Tom Friedman is finally back after a four-month, book-writing sabbatical. The NYT said he’d be back in April, and he just barely made it! (Now I can stop fielding those phone calls from readers wanting to know what happened to him. Here’s a recording of one of those. )
And he’s coming out swinging… and best of all, he’s coming out swinging on behalf of the Energy Party (whether he knows it or not). His first column is headlined, "Dumb as We Wanna Be," and you’ll see it on our op-ed page tomorrow. An excerpt:
It is great to see that we finally have some national unity on energy policy. Unfortunately, the unifying idea is so ridiculous, so unworthy of the people aspiring to lead our nation, it takes your breath away. Hillary Clinton has decided to line up with John McCain in pushing to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for this summer’s travel season. This is not an energy policy. This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks. What a way to build our country.
When the summer is over, we will have increased our debt to China, increased our transfer of wealth to Saudi Arabia and increased our contribution to global warming for our kids to inherit…
Go get ’em, Tom! That’s a very fine leadoff hit. Coming up to bat next, on the same op-ed page, will be Robert Samuelson, and he’ll bring Friedman around to score. His piece, succinctly headlined "Start Drilling," is the rhetorical equivalent of a hard line drive down the opposite-field line:
What to do about oil? First it went from $60 to $80 a barrel, then from $80 to $100 and now to $120. Perhaps we can persuade OPEC to raise production, as some senators suggest; but this seems unlikely. The truth is that we’re almost powerless to influence today’s prices. We are because we didn’t take sensible actions 10 or 20 years ago. If we persist, we will be even worse off in a decade or two. The first thing to do: Start drilling.
It may surprise Americans to discover that the United States is the third-largest oil producer, behind Saudi Arabia and Russia. We could be producing more, but Congress has put large areas of potential supply off-limits. These include the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and parts of Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. By government estimates, these areas may contain 25 billion to 30 billion barrels of oil (against about 30 billion barrels of proven U.S. reserves today) and 80 trillion cubic feet or more of natural gas (compared with about 200 tcf of proven reserves)….
Not start drilling as a substitute for conservation or the search for new fuels (as the ideologues of the right would have it, and the ideologues of the left deplore), but in addition to. Like I said, this is straight out of the Energy Party playbook (yeah, I know this started as a baseball metaphor, not football, but bear with me).
To reduce dependence on tyrannical foreign sources, to help out Mother Nature, to keep our economy healthy, to stoke innovation, to win the War on Terror, and make us healthier, wealthier and wiser, we should adopt the entire Energy Party platform. We should, among other things I’m forgetting at the moment:
- Increase CAFE standards further — much further.
- Raise the tax on gasoline, NOT reduce it, so that we’ll suppress demand, which will reduce upward pressure on prices, and we’ll be paying the higher amounts to ourselves rather than America-haters in Russia, Iran, Venezuela and yes, Saudi Arabia.
- Use the proceeds for a Manhattan Project or Apollo Project (or whatever
else kind of project we choose, as long as we understand that it’s the
moral equivalent of war) to develop new technologies — hydrogen, solar, wind, geothermal, what have you — and shifting the mass of the resources to the most promising ones as they emerge.
- Reduce highway speed limits to 55 mph, to conserve fuel and save lives (OK, Samuel? I mentioned it.) And oh, yeah — enforce the speed limits. The fines will pay for the additional cops.
- Drill in ANWR, off the coasts, and anywhere else we can do so in reasonable safety. (Yes, we can.)
- Increase the availability of mass transit (and if you can swing it, I’d appreciate some light rail; I love the stuff).
- Fine, jail or ostracize anyone who drives an SUV without a compelling reason to do so. Possible propaganda poster: ""Hummers are Osama’s Panzer Corps."
And so forth and so on.
My point is, no more fooling around. It’s way past time to get serious about this stuff, and stop playing little pandering games. Let’s show a little hustle out there. And no dumb mistakes running the bases out there, fellas…
P.S. — The name of the book Mr. Friedman’s been writing, which will come out in August, is Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution — and How It Can Renew America. So yeah, he’s got an economic stake in these concepts. Well, more power to him. There’s money to be made in doing the smart thing, and to the extent he can persuade us to move in that direction, he deserves to get his taste.Just to help him out, here’s video of him talking about these ideas. Here’s a link to his recent magazine piece on the subject.