National Commentary

Congressman Jim Moran’s News Commentary

To drill or not to drill, that is the question. But is it? Offshore oil reserves, once online — a feat which will come long after the new president’s first term — will garner less than three years of supply.

Drilling in Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuge will surface even less. When the US supplies three percent of the world’s oil reserves (but demands 25 percent) short-term fixes will invariable make for insufficient long-lasting solutions. Band-aid approaches to America’s energy crisis will only exacerbate the eventual shock stemming from poor planning.

Prepping Americans for a more sustainable response is not as difficult as one might think. The country is on board because the energy crisis is hitting home harder than ever. Prices at the pump have trumped contentious issues once thought tantamount by political pundits — immigration and Iraq, for example. Rising oil prices are rippling through the economy, from new fees to store luggage on airlines to the increasing cost of chewing gum. Unlike a few years ago, the nation recognizes the need for a serious rethink on the way we consume. Had energy consumption not come comingled with the issue of climate change — that is, our energy dependency on emissions-heavy fossil fuels — the about-face would be less apparent and the ground for preventive action less fertile.

America’s energy use — annually 20 tons of emitted carbon per person, roughly five times that of China’s and 10 times that of India’s — was once the exclusive concern of the environmentalist who cried foul on the fossil fuels industry. Americans who were similarly alarmed but reticent to associate with the greens were left bannerless. Now, much has changed. Economic, security, religious and humanitarian arguments, less explicitly environmental in tenor, have emerged to champion energy-light living. This is a good thing and on all four fronts, the desire to better manage this crisis is building:

In business terms, companies who are converting to energy efficiency, conservation and renewable energy alternatives are finding that there are significant financial benefits resulting from going green. Wal-Mart, for example, is unabashed about its desire to equip its new stores with solar panel roofing and cogeneration (heat from refrigeration units goes to warm their stores). Construction costs are promptly recouped allowing the stores to become profitable more quickly.

The concept of energy security is now commonplace in America. It’s easy for people to understand that a reliance on foreign oil from countries considered adversarial leaves us vulnerable to petrol-politics and volatile markets. The desire to be energy independent is natural and wise, even if presently impossible to attain.

Religious and humanitarian arguments for going green are also equally compelling. Evangelicals like Rick Warren are summoning believers to bolster biblical calls for environmental stewardship. Natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, and the increasing number of devastating weather events, associated with climate change, are awakening Americans to the rising social costs stemming from fossil fuels.

But will environmentalists, business leaders, security-minded minded individuals, religious and general humanitarian organizations join together to move America out of its energy crisis? The impact of all four groups steering us towards a sustainable energy supply, using America’s ample wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and other, to meet rising demand would be powerful and ultimately successful.

Another area to which this emerging coalition could lend its might would be to convince Americans that their overall energy appetite needs to be tempered. As a nation, we comprise four percent of the world’s population yet consume 25 percent of its energy. The standard American lifestyle, if matched by India, China and others, cannot be met with natural resources from this earth alone (some speculate the long term need to be ten planets’ worth of resources).

Whether it’s using public transit, opting for less energy-intensive diets, buying local or smart-sizing the American dream to something more sustainable, these actions must be culturally acceptable and affordable in order for energy-light living to be perceived as patriotic – a civic duty taken for the good of this country.

This nation’s energy crisis is not insurmountable. Energy efficiency, conservation and renewable energy initiatives is half the task. Trimming our energy-rich lifestyles, and making it patriotic and fashionable to do so, is the other. Both are equally vital to our success and this emerging coalition of the concerned, acting in concert, can make it happen.

U.S. Representative James Moran, a Virginia Democrat, is senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. Michael Shank is communications director at George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.