Drill Here, Drill Now? No: Sustainability Lies Elsewhere

Drill Here, Drill Now? No: Sustainability Lies Elsewhere

RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH 08/30/08
By Michael Shank and U.S. Representative Jim Moran (D-VA)

To drill or not to drill, that is the question. But is it? Offshore oil reserves, once online — a feat that would come long after the new president’s first term — will garner less than three years of supply. Drilling in Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuge will surface even less. When the U.S. supplies 3 percent of the world’s oil reserves but demands 25 percent, short-term fixes will invariably make for insufficient long-lasting solutions.

Prepping Americans for a more sustainable response is not as difficult as one might think. The country is on board because the energy crisis is hitting home harder than ever. Prices at the pump have trumped other contentious issues. Rising oil prices are rippling through the economy. Unlike a few years ago, the nation recognizes the need for a serious rethinking of the way we consume.

America’s energy use — 20 tons of emitted carbon per person annually, a level roughly five times China’s and 10 times India’s — was once the exclusive concern of the environmentalist. Much has changed. Economic, security, religious, and humanitarian arguments, less explicitly environmental in tenor, have emerged to champion energy-light living.

In business terms, companies converting to energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy alternatives are finding significant financial benefits from going green. Wal-Mart is unabashed about its desire to equip its new stores with solar-panel roofing and cogeneration (heat from refrigeration units goes to warm its stores). Construction costs are recouped promptly, allowing the stores to become profitable more quickly.

The concept of energy security is now commonplace. It’s easy for people to understand that a reliance on foreign oil from countries considered adversarial leaves us vulnerable to petro-politics and volatile markets. The desire to be energy independent is natural and wise, even if currently impossible to attain.

Religious and humanitarian arguments for going green are also equally compelling. Evangelicals like Rick Warren are summoning believers to bolster biblical calls for environmental stewardship. Natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, and the increasing number of devastating weather events associated with climate change, are awakening Americans to the rising social costs stemming from fossil fuels.

But will environmentalists, business leaders, security-minded individuals, religious and general humanitarian organizations join to move America out of its energy crisis? The impact of all four groups steering us towards a sustainable energy supply, using America’s ample wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and other, to meet rising demand would be powerful — and ultimately successful.

Another area to which this emerging coalition could lend its might would be convincing Americans that their energy appetite needs to be tempered. As a nation, we make up 4 percent of the world’s population yet consume 25 percent of its energy. The standard American lifestyle, if matched by India, China, and others, cannot be met with natural resources from this Earth alone (some speculate the long-term need to be 10 planets’ worth of resources).

Whether it involves using public transit, opting for less energy-intensive diets, buying local, or smart-sizing the American dream to something more sustainable, this effort must be culturally acceptable and affordable in order for energy-light living to be perceived as patriotic — a civic duty taken for the good of this country.

This nation’s energy crisis is not insurmountable. Energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable-energy initiatives make up half the task. Trimming our energy-rich lifestyles, and making it patriotic and fashionable to do so, make up the other half. Both are equally vital to our success — and the emerging coalition of the concerned, acting in concert, can make it happen.

Rep. James Moran, a Virginia Democrat, can be reached at (202) 225-4376. Michael Shank, communications director at George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, can be reached at mshank@gmu.edu.