There is no issue that can be stated in black and white terms. None. Zero. Zilch.
Every issue anyone can name has a number of shades of grey, and it is really not possible to take a yes/no, either/or stance on anything and be accurate about it. I know a lot of people on the professional left think they sound smart when they talk about fossil fuels and carbon in absolute terms, but they really don’t. I mean, yes, we have to work our way toward using less fossil fuels, but it’s not as simple as ditching all of our cars and carbon-producing power plants tomorrow. Yet, many of the arguments you hear and read from the pro left sound like that’s possible.
Likewise, most of the PUB (Progressive Unicorn Brigade) and professional left arguments against the Trans-Pacific Partnership sound almost as ridiculous; they’re often left versions of right-wing absolutist arguments, and they’re not any smarter, really. I’ll get to that in a bit. For now, let’s talk about the intersection of fossil fuels, carbon and climate change, shall we?
Among the absolutist arguments I have been hearing lately are the following (these are paraphrased, but pretty close to exact quotes):
- President Obama is violating his own admonition to Republicans he made in 2012 about drilling for oil by, well, drilling for oil.
- Advocating for more drilling means we can’t wean ourselves off fossil fuels.
- Because scientists say the best way to cut carbon usage is to leave it in the ground, we should leave everything in the ground.
- By becoming one of the largest oil producers in the world once again, we undermine our overall goal, which should be to stop using fossil fuels.
Every single one of those arguments is asinine on its face, because they all require that we all ignore the reality of the day.
For example, more than 99% of all vehicles on the road use fossil fuels, and that number will remain above 90% for at least another decade, and above 80% for another decade beyond that. Hopefully, it will accelerate, but it’s hard to imagine a majority of vehicles being electric anytime soon. Passenger cars, for example, are built to last 20 years, short of a major accident or a lack of maintenance. That means most gasoline and diesel vehicles sold today will still be on the road in 2035.
In order to accelerate our electric vehicle production, we will have to produce a lot more electricity; the current state of our power grid can barely handles air conditioning; there is no way it could handle 100 million electric cars charging right now, even if it was possible to suddenly build enough electric cars or develop enough conversion kits to switch every internal combustion engine to electric power immediately. Right now, the transition away from burning fossil fuels for power is underway, but it is a transition, and it will take a long time.
Another thing to consider, since we’re liberals is that it will be relatively wealthy people who spur demand for electric vehicles, which means any curtailing of fossil fuel use will disproportionately affect those with the lowest incomes, which means the landing will have to be gentle; there can’t be a lurch from gasoline to electric within a short time, and it can’t be done in a way that hurts the poor badly.
Any way you look at it, we’re looking at several decades in which we will continue to be dependent upon fossil fuels. With higher mileage standards and the greater integration of hybrids into the mix, we can ease that somewhat, and that is happening and will continue to happen. While many PUBs and professional lefties focus only on production in their diatribes, they largely ignore the fact that there are two drivers for lower oil prices, not one; it’s called supply AND demand. We are flooding the market with more oil, but we are also using less; it’s the combination that has driven down the price of a barrel of oil. And there’s a reality here that many pro lefties forget while they’re screaming; the lower the price of a barrel of oil, the less profitable it is to produce.
There is no single key to this problem. We have to find a balance that will buy us time, which is what the Obama Administration is doing, and doing quite well, especially given that the oil-loving Reagans and Bushies screwed us when they were in charge. Like everything else Republicans have done since 1981, they had put us about 30 years behind by the time President Obama became president, so he had an economy to save and an oil dependence to try and solve. And yes, folks, he has done that with more force than any president since Jimmy Carter. Yes, he’s allowed a lot of drilling, including a lot of fracking, but at the same time he has also invested unprecedented amounts of money in alternative energy production and improved technologies designed to reduce the need for burning carbon-based fuels. He’d invest more, but Republicans.
Again, this is not an either/or proposition. This is not like Henry Ford in 1920, starting to build cars for people who had no car previously. The goal is to replace a commodity that has become an integral part of our family life and our economy. We, as a nation, have to both walk and chew gum at the same time. We do have to invest in the development of cleaner alternative energy sources, but we also have to keep the price of oil and coal low enough to make drilling and mining less profitable. This was the problem during the Bush, Jr. years; as long as oil companies and others could make $100 profit on every barrel of oil, they were going to drill anywhere and everywhere and there was no incentive to curb that.
But again, the key word is “balance.” By producing AND conserving AND encouraging the development of alternatives, the Obama Administration has created a system that tries to balance everything. Prices are at a level that is probably about right; they will discourage some new drillers, like the get-rich-quick people, but they’re not so low that no one can make a profit. That buys us time; we are producing our own oil, which boosts our economy, which gives us more money that can be invested in solar, wind and other alternatives. Of course, part of that balance means we have to stop electing Republicans to office.
The discouragement many feel over the recent Arctic drilling permits is understandable, but it misses a couple of key points. The first is, the permits only allow exploration, not drilling. But it also buys us time. As long as we drill elsewhere and combine that with major oil conservation measures, we can keep the price low enough to make it less profitable and make it less likely any oil company will want to drill up there. Likewise, by keeping the price of oil low, the less profitable it is for Canada to continue building Keystone XL, although frankly, the time to protest that stupid thing passed 10 years ago. I wonder how many people who have made “Stop Keystone” a mantra even realize that most of the pipeline is already in place, and that all they’re against is a parallel pipeline. In other words, the damage is done. But check it out; Obama has stalled it as much as he can, and while he’s stalled it, he’s implemented conservation measures and driven prices low, thus making the pipeline less profitable. He can stall it for a while longer, but you have to hope that we can continue to conserve, continue to increase our use of alternatives, like solar, wind and geothermal power AND produce enough to keep the price down. The longer we keep the price of a barrel of oil at or below $60 or so, the less likely it will be that oil companies will engage in extremely dangerous drilling methods or pipelines through pristine areas. But as long as Republicans keep control of half the states and Congress, the less effective those stalling tactics are.
Like everything else in life, everything we want to do is a balance. It’s not a choice of either drill like crazy or stop using oil immediately; we have to learn to use less AND keep the price low enough to encourage oil companies, car companies, and other companies to invest more in other technologies and less on oil exploration and drilling. We have to think more about the long-term and less about short-term satisfaction, because the problems associated with climate change started about 150 years ago and aren’t going to suddenly dissipate the second we stop emitting carbon into the air. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Now, about the TPP…
This is another area where either/or, black/white thinking is more than a little silly.
The first thing is, when it’s finally released in its final form, the Trans-Pacific Partnership will probably be pretty long; maybe thousands of pages. Therefore, to be against the entire agreement for any single reason is just ridiculous. But right now, we don’t know what’s in it, so any proclamations about how bad it is can only be seen as a tiny bit premature.
Of course, even after we see it, the only rational way to evaluate a trade agreement is by counting the pros and cons and seeing whether, ON BALANCE (there’s that word again) there is more good than bad. Most of the arguments I see against it are completely irrational, mostly because no one knows what’s in it yet, but also because most of the people who are against it are irrational.Here are some of the main arguments against it:
- NAFTA sucked, therefore all trade agreements suck equally.
- There are provisions in the TPP that will take away the ability of American consumers and protection agencies to sue foreign companies.
- It will continue to send even more jobs overseas.
Let’s start with that last one…
Seriously? Jobs have been shifting to Asia for 35 years, ever since Reagan started the ball rolling and actually gave tax breaks to companies that moved manufacturing off-shore. Go to your local store and look at where everything is made. The vast majority of products we buy now come from Asia, with an increasing number coming from South America and Africa. How many more jobs can we lose?
By the way, In fact, all of the bullshit complaints about NAFTA costing us jobs are outdated and wrong. Yeah, at first, we may have lost some jobs, but after the first couple years, when Mexicans started making more money, they started coming over here and buying American goods and our manufacturing economy started seeing gains. Between the time we signed NAFTA and the time Bush and the Republicans tanked the economy, we had a net gain of about 25 million jobs, and pretty much every economist who knows what he or she is talking about says NAFTA’s overall negative effect on employment has been negligible. If you don’t believe me, ask FactCheck.
Does that mean NAFTA is perfect? No, not at all. There are serious problems with its environmental and labor provisions that have never been addressed, because, well, Republicans. Democrats haven’t been in Congress long enough to address them and the professional left still harbors fantasies of killing it 21 years after it passed. By the way, Mexico and Canada are part of the negotiations on the TPP, and it’s very possible the new agreement will fix some of the problems with NAFTA. I’m not saying it will, but it might. This is why it’s irrational to be completely against something that may, on balance, be good for us.
Face facts; there are 2.5 billion people in the Pacific Rim, and their economies are growing by leaps and bounds. To not enter into some sort of trade agreement with one-third of the world’s population seems kind of ridiculous. They want to buy American goods, but right now, the Chinese and Indian markets aren’t all that open to us, and we currently have little to no leverage when it comes to enforcing any sort of rules, such as those protecting intellectual property, in those countries. The TPP MAY solve that problem. I don’t know that it will, but it might. To dismiss it out of hand, without examining it is completely irrational.
In other words, If American manufacturers can sell goods to even a small fraction of 2.5 billion people, the net effect could be to revive our manufacturing base. There seems to be a belief that we can’t compete unless we make the cheapest products in every category, but that’s just right-wing thinking. It’s possible to make and sell a million of something every year and make a ton of money, but it’s a hell of a lot harder to sell a million of anything when you have basically blow off one-third of the world’s population and lock yourself out of those markets altogether.
What about the troubling legal provisions purported to be in the TPP that take our rights away from us?
Jesus, how many times do we have to go through this before you get it, folks? The signatories of these treaties are sovereign countries, each with their own legal system. Anyone who operates in this country has to abide by our laws, including the Constitution, and they have to deal with our courts. As long as we keep our courts strong and on our side, our rights will be secure.
Besides, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but without a TPP in place, we’ve been allowing ourselves to be screwed by corporations in this country when it comes to signing away our rights with mandatory arbitration, at-will employment and “right to work.” Have you been paying attention? It doesn’t take a TPP to screw us on that; we’re doing more to ourselves without it.
We just have to stop electing people to office, on both the federal and state levels, who simply do not care about us, and they all belong to the Republican Party these days. That is where the problem lies. We have to fix a lot of problems with programs and issues, but we can’t do that as long as our governments are being run by the GOP. And we can’t end that if every approach we make to every issue is negative and sounds very much like the right wing.
We have to be different. We have to be rational. And our arguments are often so black and white, they are irrational. Stop it.