John McCain's Energy Follies
The industries that create energy — coal, wind, nuclear, ethanol, and, of course, oil and gas — all clamored to be heard at the Republican convention. At cocktail receptions and in hundreds of ads, each claimed to welcome the challenge of creating a cleaner, greener energy future.
A lot of that was corporate boilerplate. But one advertisement, from Chevron, seemed strikingly on point. “It took us 125 years to use the first trillion barrels of oil,” it said. “We’ll use the next trillion in 30.” This nicely framed a big part of the energy challenge. It was also a reminder of why John McCain is proving, so far, to be such a disappointment on issues he once seemed to understand better than almost anyone else in his party.
The world is consuming oil at a ferocious pace because of runaway demand in India and China and because America — the world’s largest consumer — is only beginning to confront its addiction. This cannot go on forever. Even the conservative United States Geological Survey predicts that oil production will peak by midcentury, meaning that future prices will make today’s $3.70 gas look like chump change.
Emissions from fossil fuels — not just oil but the coal and natural gas used in power plants — are the main drivers of global warming. Mainstream scientists have warned that unless they are sharply reduced the planet will face rising sea levels, prolonged droughts, widespread famine and other frightening consequences.
Global problems obviously require a global response. As the world’s most profligate user of energy, and as one of its most technologically gifted nations, the United States can and should lead the way by developing more efficient vehicles and by expanding carbon-free energy sources like wind and solar power.
The John McCain of a few years ago understood this. He sponsored a bill with John Kerry that would have aggressively raised fuel economy standards, and another that would have put a stiff price on carbon emissions to encourage investment in cleaner technologies.
Unfortunately, that John McCain has receded from view just in time for the presidential campaign. He has dropped his opposition to offshore drilling, pandered shamelessly by urging a gas tax holiday, and missed several crucial votes on bills extending credits for wind and solar power.
And while his acceptance speech promised “the most ambitious national project in decades,” including efforts to improve energy efficiency, increasing oil production remains the centerpiece of his strategy.
These positions divert public attention from an unavoidable truth: a nation that uses one-quarter of the world’s oil while owning only 3 percent of its reserves cannot drill its way to happiness or self-sufficiency. And they trivialize the very hard work that lies ahead.
Mr. McCain’s choice of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate raises even more worrisome questions. Her strategy is drill here, drill there, drill now.
She would open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in a heartbeat — something Mr. McCain continues to oppose. She has sued the Bush administration for declaring the polar bear a threatened species, fearing it would interfere with oil exploration in Alaskan waters. She has questioned whether humans are responsible for climate change. Governor Palin’s views are alarmingly out of touch with reality. No less alarming was Mr. McCain’s decision to welcome them into his campaign.