Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Nowhere to Hide: Part III--Looking Forward to $9.00 A Gallon Gas

Energy Secretary Steven Chu made a lot of headlines yesterday when he told Congressman Darrell Issa during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that he would grade himself an "A" on his handling of gas prices and energy. His comments were immediately retweeted on Twitter and repeated by numerous pundits who wondered how Chu can consider his handling of energy worthy of an A when gas prices have risen from an average of $1.85 a gallon in 2009 to an average of $3.87 a gallon now.  (In fact gas prices in some parts of the country are now over $5.00 a gallon.)

Similarly, the President has been touting his energy policies lately.  Today he is on a "good will tour" of sorts in New Mexico and Nevada where he will talk about his commitment to clean energy as well as to traditional fossil fuels, and he will undoubtedly remind all of us that there is really very little he can do about gas prices.

Anyone who follows the news at all knows by now that the price of oil is largely driven by speculation, and we have all heard recent assertions that the U.S. has enough of its own oil supply to supply our country for two hundred years.  Therefore, I am not going to speculate here about what Obama or anyone else in his administration should be doing to fix this problem.  I am just going to take a few paragraphs today to talk about why the Administration is unconcerned (apparently) about gas prices.

It is easy to label politicians and their appointees as clueless and then to use their own statements as proof that they really don't have any idea what they are doing.  Such is the case with Secretary Chu.  Last night, cable news replayed the clips of him asserting that he deserves an A for his energy policies. In the eyes of most viewers this statement probably makes him seem very inept.  In fact, I think that he really believes that A is very much deserved, and I also believe that if we look at the world through the lens of "sustainability" we might even give him an A+.  Why?  In 2008, Chu said that in order to foster real progress in clean energy we needed to get gas prices up the same levels they are in Europe.  In other words, Americans won't support or invest in clean, renewable energy until we make the current alternatives so expensive that they are out of reach of the average person.

Today, we will hear a lot of sound bites about clean, renewable energy.  Recently, the President told Americans that he looks forward to a day when we can convert algae into energy--there is a plentiful supply of algae in the world, and we should be using it as a fuel. Is the President so calm now because he knows in his heart that a little pain at the pump in the short-term will eventually lead to alternative energy development--green projects like Solyndra that actually work rather than just crashing and burning costing the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in the process?

I don't believe that President Obama and Secretary Chu are clueless at all--I think they "get it" in a way that few Americans realize.  The high cost of oil is not about inducing us to invest in clean energy--it is about inducing Americans to change their lifestyles completely.  It is not about getting everybody to invest in a hybrid car--it is about getting Americans to give up their much-loved automobiles in favor of public transportation. As long as the government can continue to throw money at green-energy projects that fail, they can continue to shrug off those failures with  an "Aw Shucks, I guess we just don't have the technology yet," attitude that belies the real problem--the government does not want to find a solution because the real solution is for Americans and all developed nations to stop consuming the world's resources.  I am quite certain that if we did learn how to convert algae into energy, within 2 years we would learn that algae is an essential resource and that we are destroying the eco-system to power our filthy little algae burning automobiles.

All of my posts this year have been centered around UN Agenda 21, its implementation through Smart Growth, and the threats to our nation and our liberties that this poses.  This year, 2012, is the 20th anniversary of UN Agenda 21.  In 1992 when the UN passed this non-binding resolution, Earth Summit Secretary-General Maurice Strong warned us that, "Current lifestyles and consumption patterns of the affluent middle-class--involving high meat intake, the use of fossil fuels, electrical appliances, home and work-place air conditioning and suburban housing--are not sustainable."  For the past two decades, proponents of Agenda 21 have been working through a public relations' campaign to persuade Americans that the standard of living that this country has enjoyed is wrong.  Unfortunately, while Americans as a whole may feel some sort of collective guilt about using up the world's resources, individually we don't want to give up our cars, or our central heating and air conditioning, or our appliances, or our single family residences.  That is why Smart Growth Communities which demand dense housing, narrow streets, and very little parking, have not enjoyed much success.  As I explained last week, this is a carrot and a stick approach--eliminating more desirable options is essential to the success of Smart Growth.

The American love affair with the automobile is notorious.  In his book, Reagan's War, Peter Schweitzer describes an episode in the 1950's where a Communist Eastern Block nation objected to a Hollywood film about factory workers.  The reason for their objection--the factory parking lot was full of cars.  The censors refused to believe that in the US regular workers had their own private automobiles--this must be capitalist propaganda!  But within a few decades, the reality of auto ownership in our country had expanded. As families became dual income, they increasingly became dual automobile as well.  Not one but two cars is now an expectation for families in our society. 

Unfortunately for us, the requirements of Agenda 21 are that we stop using fossil fuels, give up our cars, and take up mass transit.  Randal O'Toole, a former professor at Yale University who is now with the CATO Instititute, is the author of Gridlock: Why We're Stuck in Traffic and What to Do About it.  O'Toole has written and spoken extensively about the dangers of Smart Growth--YouTube has videos of his interviews.  In April of 2010,  O'Toole was invited to speak in Tulsa, Oklahoma about the PlaniTulsa project.  His remarks here are taken from the story that the Tulsa Beacon did about the event. 

"I want to talk to you about the American dream," O'Toole began, "To own a home, start a business, to have mobility and own property.  'Smart growth' is a threat to the American Dream.  That's what PlaniTulsa is all about...The average person in America travels 19,000 miles a year and 85% of that is by automobile. They [the Obama Administration] are trying to force people out of their cars."

O'Toole cites that the fact that in January of 2010, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood ended cost effectiveness rules for federal transit grants--basically that means that he will fund them no matter how much money they lose.  According to O'Toole such a move was necessary because cities that invest in light rail have lost millions and sometimes billions of dollars on these projects.  He cites the example of Dallas, Texas, which invested $550 million in light rail at a cost per passenger of $12,250.  As O'Toole points out, for the amount they spent they could have bought every passenger his or her own car.  Similarly, Austin, Texas, also invested in light rail.  At the time the city started the light rail process, the bus system had $200 million in the bank, but the commuter train project eventually went bankrupt, and "the director resigned in disgrace."

In Portland, which O'Toole calls home, the light rail system cost $3 billion--more than 30 times the original.  Light rail is incredibly cost ineffective as compared to other modes of transportation.  According to O'Toole, flying costs 14 cents per passenger mile; taking the bus costs 15 cents per passenger mile; a car costs 15 cents per passenger mile.  Amtrak, which receives considerable federal subsidies, costs 60 cents per passenger mile, and high speed rail costs 75 cents per passenger mile.

In addition to the huge upfront expense of the light rail and commuter train system, there is another problem--people don't want to use it.  In spite of a huge city wide commitment to public transportation in the form of light rails, trolleys and buses, self-proclaimed veteran environment journalist Todd Woody writes in his blog Grist that only 12.2% of Portland residents take public transportation to work, 4.9% walk to work and 61.5% drive to work alone. This is in spite of the fact that downtown Portland contains the "free rail zone" where the public light rail system is actually free to ride.

And that takes us back to $9.00 a gallon gas.  As with all great love affairs, the only way to part the happy couple is by creating a situation so dire that continuing to remain together is unthinkable.  No matter how much we love our cars, in a tight economy made increasingly tighter by high regulations, and next year possibly mandated health insurance premiums and high taxes, we simply will not have the funds to continue to feed our favorite passion.  The high price of gas, coupled with the unavailability of mortgage financing for single family homes, will force Americans to begin moving into Smart Communities and accepting New Urbanism--whether we want to or not.

If I were grading Secretary Chu I would give him an A+ for succeeding in creating an environment where he can force Americans to accept a lifestyle that is completely at odds with their basic hopes and aspirations.  But I would also give American voters an F for allowing politicians with UN-based agendas to destroy our way of life.
Alexandra Swann's new novel, The Planner, about an out of control, environmentally-driven government is available on Kindle and in paperback. She is also the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen. For more information, visit her website at Frontier 2000

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