With leaders in denial, our destructive appetite for oil remains unchecked

August 01, 2005|By Cynthia Tucker

ATLANTA - After weeks of wearying hours, tedious research, fist-pounding debates and nerve-racking compromise, Congress passed historic legislation last week that promises to put the nation on the track to energy independence by the year 2050. OK, just kidding. Our Congress? Of course, it did no such thing.

But in an energy bill that does little but give away money to energy businesses, Congress did manage to extend daylight-saving time by four weeks, starting in 2007. The extension is projected by some to save the equivalent of 100,000 barrels of oil a day over that additional month. Since the United States uses about 21 million barrels of oil a day, that's like trying to cure obesity by forcing McDonald's to serve diet sodas with its Big Macs and supersize fries.

What is nerve-racking, actually, is the denial and irresponsibility of this Congress and White House. Even as the price of gasoline skyrockets, energy demand from China surges and Islamic jihadists insist that the West leave their countries, our elected leaders continue to fiddle and twiddle their thumbs.

After the London subway bombings, that city's mayor, Ken Livingstone, denounced nearly a century of Western foreign policy toward the Middle East for coddling tyrants and ignoring violations of human rights just to procure a steady supply of petroleum.

"You've just had 80 years of Western intervention into predominantly Arab lands because of the Western need for oil. We've propped up unsavory governments, we've overthrown ones we didn't consider sympathetic," he said.

Even now, though the flaws of our Iraqi enterprise are literally exploding all over that wretched landscape, Congress cannot bring itself to increase the standards for fuel consumption in automobiles. That's inexcusable.

According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a nonprofit policy group, raising fuel efficiency standards by 5 percent annually until 2012 and by 3 percent every year after that could save 1.5 million barrels of oil per day by 2010 and 67 billion barrels of oil over the next 40 years.

In his latest book, The New American Militarism, Boston University professor Andrew J. Bacevich traces the U.S. commitment to preserve access to Middle Eastern oil reserves, ironically, back to Jimmy Carter and his successor, Ronald Reagan. In a chapter titled "Blood for Oil," Mr. Bacevich analyzes four military interventions of the Reagan era:

"None of the four episodes can be fully understood except in relation to global reserves of fossil fuels and America's growing dependence on imported oil. Although energy considerations did not drive U.S. actions in every instance, they always loomed in the background."

Mr. Bacevich, who heads BU's Center for International Relations, is a graduate of West Point, a Vietnam veteran and a solid conservative. He represents no wacko pacifist fringe, no tree-hugging group of peaceniks. Yet he sees clearly the link between America's greed for oil and the deaths of U.S. men and women abroad.

Indeed, with our lavish oil consumption, we hand over billions of dollars to many of the very people who want to destroy us.

Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun.

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