How about a 'hybrid' energy policy, for starter?
For political junkies (and there are many in our neck of the woods), the last two weeks have been a veritable feast. As a fitting end to an all-too-short summer, the two major parties held their national conventions. Both parties made history in their choices of candidates: Democrats chose the first African-American presidential candidate for a major party, the Republicans their first female vice-presidential candidate.
Yet, as has been the case for 20 years or more, both were long on theatrics and short on substance. All was decided before the conventions began. Still, the conventions offered a glimpse into the mindsets of the parties and their visions for the future in dealing with issues that affect us in the Harlem Valley and beyond.
One issue of pressing importance, especially to those of us who live in rural areas of the Northeast and must drive many miles to work and shopping, is the price of gasoline and, as we head into the winter, heating oil. While prices have eased a bit in recent weeks, they are still far too high and consume too great a share of family budgets.
The Democrats had an inspiring week capped by an outstanding speech by their nominee, Sen. Barack Obama. Most Democrats, including those at the convention, have emphasized alternative and renewable energy sources. They propose to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. In addition, Obamaâ€™s plan aims to "get 1 million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015" and "crack down on excessive energy speculation." Such an approach would no doubt move us in the right direction, but itâ€™s doubtful that a mix of conservation, wind, solar, "clean coal" and even natural gas could supply the kind of muscle required to sustain the massive U.S. economy over the next generation or two.
For their part, the erstwhile dispirited Republicans rallied around their newly unveiled vice presidential nominee, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. The energy and enthusiasm at the GOP convention was palpable, driven as it was a by a series of rousing speeches by party veterans and newcomers like Palin. However, amusing as they were, the strident chants of "Drill, baby, drill" miss the point. We simply cannot drill our way out of our current energy mess.
The first and most prominent component of GOP nominee John McCainâ€™s energy plan is "expanding domestic oil and natural gas exploration and production" in order "to break our dependency on foreign oil." Itâ€™s pretty clear that, while conservation and renewable energy are mentioned in the Republican plan, they will not be a priority in a McCain administration â€” at least not in the near future.
Our question is: Why not all of the above?
Why not work to conserve as much as practical, offer substantial incentives for the production of renewable energy and fuel efficient vehicles and embark on an aggressive but responsible program to increase domestic production of oil and gas?
Critics of the latter component emphasize that any new oil exploration and production would take at least 10 years to make much of a dent in supplies. Even if such is the case, does anyone really think we will have eliminated the need for oil in the next decade alone? In addition, the decision to increase U.S. production will send an important signal to world oil markets that weâ€™re serious about becoming self-sufficient and, according to many experts, it could well bring down the price even as we ramp up our efforts at sustainability.
Whatâ€™s needed is a bipartisan effort to develop a comprehensive energy policy that increases supplies of fossil fuels (including "clean coal") and brings down the price, while providing strong incentives for the development of alternatives such as wind, solar and fuel cells that address the challenges of climate change. Call it the Manhattan Project for energy independence. Maybe legendary oil man T. Boone Pickens, who has a much-publicized plan for energy independence, would be willing to chair such a task force.
It wouldnâ€™t have much of an impact on the upcoming heating season or on the short-term commuting habits of Harlem Valley drivers, but itâ€™s worth a try.