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Friday, June 17, 2005

The Long Hard Folly of GWB

Proving that even a blind pig can turn up the occasional truffle, Thomas Friedman sez in the NYT:
The Bush team has been M.I.A. on energy since 9/11. Indeed, the utter indifference of the Bush team to developing a geo-green strategy - which would also strengthen the dollar, reduce our trade deficit, make America the world leader in combating climate change and stimulate U.S. companies to take the lead in producing the green technologies that the world will desperately need as China and India industrialize - is so irresponsible that it takes your breath away. This is especially true when you realize that the solutions to our problems are already here.

As Gal Luft, co-chairman of the Set America Free coalition, a bipartisan alliance of national security, labor, environmental and religious groups that believe reducing oil consumption is a national priority, points out: the majority of U.S. oil imports go to fueling the transport sector - primarily cars and trucks. Therefore, the key to reducing our dependence on foreign oil is powering our cars and trucks with less petroleum.

There are two ways we can do that. One is electricity. We don't import electricity. We generate all of our needs with coal, hydropower, nuclear power and natural gas. Toyota's hybrid cars, like the Prius, run on both gasoline and electricity that is generated by braking and then stored in a small battery. But, says Luft, if you had a hybrid that you could plug in at night, the battery could store up 20 miles of driving per day. So your first 20 miles would be covered by the battery. The gasoline would only kick in after that. Since 50 percent of Americans do not drive more than 20 miles a day, the battery power would cover all their driving. Even if they drove more than that, combining the battery power and the gasoline could give them 100 miles per gallon of gasoline used, Luft notes.

Right now Toyota does not sell plug-in hybrids. Some enthusiasts, though, are using kits to convert their hybrids to plug-ins, but that adds several thousand dollars - and you lose your Toyota warranty. Imagine, though, if the government encouraged, through tax policy and other incentives, every automaker to offer plug-in hybrids? We would quickly move down the innovation curve and end up with better and cheaper plug-ins for all.

Then add to that flexible-fuel cars, which have a special chip and fuel line that enable them to burn alcohol (ethanol or methanol), gasoline or any mixture of the two. Some four million U.S. cars already come equipped this way, including from G.M. It costs only about $100 a car to make it flex-fuel ready. Brazil hopes to have all its new cars flex-fuel ready by 2008. As Luft notes, if you combined a plug-in hybrid system with a flex-fuel system that burns 80 percent alcohol and 20 percent gasoline, you could end up stretching each gallon of gasoline up to 500 miles.

In short, we don't need to reinvent the wheel or wait for sci-fi hydrogen fuel cells. The technologies we need for a stronger, more energy independent America are already here. The only thing we have a shortage of now are leaders with the imagination and will to move the country onto a geo-green path.
He goes on to perform the obligatory patented Thomas Friedman trick of sticking his head up his ass -- expressing his hope that GM goes bankrupt and is bought up by Toyota. But if you can ignore the stunning calisthenics for a moment, he does make an interesting point. As Jerome a Paris points out today, over the past four years 90% of all GDP growth is attributable to residential construction and consumer spending, and 40% of all new private sector jobs created have been housing-related. We're not growing in any way that creates anything exportable.

The opportunity is ripe for a forward-thinking leader to shape an energy policy that encourages the development of green technologies that will soon be in demand all over the world (if they aren't already), as well as reduce dependence on a resource that is principally available in a politically unstable region of the world. It's a total win-win situation.

So it's great to see BushCo. taking such a progressive leadership role with regard to environmentalism at the G8 conference.

Naw, just kidding. They're spending all their time pressuring everyone to delete language that makes global warming sound like a bummer. Things don't seem to be going too well. According to the AP:
"The U.S. will just not budge," said Hans Verolme, director of the World Wildlife Fund's U.S. climate change program. "We'd rather not have a deal than have a deal that lets George Bush off the hook."
Welcome to the club, Hans.