If only

Too bad no President is allowed to say that the country can no longer afford cheap energy.

In my dreams, the President’s Oval Office speech included these two sentences:

Folks, what we’re seeing in the Gulf is the price of cheap energy. We can’t afford it anymore.

And now, back to dull, boring primary reality.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

5 thoughts on “If only”

  1. Obama didn't even mention cap-and-trade or a carbon tax as one of the "ideas" that need to be considered, along with standards and research! Nor did the rest of the world rate a mention, and your president only reached for the stale mercantilist rhetoric of American exceptionalism. It's not as if the minds of the majority of the American people have been clogged by the lobby-fueled toxic plume of Beltway denialism. A disastrous, colossal fail.

    I'll revise my opinion if these dissembling tactics bring off a climate law that does the necessary wthout mentioning the problem it is actually designed to solve.

  2. My fantasy Obama introduced a single payer health care bill by saying, “We need a public health care system because disease is a public enemy. We don’t use privateers to defend our shores and we shouldn’t have private insurers defend our citizens’ health.”

  3. Sadly, Obama is too much of a politician to even imagine calling energy 'cheap.' But it's not sad that he's enough of a politician to know that setting any political benchmarks at all would be ineffective and even backfire. Nothing he could say on prime-time TV would change any Senators' minds about voting for a carbon tax (which is only peripherally related to an oil spill anyway–at best it would slow, never stop, oil exploration).

    I'd have loved to hear him say that oil, not BP, was the problem, but I accept that in a country where the oil spill has barely dented public support for offshore drilling, that this would do more harm than good.

  4. I'll give G.W. Obama a pass on this because, from a climate perspective, oil is irrelevant. Any serious analysis shows that we (humans) will find and use all the oil and natural gas that's findable and usable. Maybe Americans won't, but somebody will. Even at $10/gallon for gas, oil is extremely cheap, given what you can do with it in terms of work, and that's leaving aside the miraculous chemical transformations we've learned ("Why you can build a whole society on it! Yes, I know, we have!!")

    Talking about climate and oil just mucks up the chances for getting anything serious done on climate, which means getting off coal. As Ray Pierrehumbert of realclimate.org (and U. Chicago) discussed in his outstanding paper "Catastrophe in Slow Motion," we can expect that all the oil and natural gas will be used, and we've still got a chance to survive. Conversely, if we don't get off coal — and fast — then nothing we do about oil and natural gas matters. There's enough fossil carbon locked up in coal to send us to 1000 ppm CO2 even without natural feedbacks kicking in.

    So, for once, I'm happy that Obama is ultra-cautious. The case against Big Oil is that we're wasting an incredible resource while destroying ecosystems; that isn't a climate argument. There's no replacement for oil or natural gas on even the most distant horizon, so if Obama had linked action on oil to doing something about climate, then it would have been an admission that we're not going to do anything about climate.

    Bottom line is this:

    "Hello world, it's us, the people who have been nagging you senseless with increasingly shrill and worried tones about an ever-increasing list of things you're supposed to make minute and calculated judgments about. Well, we're here to say that we've seen the error of our ways and we now realize that we were wrong to propose upending absolutely everything. We'd like to make a deal — if we can all work together to get the world converted off coal and unconventional oils, we'll stop bothering you about everything else. Fly to your heart's content. Drive anywhere you can afford the gas for. Heat your house to 80F in winter if you like, and cool it to 60F in summer. We won't say a word, so long as you're not using coal or alt-oil to do it.

    Because we realize that, in the relevant time frame, all the world's oil and natural gas will be used up, by us or someone else. The only hope we have of preventing climate catastrophe is to get off the coal and alt-oils, and prepare society for the transition that has to happen when natural gas and oil run out. But that's a fine problem to have — as Bill Clinton would say, "In Arkansas, we'd call that a high-class problem," because it's a much nicer problem than the one we're facing now, where we enviros are having to shout and scream about everything that is emitting carbon because we've failed to focus on the real issues: the coal, the alt-oils, and the CO2 trapped in soil. But we're over that now: help us put coal away, stop the oil sands and tar-sands madness, and keep deforestation rates down to less than reforestation rates, and we'll stop bothering you about everything else."

  5. It is the job of Congressional Democrats (and any non-insane Republicans there) to make the far-out proposals, like mentioning new taxes in this economy, so the President can look moderate and statesmanlike when he gets us to something that's a big step forward, but more sellable than the crazy Congressional ideas.

    That is what leadership looks like, when we all know that as a society we are probably not capable, as yet, of bold bipartisan solutions. We will end up with some middle-of-the-road, not so great policy (as in healthcare), but if the left does its job, maybe it will still be something worthwhile.

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