I am back from my finals hiatus (WOOO!), on break and ready to blog. So here it goes.
The other day I went to an event hosted by Newsweek and co-sponsored by BP called The Future of Energy which was moderated by Fareed Zakaria. It was held at the National Press Club and about 100 or so people were there. There were two "panels", one was former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich...I guess his personality is so large that he can fill a panel by himself. The other panel was comprised of Doctor Stephen Long, the deputy director of the Energy Biosciences Institute who also is a professor of plant biology and crop sciences University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and The Honorable John Peterson, former house representative from PA who was on the Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior- Environment and Related Agencies. So as a whole smart people.
Zakaria started off asking Gingrich about the whooping they took on November 4th and he said that it was a performance failure, not an ideological failure and they were being punished for the way they handled Iraq and Katrina. Basically he said they needed to be fired. He also said that McCain's main problem was running in the wrong year (I guess we're ignoring the fact that he ran in 2000).
Anyway, he made the point that the energy crisis is artificial since we didn't allow offshore drilling (ignoring the fact that offshore drilling won't do much all that soon). Newt also is a fan of ethanol and said that "there is no good reason" for the EPA's 10% ethanol mandate (I guess he is also ignoring all of the problems associated with corn-based ethanol). When talking about the auto bailout he said that he opposes it, but if there is one there needs to be a flex fuel requirement.
He said this is the chance for the Republicans to reinvent themselves as a part of a Green Conservative movement sort of like the Republicans that helped pave the way for the transcontinental railroad (also ignoring the fact that higher taxes and more non-military government spending is more of a Democrat things than a Republican one). He said that you can only make something happen by encouraging good behavior and not by punishing bad behavior saying, "we didn't build the intercontinental railroad by punishing the stage coach." (I think he meant transcontinental, but oh well).
Gingrich also said that he doesn't want the government to put a price on carbon or do a cap and trade, but rather it should provide tax credits for carbon avoided. Zakaria rightly pointed out that those are pretty much the same thing.
One thing he said that I did agree with was, "if you pass [renewable energy] tax credits, do it for 10 to 20 years, stability is key."
I must admit I got a chuckle when he said "I am not anti-government, I am anti-bureaucracy" to a room of bureaucrats.
He did do a good job putting the whole crisis in context. It only took the US 44 months to win WWII and if we spent a comparable amount on fixing the energy crisis as we have spent in the Middle East, we wouldn't have a problem.
And on a more humanitarian note the former speaker pointed out that if we just raise energy prices to encourage conservation it will economically crush the poor.
The other panel was less exciting, but still pretty good.
Rep. Peterson had a great line, "pirates, terrorists and storms in the gulf determine our energy availability, that is not the place the world's most powerful country should be in."
Peterson also said that, "you will kill the American dream by raising energy prices." I think he (like most of society) is a little confused about what the American dream actually is. The American dream is the is the ability for all Americans to life a life free to pursue their goals through hard work, honest effort and free choice. Ever since the GI Bill, people seem to think that the American dream is a home in the suburbs.
Prof Long disagreed, however he did say that biofuels are at the very best a CO2 wash and likely carbon positive and that we'd need to cut down all the rainforests to plant enough corn to replace oil....which is not exactly the best idea as the rainforests are huge carbon sinks.
Prof Long pointed out that corn-based fuel is getting bad press and that if you look at the price of the main grains, rice prices rose the most and that is not biofuel driven. (I am still trying to fact check that claim).
In the end Zakaria pointed out that a lot our problems, such as the credit crunch and the energy crisis, are caused by our nation incentivizing consumption. Maybe he would agree with Ms. Leonard's point that we have become a nation of consumers, rather than individuals.
All in all it was a good conference to attend, and I hope next year's panels will be a little more realistic about the environmental constraints we face.