Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

April 4, 2006

Oil Addiction and Our Progress on the 12-Steps

Category: Editorial – Tom Harrison – 7:44 pm

In the 2006 State of the Union Address, President Bush made a very important step in dealing with a critical problem by stating, “America is addicted to oil”. Mr. Bush is well acquianted with the national crisis of addiction, being addicted to alcohol himself, and which, it seems, he has successfully recovered — all power to him. Yet his personal resolve in addressing his addiction has far exceeded his resolve and actions in addressing the country’s real addition to oil.

But, as has occasionally been the case, words have not been matched by actions. So let’s consider the famous 12-Step program for dealing with addictions.

The first step is to admit powerlessness over the addiction, and that our lives have become unmanageable. But this is not what happened: Mr. Bush only stated that we were addicted, but immediately followed with “we are on the threshold of incredible advances”. This statement does not align with being powerless (although the pun on “powerless” in an energy context is amusing). It’s not entirely inconsistent with the second step, “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” The question is, which Power? God? Science? Oh, and what exactly do you mean by “sanity”? The reason it’s not inconsistent is that Bush seems to believe that “ourselves” is him, so it’s far from a stretch to think of powers greater than him. Squid, for example. Ok, that was a cheap-shot. I think he’s thinking of hydrogen fuel cells which this link to a Nova episode shows are a distant reality.

So in the last few days, our fine administration announced their plans to help curb our addiction by introducing new legislation to set new fuel economy standards, which are touted as “the most ambitious fuel economy goals for light trucks ever developed.” Which is not saying much since light trucks (which includes SUVs) have been mysteriously exempt from many fuel standards until now. So, credit where credit is due, “light trucks” now need to actually meet a standard. But my oh my, the bar is low indeed: 8.1% increase in fuel economy starting in model year 2008 and due and payable by 2011. Ok, so looking at GM’s SUVs and Light Trucks I calculated the average top-end highway mileage (assuming a generous 15MPG for the Tahoe and Suburban, whose mileage numbers are listed as “N/A”) — this comes to 21.2MPG for the current model year. An 8.1% increase would raise the average to a whopping 22.9MPG, yes, you got it, 1.9 Miles per gallon better by 2011. Back to the addiction analogy: if you’re a big, fat, guy drinking 7 beers a night, we really think you should cut back to a 6-pack, but you can take four years to do it. Ludicrous!

Worse yet, this proposed legislation stipulates that States no longer have the power to make their own standards. Thank god for California whose stricter emissions standards have forced many improvements to automobiles, many of which are simply cheaper for automakers to add to all (and not just to those sold in California). And it’s damned sure that California needs to be able to do something more as we found on last summer’s visit to LA. So if this legislation passes (which god willing, it won’t), how does this address our addiction to oil?

Why bother with the other 12 steps. The State of the Union bit was just words, and now we see that they are more words that are not just empty, they are double-speak intended to suggest one thing but actually just providing a moniker on which to hang the opposite idea. “Clear Skies Initiative” is another example.

Hey, I have an idea! Why don’t we put a tax on gasoline, and not one whose revenue is just used to make more roads and facilitate more driving, but one intended to create disincentives to use more gasoline, or at least incentives for car makers to make more efficient vehicles. The heritage foundation thinks it is a bad idea which is pretty much all I need to know. Just joking: it’s certain that increasing the gas tax would have a negative impact on some aspects of the economy. But like all economic analysis, there’s a fundamental flaw in thinking as this one fails to account for the fact that people (and the companies that employ them) are smart and change their behaviors in order to respond to the intent of the tax. Oh, and perhaps we could pour that tax money back into investment into the new technologies Bush says we’re “on the threshold” of realizing. Perhaps he means the same threshold as the one we’re on in the war in Iraq?

Who remembers that Fram Oil Filter ad from the 70’s or 80’s – “you can pay me now or later”. That’s where we are, folks. We can keep a fictitious economy afloat while ignoring the dire consequences of inaction. Hmm, sounds just like an addict to me.


  1. This is a little old but it really stuck with me:

    It’s an editorial by some economist that suggests we increase the tax on something that is (argueably) optional like driving/purchasing gas and lower it on something that (arguably) isn’t like working. It would be a nice way to reward people for making intelligent choices.

    Comment by Reed Braman — May 22, 2006 @ 1:28 pm

  2. […] Bush made a passing comment about our addiction to oil in a State of the Union address a while back. I believe we have a much larger addition to […]

    Pingback by Raking Leaves (with a Rake) | Five Percent: Conserve a Little Energy — November 17, 2007 @ 1:01 pm

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