Thursday, July 16, 2009

Moving Beyond Oil: A Mindset Shift Toward a New America

Last night, a friend of mine came out of the closet as a conservative to me at a party. We were in a group of friends who were conservative and he announced how we needed to start drilling for oil off the coasts. Needless to say, that doesn't change our friendship at all, but it does ask for a response that I couldn't give last night at a birthday party where it would have been totally inappropriate to start a major political discussion.

This is one of the major problems with the conservative movement of today compared to the conservative movement of the 60s to the 80s: They are very shortsighted in their justifications and very narrowly focused. The conservatives of previous years could tell you about the implications years down the road and thought out how things would work out. To oil, they would say that having it run low on supply and as price increased would drive market innovation for more solutions. They had a reason why the end of oil wouldn't be the end of the world.

Today, it is simply "there is a lot of unused oil and I don't want to send my money to the Middle East." There is no thought about the implications beyond that. There isn't a "I don't want to fund governments that are bad." There isn't a "once oil is gone, we will have alternatives." It is simple, narrowly focused, and shortsighted.

Well Tony, why shouldn't we drill the coasts? First, it is a matter of national interest and national security that we save our oil. Second, it is a matter of states' rights and local interests. Third, we must begin to realize our future isn't oil, but beyond oil and start moving towards it. Let me explain.

There is a finite amount of oil on this planet. It isn't some unlimited quantity that simply keeps restocking itself over and over. Yes, there may be more oil than we realize today, but that doesn't make it unlimited. We will discover more and learn how to more efficiently process the shale we have found but not tapped yet. But that doesn't make it unlimited.

That means, at some point, we will run out. And as we get more near that point, the price of oil will rise. The problem with traditional innovation theories of conservatives is that they are reactionary. It means we will have to go through a period of incredibly high priced oil costs and hope that we create an answer before we have to return to days of horse and carriage, assuming we could. I would say a day of bicycles, but without oil for tires and chain maintenance, it just wouldn't be possible.

Additionally, everything from medicine, plastics for distributing and maintaining food, and far more would be impacted negatively. Food would become far more expensive due to petroleum in fertilizers, in plastics (above), in delivery vehicles, and so on. In order to better deal with all of these crises that may arise, having that oil locked up to be drilled later will mean that America has a back up plan. It will mean that when the oil from the Middle East is gone, when Venezuela and Russia has dried up, when others are falling back into the middle ages, America will have oil to use. I bet that isn't what the environmentalists planned, but it is strategically smart.

What has befuddled me is the conservatives' love for states' rights, yet on the issue of oil, they want to ignore those states' rights. California and Florida have long opposed drilling off their coasts because their perfect beaches and coastlines are what bring in billions of dollars in business to their states annually. It means a lot of jobs and wealth to the people of the states. Yet, despite these interests, conservatives want the federal government to open up the coastal areas for drilling.

Of course, they will argue that the coast is not part of the state, but part of the country, but given that those states clean up any spills, and are most impacted by the events off their coast and generally govern the areas off their coast and have so for quite some time, it is a stretch to act like the states have no power over those areas.

However, the most important reason not to focus on drilling offshore is quite simply the need to look forward. Conservatives argue that it puts us behind the rest of the world not to drill this oil and increases costs, yet it does just the opposite. It creates the conditions and a favorable environment for innovation that may shift us from a global economic power on the decline to the global leader in innovation yet again, where America has been for so long.

They will say that we can do both, but the reality is that we can't. For talking about "market economics," too few conservatives truly understand them. By pacifying the immediate desires for oil, the public is placated to accept even higher prices with the promise of cheaper oil on the horizon off of our coasts. That means there are less pressures and less market incentives for alternative energies to replace oil. Anyone wanting to invest in alternatives need profit incentives to push developments forward.

To this end, if America wants to return itself to a world leader, it MUST look to the future of the world, not to the past. Oil is not the answer for the future, it is something holding us back. Japan and Germany have been moving forward and positioning themselves for the markets of the future by leading the world in environmental technology. IF America wants to lead the world, it must move forward in these innovative areas.

But who will buy it? America is the world's consumer. Yet, that isn't the market of tomorrow. The markets of tomorrow that will purchase goods are awakening in India and China. If for no other reason than pure numbers and need for energy to develop, combined with their desire for massive development, these countries will require massive purchases of goods from some countries that are willing to produce goods for their needs. In a world where even oil and coal cannot produce enough energy, where we don't trust other nations with that much of a supply of nuclear materials, what will supply their microgeneration energy needs will logically have to come from alternatives.

We are already seeing the beginning of the trend in India where solar power lighting is changing the world of local Indians who no longer will have to choose between helping their farming families and their education which is key to their future. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg. There will be energy and innovation needs for everything from population control, to pollution control, to energy demands that go along with development of nations that have one third of the world's population. Nations that hold a lot of dollars to purchase American goods and services with.

When they talk of new jobs, new manufacturing, new production, and new economics for America, it is the economics of exporting American ingenuity that they speak of. If America wants to continue to live an economically elite life, we cannot rely on low wage jobs, but rather we must innovate to new fields constantly. We cannot rely on the past energy sources, we cannot rely on the past infrastructure, we cannot rely on the past methods; we must move forward, learning from the past to lead the world in innovations.

When we look to the past as the answer, we start to move ourselves backwards, not forwards towards new innovative solutions. We must move forward if we are to lead the world instead of becoming the next former world leader. Drilling for more oil doesn't lead to the future, it simply holds on to the past.

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