I am constantly amazed and disgusted by the pig-headed ignorance of the public at large. The ignorance allows them to believe the impossible, and pig-headedness leads them to insist that they get it. This ignorance is promoted at the highest levels of government; the result of this, sooner or later, is going to be disaster.
I can't think of anything in recent history which shows this more clearly than the results of a recent Yale University poll
. Some of the results are encouraging:
- 74% viewed global warming as a serious problem [form A].
- 66% viewed climate change as a serious problem [form B].
- 84% viewed air pollution as a serious problem.
- A whopping 92% viewed dependence on imported oil as a serious problem.
The answers on several questions are mildly encouraging:
- 90-93% support higher fuel efficiency standards.
- 90% support more solar-power facilities.
- 87% support more wind farms.
- 88% support more alternative-energy research.
- 84% support tax credits for buyers of more-efficient appliances.
With these numbers you'd expect people to be ready to deal with the source of the problem, immediately and personally: fuel taxes, guzzler taxes, opposition to environmentally-damaging actions, that kind of thing. Unfortunately, John Q. Public doesn't seem to have a clue as to what it takes to solve the above problems:
- 57% opposed taxes on guzzling cars; 40% supported them.
- 77% opposed pollution fees on gasoline; only 19% supported them.
- 81% supported more hydroelectric plants, despite the damage and lack of new sites.
- 82% opposed increasing the gasoline tax; just 15% approved of them.
- In the category of "non-solutions", 81% supported the development of hydrogen-powered cars.
This is sad and frustrating; when the American people know what they want, they appear to have no clue about what it takes to do it or even what is physically possible. This conflict of desires vs. knowledge is certain to yield nothing but wasted effort, perhaps with a generous larding of pork for certain special interests charged with finding ways to do the impossible... efforts which are conveniently doomed to failure and thus justify "research" indefinitely.
Who's responsible for this mess? There are a number of culprits, ranging from the general refusal of the American public to take personal responsibility for e.g. reducing the amount of foreign oil used to special interests protecting their turf. But there's one group, headed by one person, who have a responsibility to the nation as a whole but have been complicit in this rather than doing something about it. That person's desk has sported many things over the years, but one slogan stands out: The Buck Stops Here.
President Bush is personally responsible for many of these misconceptions. He has directly promoted the idea that we can cajole or drill our way to cheaper gasoline. He has stated that hydrogen vehicles are a solution, rather than a far-off prospect which may never materialize. He has signed tax breaks which encouraged people to waste fuel rather than save it. And, most damning of all, he terminated programs to develop American hybrid vehicles just as the need became obvious and foreign companies readied to take the market.
President Bush is rapidly losing what political capital he had. I suspect that this is because he is no longer trusted; people have listened to him for five years now, and after many comparisons of words vs. reality and deeds they have finally concluded that he can neither be trusted to say what he knows to be true nor to do what he says he's going to do. He may already have sunk too far, but some straight talk might raise his stock again. He would have to begin by telling America what it needs to hear, whether or not it wants to:
- World oil supplies and their prices are largely outside of American control. Neither sweet-talking the Saudis nor drilling in ANWR will have much effect on what Americans pay for gasoline.
- American oil production is falling, and nothing will reverse this.
- As a consequence, the only way to reduce oil imports is to use less oil.
One can agree on goals but differ on means. But if I were a Presidential advisor, I'd suggest this:
- Put the hydrogen initiative on the back burner. Cut funding to no more than $100 million for research and demonstrations until cost targets are met.
- Eliminate the first-year tax writeoff for heavy trucks; put them back on the normal depreciation schedule for vehicles. But most importantly,
- Demand that, by model year 2012, all cars and light-truck passenger vehicles sold in the US have the option of running at least partly on grid electricity rather than liquid fuel. Give subsidies to purchasers of vehicles which can do it sooner, phasing out in 2011.
We could have had cars running partly on grid electricity in 1990, when the California Air Resources Board wrote its first ZEV mandate. Lead-acid batteries would have sufficed for ten to twenty miles of gasoline-free driving; Los Angeles could have been cleaner faster. And the USA could have started a move away from petroleum as the crucial energy supply for our transport network.
It's fifteen years later. Technology has moved on; batteries are more powerful and lighter, electronics are smaller and more powerful, electric motors pack more horsepower per pound than ever before. There is nothing we could have done in 1990 that we cannot do better today. If the President of the United States said it was important, can we have any doubt that it would finally happen?
UPDATE 6/22/05 02:28 EDT: Winds of Change
has a quote that so perfectly reflects my point that I will substitute just one term (outlined in bold
) and otherwise let it stand:
As far as many of them are concerned, the best way to fix the energy situation is to neutralize the administration (in the sense of what they see it's ability to do harm) or at least force it to comply with their preferred policies. They tried to do this in the 2004 election and appear to be moving forward with that policy to this day because, simply speaking, they regard the administration as having screwed up energy policy and don't trust it to do a decent job as far as anything else is concerned.
WoC was talking about Iraq, but I think this is spot-on for so many other things it's scary.