From the beaches of southern California, I hoped to temporarily escape the circular energy arguments of Washington, D.C. But as I have walked by the gas stations on the Pacific Coast Highway each of the last five days, I have seen the prices climb and climb.
With each passing day, and each subsequent addition to the cent column at the local gas station, I have watched the same old debates unfold among the same old talking heads on television. “Drill now” says one commentator, “drill here” says another, and “let’s use the strategic oil preserve” say the politicians I hoped to escape for just a brief time while I gaze at the Pacific Ocean.
The arguments make sense in the short term. The mom who needs to get her child to preschool can’t wait for a long-term energy policy to be developed. She needs her gas prices low now. The same is true for the truck driver who is planning for a cross-country haul next week. High gas prices take away from his family’s dinner budget. And for the family planning that national park road trip this summer, their budget is now as bloated as those prices at the gas station. While the gas prices are a reality, those vacations my not be anymore.
So the natural reaction is to fix this problem now, and understandably so. But how long can we really put these problems off without causing new ones that will need to be addressed down the road? Does anyone care? We are a country where our reality television is literally on demand. We are a country where our e-mails live on smart phones that are never more than a pocket away. We need our stuff now and that includes fixing our gas prices.
So no wonder we aren’t talking about reducing our dependency on unfriendly oil producing countries while developing long-term solutions at home. No wonder no one is talking about the cost of hurting tourism in the Gulf, or the West and yes, Alaska, while we plant oil derricks, fracking pads and outdated pipelines in our most cherished places. And let’s not even begin to talk about the health costs associated with oil development and greenhouse gas emissions. Remember, I came to California for the week to escape these debates. We have enough short-term problems presently to keep us from considering the long-term problems associated with addressing them now.
But in a more perfect world, we would address the short-term and the long-term at once. We would bridge the short-term problems with reasonable and safe development of fossil fuels, while simultaneously setting an agenda to not just produce energy domestically, but also to do so cleanly. A 75-year plan would be more substantial than the plan we have now, which is simply non-existent.
The question is: Can America do two things at once? Can we solve the short-term and plan the long-term? We have defeated enemies on two fronts at once. We have built highways and subways together. And we have found cures for diseases while developing vaccines to prevent others. We have done it before. I hope we can do it again.