Sometimes the dots just don't get connected.
It used to be they might not get connected on the same page of the same newspaper, but now we're more apt to get our news delivered one headline at a lightning flash time. The disconnection can be overwhelming.
The headline today is President Bush Lifts Executive Ban on Offshore Drilling (in the Washington Post's formulation. The reasons cited: High gas prices, and politics. The rationale: Drill more oil domestically, and eventually you get cheaper gas at the pump, and highlight the issue now and you favor Republican John McCain over Democrat Barack Obama in November's presidential election.
The story's a wee bit bigger than that, though.
Start by connecting it to another, smaller story making some news today, Polar base evacuated as ice melts early, in the CNN formulation. Russian researchers abandoned their outpost on an Arctic ice floe more than a month ahead of schedule because the ice is melting so rapidly. Some have predicted the North Pole will go ice-free for the first time in history this summer, a year after the most extensive melt ever witnessed.
Drilling for oil means burning oil, means releasing carbon dioxide means more global warming means more ice melting. Consider those dots connected.
President Bush, while agreeing with world leaders last week that we ought to collectively cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050 (50% from what level? they didn't say), has otherwise kept his administration's hands off the switch and tied behind its back. The capstone of this achievement of stalling came last week, when the EPA announced it would continue to take public comment on the potential health impacts of global warming for a few more months, effectively ensuring that the next president would be the decider when it comes to carbon dioxide regulation.
It was 1990 (2 years after Congress was first warned about global warming, incidentally) that President Bush's father, George H.W. Bush imposed the executive branch ban on offshore drilling. Congress has its own ban, and seems content to keep it.
The decision whether or not to drill for oil off the coast of the United States is a question of long-term strategy, sort of. It would take as long as a decade for oil fields leased today to produce oil that reaches the domestic market. The thing is, once it reaches the market, it might not be enough to affect prices much or for very long, given the extraordinary rise in consumption not only in the United States, where we drive a lot of cars, but also in China and India where people are only just beginning to drive cars in great numbers. It's a thirsty global market.
Bush and his fellow G8 leaders agreed that an interim greenhouse gas reduction goal should be in place by 2020 ... 12 years from now, or right around the time when that oil will hit the market. Oil companies would have a great incentive to keep pumping that oil they've just invested in, like they have every incentive (take a look at the Exxon Mobile balance sheet the last few quarters) to pump oil now, with prices at or near record-high points that were virtually beyond conception just a few months ago.
The decision to drill, then, really comes down to this: Are we committed to burning oil for another generation? Given that we're making a decision that won't bear fruit for a decade, but will affect the way we live for at least a decade or two after that, shouldn't we ask a simple question: What are the other options? What else could we do in a decade to change how much we pay to get from here to there? How many electric cars could we produce in a decade? How much biodiesel?
Bush famously declared not so long ago that we are a nation addicted to oil. Evidentially, the intervention didn't work. Drilling for oil when the price is high amounts to finding a new vein to shoot. Artery in your arm is collapsing? Shoot between the toes.
But our addiction isn't just to oil, it's to gambling. Our unacknowledged gamble is on global warming: That it won't hurt us near as bad as the smartest scientists say it will. If oil is the drug, and global warming is the gamble, then the melting Arctic is the hooker hanging around the table -- the glaring sign that should tell us we've gone too far, that it's time to stop the game.
Bush is the dealer, telling you to play another hand. Maybe get lucky with the lady.
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