During the 2008 Republican National Convention, shouts of "Drill, Baby, Drill" were heard from the galleries and also from the podium. They were referring to the idea of drilling for oil off America’s coastlines. This was presented as a relatively easy and thoroughly American way of dealing with the nation’s energy needs. Forget all the talk about the need for solar or wind or bio-fuels, ways of harnessing energy being developed in Europe but which evidently didn’t appeal to the GOP faithful gathered in St. Paul. Of course, even if we threw environmental concerns to the wind, there is not enough off-shore oil to actually stave off the day when we must end our addiction to fossil fuels, but why let a little thing like a fact get in the way.
Throwing environmental concerns to the wind does not seem like such an appealing choice today as it did then. The massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is threatening to hit pristine areas of the Louisiana coastline at precisely the worst time as various species of birds and wildlife are busy nesting and mating in the fragile ecosystem at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Republican Congressman Anh "Joseph" Cao has called for a congressional inquiry and Governor Bobby Jindal has declared a state of emergency. Funny, just a few weeks ago, they were cheering former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin when she repeated the "Drill, Baby, Drill" mantra at a GOP confab in New Orleans, where, this morning, the smell of the oil spill is already filling the air.
I wish we Americans were not so addicted to our gas guzzling habits. I wish that we had the courage to insist on higher gasoline taxes like the rest of the world, taxes that would both drive down consumption and drive up revenue that could be directed towards alternate energies and mass transit and high-speed rail. I wish that we had political leadership – in either party – that would tell Americans what we need to hear, not what we want to hear, on the subject of energy. This is an issue that needs the government to act not as the Nanny State, but as the Tough Nanny State: We need to be spanked.
President Obama is not above reproach on this issue. Earlier this year, in calling for a bipartisan approach to energy, he reached out to Republicans by saying he was dropping his objection to off-shore drilling in key coastal areas. I thought at the time that his stated reasoning was phony, that he knew better, that the risks to the environment were not worth the relatively paltry yield in new oil. At least his administration gave approval to the Cape Cod wind farm this week, despite the objections of rich folk who do not want the view from their summer homes on the Cape, Nantucket and the Vineyard ruined by the huge turbines. Yes, they are ungainly to the eye, but people complained about the Eiffel Tower at first too. And, after the Supreme Court allowed the city of New London to confiscate the property of poor and middle-class folk so that wealthier taxpayers could have it, it is refreshing to see that all the wealth of the opposition to the wind farm, which confiscates no one’s land, was not enough to turn the government’s decision their way.
The place we need to drill is into our conscience, to ask ourselves why we are so unwilling to change our behavior even though it threatens to harm, in some cases significantly, the ecosystem we shall bequeath to our children. I understand that life is not without risk, that accidents on oil rigs and in coal mines will happen. But, we need to really focus the best minds of government and industry on devising new forms of renewable energy that will entail less risk of immediate and long-term environmental damage. It may be too late for the Louisiana coastline but, God willing, it is not too late for other coastlines.