Over the last few weeks and the last few decades, we've heard a lot about becoming more energy independent.
President Obama made a similar plea recently when he pledged to increase the amount of energy this country produces at home instead of relying on the Middle East. Days after the president made his speech, Republicans made their move by proposing a plan to increase oil and gas production. The president and Republicans seem to have the same goal, but their methods are very different. The president stressed onshore and offshore drilling, clean coal and investments in electric car batteries. The Republican proposal points to drilling in the Arctic National Wild Life Refuge and stripping power from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The plans were different, but they shared one exclusion: conservation.
Over the weekend, talking heads began dissecting the current proposals on U.S. energy policy. The most interesting discussion came on "Meet the Press," where historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and liberal columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. talked about America’s short memory and unwillingness to act seriously when it comes to dealing with our energy sources. Goodwin spoke in disappointed tones. “I mean, it's so frustrating when you think about the fact that Nixon talked about we have to have like an Apollo mission,” she said. “Whenever the gas prices go down, we don't seem to have that collective will. You know, when I look back at World War II — I don't know why I keep going back to that, because I lived so long with it, we were able to get, as I'm sure you know, our natural rubber supply was cut off from Japan and the Far East. Somehow, within 18 months, we get synthetic rubber that takes up that huge gap because we had the will, because we had the desire,” said Goodwin, a Pulitzer Prize winner.
Later, Dionne pointed out a glaring omission from Washington policymakers. “The president was trying to talk about production here. The whole idea of conservation has receded. I think it's receded because of the nature of the, the Congress and the words missing in that speech, among words missing, were cap-and-trade. Now, you can argue politically, there's no way you will get any kind of increase in the price of carbon out of this Congress. I still think some day, we're going to have to come back to a combination of production and conservation,” said Dionne.
So what happened to conservation? Is there no value in reducing how much energy we use, absent a global cap-and-trade system? Or is the memory of former President Jimmy Carter’s pleas to turn down the thermostat and wear a sweater too fresh in policymakers’ minds? Americans don’t like to be told what to do — including turning the heat down, turning lights off and unplugging those phone chargers.
Maybe it's that rugged individualism that makes conservation such a tough sell — and such a political taboo — during a recession. But while we all focus on finding more energy sources at home, perhaps it’s time we start thinking about making that energy go farther.