Get Off the Sauce, People

It’s funny how a news cycle—and even an important policy debate—can kind of sneak up on you. When did offshore drilling become such a hot topic? How is it possible, in this post-Inconvenient Truth era, we’re somehow still having a debate about whether or not to radically curtail our consumption of oil?

Jon Stewart summarizes the issue well when he says our energy policy is now: “I have a cocaine problem. I’m out of cocaine. What say we turn the kids’ rooms into cocaineries.” Look, I understand that people are hurting now. The price of gas is actually not the commodity price hike I’ve most noticed vis-à-vis my own wallet, because I live in a big city with vast mass transit, I don’t own a car and I rarely ride in one. But I read, I hear people talking (and I pay more for shipped goods, too). And I grasp that we need some serious help here. Now, I am not a scientist, nor an economist, nor an engineer nor even a consumer in this field, so I can’t tell you what the solution is by a long shot. But even I can begin to understand that some proposed answers are just ridiculous.

For starters, there’s the ridiculous gas-tax holiday plan, supported by John McCain and, back in the day, Hillary Clinton. This holiday plan,
which at most would save the average American sixty cents a day, provides little incentive for consumers to change habits or the market to provide affordable alternatives except for the fact that it really doesn’t help very much. Sure, sixty cents a day may sound like a lot, but when you’ve seen gas jump over a dollar per gallon in a year (and barely any effect on the size of tanks) you get to thinking that maybe we need to have a little more foresight than that.

So, we can either throw a lot of money to science and to local non-carbon efforts at stuff like energy efficiency and non-oil, non-ethanol fuel, or we can…go to offshore drilling? Seriously? These are my options?

It’s not like we’re all strangers to the politicization of science or its distortion for political purposes (“partial-birth abortion”?), but this is kind of worse than that. This is messing with the heads of people who are hurting amidst price hikes on a lot of consumer items previously taken for granted, and telling them that if we start drilling pretty much anywhere we can, this will bring the price of gas down to something affordable and is the better option right now than, say, federal loans for hybrid cars. Oh, yeah, and that we should all be mad at the environmental lobby, because this is all their fault.

We’ve got a problem. Actually, we’ve got a problem and a problem with our problem, if you know what I mean. The Talmudic sage Rav warns his son in Pesachim 113a not to take drugs, because “the addiction to them will take its toll.” We’re that kid at the party who’s had too much cheap beer, and what we need is both the concerned friend (that should be the government) who will take our keys our keys away and find us a ride home. We need to let that happen—in fact, we need to encourage it to happen. Desperately searching for what will ultimately be a few more hits of oil isn’t going to save us in the long run. It’ll barely save us in the short run. So let’s put our keys in the bowl and admit we have a problem, enter the fray for better mass transit and recognize that no short-term tax “holiday” or new-and-barely-offshore-environmental-disaster-waiting-to-happen is going to put this right. We’re going to have to do some serious work.

–Mel Weiss

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