Fight to the Death: How the Oil Industry Is Using Bush and Cheney to Delay Its Inevitable Demise
By Cheryl Seal (Cherylseal@hotmail.com)
The turn of the millennium was also a pivotal point in the history of Earth and civilization. On one hand, human activity has altered the natural landscape and the composition of the atmosphere so drastically that it has fueled a climate change that could ultimately lead to mass extinctions - including our own. On the other hand, we have progressed so far technologically that we now have the ability to reverse much of the damage we have done, if only we would invest the time, cash, and energy.
As science has advanced, so has human awareness. Most Americans now realize that the environment is not a flat, static backdrop against which humans play out their dramas. It is a living, breathing, complex entity composed of intricately interwoven elements, each of which affects the whole. As a part of this whole, all of our actions have an impact.
What we had as we went into the November 2000 election was everything we needed to enact positive, far-reaching change. Years of research (carried on through the 1980s despite Ronald Reagan’s efforts to thwart energy efficiency - he defiantly even removed the solar panels from the White House roof) had brought clean technologies from feasibility up to the brink of commercial production. Hybrid cars, fuel-cells, biodiesel, improved photovoltaics, wind turbines - all had been nutured to viability, some of them by corporate researchers working in company labs, others by dedicated inventors working in their basements nights and weekends.
We had a great economy - the ideal condition for launching new technologies. We had a population dominated by Baby Boomers with plenty of cash and a willingness to “buy green.” We had a world heading toward peace and cooperation. There could not have been a more critical nor more hopeful moment in our history. It would have taken one simple step forward to begin the inevitable journey away from dirty oil, gas, and coal and to progress at a rapid pace. It could have been the dawn of a new, cleaner world.
Researchers in a wide spectrum of fields, from geophysics and materials science to biotechnology and electrochemistry will tell you that 2000-2001 was a critical period that saw many innovations being brought close to fruition. While the environment was hovering on the brink of no return, a variety of fledgling technologies were set to emerge and come to the rescue. All that was needed for electric cars, solar and wind power, or deuterium fusion (a form of nuclear power that uses a hydrogen isotope found naturally in water to generate energy) to become reality would have been a healthy infusion of political, regulatory, and financial support from the federal government.
The first five years is the toughest time for any new technology, because the newly commercially-available products or processes are, unavoidably, more costly until use and demand increase. Remember the price tags on the first TVs or computers? I would never have dreamed in 1988 that less than 10 years later I would be able to buy a whole computer outfit, including printer, for under $1,000! The first camcorders were at least $1,000 - a few years later, they were just a few hundred dollars. Same with digital cameras.
Yes, the first fuel cell cars and airplanes will be more expensive than their fossil-fuel counterparts for a few years. The cost of wind, solar, or fusion-generated electricity will be higher per kilowatt hour than coal-generated electricity for a while. But within a few years, we will be over the hump and the new energy era will become just as affordable - and ultimately more so, because it is renewable - as the oil era. It will certainly be healthier for all species concerned.
So, there we were in November, 2000, all systems ready for a kinder, cleaner world. What happened?
ENTER BUSH AND CHENEY
When Bush and Cheney took their oaths of office in January, 2001, as the words left their mouths, so apparently did all responsibility to the American people and to the welfare of the planet. Everything they have done since then has been aimed - with a stunning single-mindedness of purpose - at furthering the interests of the fossil fuel industry. From canceling Kyoto to pushing for new roads into wildlands (thereby saving the oil/gas industry the cost and trouble of building roads into these areas later), to reducing clean water standards (thereby making it easier to get permits for new coal-fired plants on water ways), every action has been made with the oil, gas, and coal industries foremost in mind.
In fact, some of Bush and Cheney’s actions have been so flagrantly directed against the public welfare that even some of their conservative allies have expressed fears that they are flirting with political suicide. Why would two men who have already usurped so much power risk it all - along with the environment, public welfare, and national and global security? Because they, and, more importantly, their corporate backers have KNOWN for some time that the end was in sight for the fossil fuel industry. The world has been changing and these changes have spelled the inevitable end of the century-long reign of the oil barons.
What we are in fact witnessing is the violent fight of the fossil fuel industry for survival - a battle played out through the Bush/Cheney administration, with America as its unwilling battlefield. By ramming ahead mass drilling schemes, the administration hopes to create a temporary glut of oil on the US market. This cheap oil will temporarily suppress the commericalization of hybrid cars by making gas so much cheaper that incentives for alternatives will be low. By building hundreds of new coal-fired plants, the Shrub Cheney “cartel” will temporarily drive down electricity costs. Meanwhile, Bush is making sure that alternative energy development is stalled by slashing funding for it. Most telling of all was the ax he took to development funds for fuel cell energy for individual homes and businesses. These units, right now being perfected, would make each home and business completely independent of electric companies AND oil companies.
But what will ultimately happen is what always happens: the taxpayer will pay to build the new power plants, to underwrite oil exploration, to maintain an archaic infrastructure, and remain dependent on the pricing whims of both the oil and energy industries. The “cheaper” gas and power will not be so cheap when balanced against the cost of making it all possible. And, in the end, as always, it will be the oil barons who pocket the real profits.
Ten years from now, if Bush and Cheney get their way, we will look about and see that we have sacrificed the last of our irreplaceable natural treasures and the quality of our air and water to the great “oil gods.” We will have an aging infrastructure based on an archaic filthy energy system.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world will have moved on. China, Russia, and Europe - even the “Third World Nations” to whom we have felt so superior will have developed and implemented alternative energy plans. They will not be interested in buying our cars - which will by then be considered “fossil fuel fossils” - nor will they be likely to want to purchase products manufactured using energy sources that may be outlawed in much of the world by then. Even today, for example, many countries refuse to buy American paper produced using dioxin-generating chlorine bleaching processes or beef laced with bovine growth hormone.
In 2011, while we find ourselves struggling to compete in a world that has left us behind, we will be confronted with the staggering and ever-growing bill for cleaning up air that has become 35% more polluted, water that has accumulated another decade’s worth of petroleum-based pollutants or mercury from power plants, and the inevitable oil spills, floods from strip coal-mining operations, and refinery fires. We will be trying to address the worsened epidemic of asthma among our children, the rampant death and disability from coronary and pulmonary disease, and the disastrously altered regional weather patterns that all come with continued fossil-fuel burning. We will be desperately trying to find a way to slow the death of highland forests from the ravages of acid rain generated by our 1,900 new coal-burning power plants.
In short, we will become, at worst, a global pariah - at best, a global charity case. The most bitter feelings of all, perhaps, will come from looking back at 2001 and realizing that when we were presented with a fork in the road to the future, we allowed two selfish, greed-driven men to drive our entire nation down a dead end.