U.S. Energy Policy: Stay Addicted

Thomas L. Friedman describes missed opportunities for leadership on energy policy.

Link: Op-Ed Columnist – 9/11 and 4/11 – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com.

President Bush is well on his way to being remembered as the leader who wasted not one but two crises: 9/11 and 4/11. The average price of gasoline in the U.S. last week, according to the Energy Information Administration, was $4.11.

After 9/11, Mr. Bush had the chance to summon the country to a great nation-building project focused on breaking our addiction to oil. Instead, he told us to go shopping. After gasoline prices hit $4.11 last week, he had the chance to summon the country to a great nation-building project focused on clean energy. Instead, he told us to go drilling.

Neither shopping nor drilling is the solution to our problems.

What doesn’t the Bush crowd get? It’s this: We don’t have a “gasoline price problem.” We have an addiction problem. We are addicted to dirty fossil fuels, and this addiction is driving a whole set of toxic trends that are harming our nation and world in many different ways. It is intensifying global warming, creating runaway global demand for oil and gas, weakening our currency by shifting huge amounts of dollars abroad to pay for oil imports, widening “energy poverty” across Africa, destroying plants and animals at record rates and fostering ever-stronger petro-dictatorships in Iran, Russia and Venezuela.

When a person is addicted to crack cocaine, his problem is not that the price of crack is going up. His problem is what that crack addiction is doing to his whole body. The cure is not cheaper crack, which would only perpetuate the addiction and all the problems it is creating. The cure is to break the addiction.

Ditto for us. Our cure is not cheaper gasoline, but a clean energy system. And the key to building that is to keep the price of gasoline and coal — our crack — higher, not lower, so consumers are moved to break their addiction to these dirty fuels and inventors are moved to create clean alternatives.

This moment — $4.11 — represents Bush’s last chance for a legacy. It amazes me how inadequate his response has been. By hectoring the nation to simply drill for more oil, he has profoundly underestimated the challenges we face, misread the scale of the solutions required, underappreciated the American people’s willingness to sacrifice if presented with a real plan, and ignored the greatness that would accrue to our country if we led the world in clean power.