I’ve spent the last week writing grant proposals to one foundation or another in support of an upcoming capital campaign for my university. I woke up at five a.m. this morning because I had one last draft to complete today and the mere thought of that kept waking me up through the night. As you have probably figured out by now, I enjoy writing. However, at the moment, it feels like if I have to compose one more of these, my love of the written word will be in the past tense. But, there’s always The New Yorker. Thank God for The New Yorker.
Elizabeth Kolbert is a frequent contributor. Her subject matter always touches on the environment, at least those stories I remember best. In the April 2 edition, she has a short piece in The Talk of The Town, the place I begin my journey with the magazine. That doesn’t seem like the right word to describe The New Yorker. Newsweek is a magazine. Esquire is a magazine. The New Yorker is a …. ? A happening? Anyway, it’s magazine-like or maybe not.
Her piece this week is on energy politics. She begins with quotes from the mouths of several candidates/politicians on the rising price of gas. “Under the President’s leadership we are seeing the highest gas prices in one hundred and fifty years.” My first thought was ‘were gas prices actually higher 150 years ago?’ Kolbert skips past this to make another point — actually, the truth is gas prices were higher in 2008, just four years ago, under President Bush. She continues: Led by Newt’s accusation that Obama’s radical energy ideology has artificially raised the cost of energy and Newt’s promise to lower the cost of gas to two cents a gallon or some such nonsense, every candidate has followed suit.
Let’s for a minute examine that radical ideology. Today, the federal gas tax stands at less than 20 cents a gallon. By the way, Romney’s top economic advisor believes that tax ought to exceed $2 a gallon. During Obama’s recent energy-themed cross-country tour, he continuously championed his “all-of-the-above” energy strategy. Hardly bold, let alone radical. Domestic energy production is actually rising and dependence on foreign oil is declining. Last year, the President noted, we imported one million fewer barrels per day than the year before. Are there legitimate places one could quarrel with Obama’s energy vision? In my book and in Kolbert’s, yes there are. Why is the gas tax still below $20 cents? We have known this to be bad public policy for decades and yet no politician is willing to do the right thing and force us to change our ways. Why is there no economy-wide tax on carbon? A smorgasbord energy plan is not really a plan at all. It just punts the issue to the next generation and when it comes to the environment, that kind of inaction is unforgivable. I feel the same way about Medicare and Social Security reform. If you are not willing to take on these issues, why are you running for office?
Gas prices around the globe have risen, not just on Buford Highway. And that would be because? Here’s some startling new news. Oil is a global commodity, traded on a global market. Gas prices have risen because the demand in countries like China has risen and the instability in the Middle East has everyone worried about the supply. But, as Kolbert notes, an idea doesn’t have to be true to be effective these days. One side-effect of misinformation is that rational discussion and real policy solutions have the hardest time getting heard. The truth does matter and what’s maybe equally important is that false information, spread deliberately, ensures that those solutions will never come.