply as possible. We rarely stop to think about the choices we collectively make each day.
Our choices leave us overly dependent on oil-rich countries whose actions can send our economy reeling. They have us sending our hard-earned money to those countries that would gladly use that money to harm us, or our soldiers abroad. Our choices have us tied to air pollution the way a smoker is tied to the smoke turning his lungs black. Our climate is changing because of our choices.
There is of course nothing wrong with wanting to be warm in the winter and cool in the summer; nothing wrong with wanting the freedom to drive to work without busting our household budgets. It’s perfectly okay to fly away to places on vacation or to visit loved ones. We demand energy because it is important to the way we live our lives.
What IS wrong is failing to insist on an energy policy that affords us better, more sustainable choices. We are where we are in large part due to an energy policy that favors fossil fuels. We won’t get to a better place without a different energy policy. We won’t get that policy unless we insist on it.
So what do we insist on?
· First, we dramatically increase energy efficiency. We need to use less energy to do the same things we are already doing. That means more efficient cars, trucks, appliances and homes.
· Second, we minimize the use of harmful energy by ending oil, gas and coal subsidies and making polluters clean up their acts.
· And third, maximize the use of clean energy through policies that encourage renewable energy sources like wind and solar and biofuels.
More energy efficiency. Less harmful energy. More clean energy. It won’t happen overnight and it won’t happen at all until enough of us own up to our energy consumption and demand better choices. We’re all part of the problem. We must all be part of the solution.
Franz Litz is the Executive Director of the Pace Energy and Climate Center and Professor of Law at Pace Law School.
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