A Perfect Storm Is Developing Around Energy Policy: Friedman on TV, Gore in Our Gut

This evening Tom Friedman reported to us his genuine concerns about our being "Addicted to Oil." Many of the points covered were touched upon in my last year's book Over a Barrel: Breaking the Middle East Oil Cartel and subsequent posts on this site, which in addition commented on the role of nuclear energy, and government policies to target demand. Perhaps most compellingly, these points have been touched upon by Al Gore's truly remarkable documentary film An Inconvenient Truth. With the release of Al Gore's new documentary, has come a blizzard of commentary, both in print and over the airwaves. The speculation about Gore's political ambitions are flying fast and furious. But regardless of whether Gore decides to run again, I sense that something akin to the perfect storm is developing on the issue of energy policy. With $3-a-gallon (and rising) gasoline, an emerging consensus that global warming is real, and a growing sense that Big Oil's hand-in-glove relationship with the administration and Congress harms the average American citizen, Al Gore's return to the public stage may be the critical spark that finally lights a fire under the American electorate.

There's no mistaking the man's passion and sense of mission. He, no less than Friedman, genuinely cares about what happens to planet Earth, and has for more than three decades. You may remember his 1992 book, Earth in the Balance, which prompted George Bush senior to make fun of Gore, calling him "Ozone Man" and suggesting that a Clinton-Gore administration would have us "up to our neck in owls" and put Americans out of work. (The reality was quite different, of course -- a booming economy, record budget surpluses, 22 million new jobs, and a 30-year-low unemployment rate. These are facts, but I digress.) Having stuck to his guns and continued to preach and fight for what he believes, Mr. Gore is looking like the prophet who can lead us out of the energy wilderness. And none too soon.

Sadly, President Bush barely pays lip service to climate issues, preferring to placate his enormously influential and politically connected friends in the oil industry by stonewalling the Kyoto initiative, plucking Phil Cooney from the American Petroleum Institute to then undermine the debate on climate change from his appointed perch at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, suggesting that any threat is best met by voluntary emissions controls. If voluntarism worked, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in.

Meanwhile, if Gore is right (and many in the scientific community say he is), we are approaching a tipping point, after which we will begin a descent to destruction that will be hard to stop.

Gore's very persistence in the face of a disinformation campaign begun by the energy industry about 15 years ago, a campaign designed to position global warning as a "debate," makes him one of the only people on the political scene who, in my opinion, cannot be bought off by the oil industry, its allies, and its cheerleaders: For example, Oklahoma's Republican Senator James Inhofe, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, calls global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." Inhofe may also be in the market for a bridge spanning New York's East River between the isle of Manhattan and the borough of Brooklyn.

Gore sees global warming as a moral issue, and I agree with him as I agree with Friedman's focus on the issue of energy and the dangers it poses to our national security. It is one of the two or three most important problems this country is facing right now. I don't see eye to eye with the former vice president on everything (more about that in a future blog), but I believe that Gore may have started something that even the oiligopoly won't be able to squelch. Let's hope his passion and his lucidity enlists all of us to take on the oil patch and its cronies for the sake of our future and that of future generations. The time is yesterday!