Obama vs. McCain 2008: Round 11: Oil, Energy, and the Environment

This is the eleventh of a weekly series of public forums on TMB. Watch for a new round every Monday.

OIl. Energy. The environment.

McCain. Obama.

Discuss.

Next week: Age and Experience

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11 Responses

  1. One thing that I’m curious about. Can anyone tell me in what specific ways McCain (currently) differs from Bush on the environment?

    I’ve heard that this is perhaps where he differs most from Bush, but I haven’t really looked into the specifics.

  2. Have you all seen the Paris Hilton presidential ad? Her energy solution almost makes sense. :)

    I admit, it’s hard for me to have sympathy for Americans when it comes to gas prices. You guys are still paying a fraction of what Europeans are. Norway, one of the world’s biggest oil producers, has the most expensive gas in the world (we’re currently paying between $11 and $12 per gallon). Despite the high oil prices, the latest price increase has actually been minimal because it’s been gradually rising over time. Most people drive small cars here, so that is a big factor. Suprisingly, though, people seem to complain very little about the gas prices here. I think they’re simply used to it.

    Personally, I don’t think Americans should think that offshore drilling is a “solution.” It’s like slapping a band-aid on a severed limb. It might dull the pain for a while, but oil is not an unlimited, renewable resource and we all know it’s bad for the environment. The most sensible thing that Bush ever said (I think he was the one who said it), was that Americans are addicted to oil and they have to break the addiction.

    Whether it’s foreign or domestic oil, it still pollutes the environment, it will all run out someday, and the addiction needs to be broken. And that goes for every country, not just America. Sweden is a good example of making an oil-free society a top priority. You can read more about that here: http://www.sweden.se/templates/cs/Publication____14922.aspx

    For years, Americans have been used to low gas prices. That doesn’t help to dissuade them from buying big cars and driving them everywhere. When cars and gas are cheap, most people are going to choose the convenience of driving their own car over taking public transportation where available. It should sting a little when you fill up your gas tank because it’s not a renewable, clean resource. Yes, people are dependent on it, but most people can cut down. Unfortunately, they don’t until they’re forced to for economic reasons.

    So really, gas prices should not be the priority here. I think that McCain wants to bring Americans immediate, short-term solutions. Making the pain go away now is a smart strategy, because most people don’t care to think ahead. They want relief now. And he may very well win the election based on that strategy. Obama is thinking long-term solutions, even if it hurts now. His approach to oil is probably not going to bring any relief anytime soon. He doesn’t want to tell Americans simply what they want to hear. And he may lose the election because of that.

    Maybe choosing immediate relief over long term benefits is more of a priority when you’re “a wrinkly, old white-haired guy,” to quote Paris. (Just kidding. :)

  3. I don’t think anyone thinks offshore drilling or the oil shale in Utah/Colorado is a solution. Rather they think it’ll help sustain reasonable use prices until alternatives are in place. And alternatives aren’t in place in either the US or Europe. (Indeed Europe is building coal plants like crazy which isn’t exactly a good alternative) Plus Europe has it easier in many ways given its denser population that makes mass transit easier than the US – especially everything in the west and midwest. There’s a lot of “let them eat cake” attitude by some that I just don’t understand.

    McCain is being an opportunist. He was opposed to a lot of Bush plans and is actually an environmentalist although obviously no where near as tough on the environment as Obama.

    It’s hard to say what McCain would actually do in office. I think he’d actually fund alternative energy transitions (unlike Bush who was an idiot in all this) but respect the small guy and business more than Obama. So energy is actually one of the few places I think McCain is much stronger than Obama.

  4. Here’s an excellent article by MIchael Grunwald for Time Magazine (most popular Time article of the week) called “The Tire-Gauge Solution: No Joke.”

    Here’s a nice quote from the article:

    The real problem with the attacks on [Obama’s] tire-gauge plan is that efforts to improve conservation and efficiency happen to be the best approaches to dealing with the energy crisis — the cheapest, cleanest, quickest and easiest ways to ease our addiction to oil, reduce our pain at the pump and address global warming. It’s a pretty simple concept: if our use of fossil fuels is increasing our reliance on Middle Eastern dictators while destroying the planet, maybe we ought to use less.

    You really need to read the whole article; it’s quite short.

  5. 1. McCain believed in global warming before Bush and has worked to protect the environment through a (probably failed) carbon trading plan. As far as motives, I think there is a big difference between McCain and Bush (and the GOP in general) on the environment. Whether that will translate into useful solutions is a different issue.

    2. Both candidates offer dismal solutions to energy. For those of you who say, “nobody thinks drilling is the answer”, think again. The GOP has duped a lot of Americans into believing the fiction that drilling is a real solution. I am saddened that McCain caved to the pressure to get in on this.

    Another set of nonsolutions is Obama’s idea: windfall profit taxes on oil companies. (1) This will only get passed on to consumers, and (2) this simply puts producers that can’t be taxed at an advantage over American companies (producers like Saudia Arabia and Venezuela love this idea). This is populist pandering. His ideas about cracking down on speculation are off the mark as well.

    The real solution is the higher gas prices. While Obama and McCain propose gimmicks to incentivize alternative energy investment, higher prices automatically do it. The high gas prices, and promises of steadily rising prices over the long run, have caused businesses to increase investment in alternative projects (think GM’s Jolt project, which was offline until the high prices). That’s why many economists and energy experts have, for a long time, been arguing for a price floor and progressively increasing tax on gas, offset by cuts in income taxes. I’ve written about this extensively here.

    Politically, this is a hard plan to sell. I think Obama, with his celebrity status (and I’m not being pejorative), could use this opportunity to teach the American people about pigovian taxes and use this real solution. Drilling may be a part of it – it will likely have to be on the table to bring the GOP over, as I think Obama has recently recognized – but the real solution will be a comprehensive restructuring of incentives that will (1) force Americans to decrease consumption and (2) allow the private sector to develop a solution. The private sector, with its ability to channel resources efficiently and use trial and error, will be much more capable of developing a solution than if the government chooses a pet industry (think of the ethanol debacle).

    In the long run, these high energy prices are a result of good old supply and demand. If we want to stop suffering from the price fluctuations, as much of Europe has, we must change our demand habits. Not only does our wallet depend on this, but so do our national security and our environment. The pigovian tax is the way to do it, and I think if anyone can sell it, Obama can.

  6. If we want to stop suffering from the price fluctuations, as much of Europe has, we must change our demand habits. Not only does our wallet depend on this, but so do our national security and our environment.

    And, as I’ve mentioned before, so do our souls.

  7. Our nation has always been most productive when the presidency, congress and the house are at odds….Whenever one party controls it all..Absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Dems control I vote repub president and vice versa…(Clinton was most productive under a Rep controlled congress).A president can do nothing alone. and too much damage when unchallenged!

  8. Ryan,

    I like most of what you say except for this:
    “The GOP has duped a lot of Americans into believing the fiction that drilling is a real solution.”

    I talk to a lot of engineers and do some consulting work for fuel cell companies. Democrats talk about new drilling not reaching the market for 10 years. That is only partly true. Some wells could produce within a year, others a few years, and a few options will not reach the market for 7 to 10 years. That is a lot faster than alternative energy can reach the market. It will take at least 20 years to replace oil as a source of energy. Not to mention the chemical industry. If all American cars stopped tomorrow, the annual demand for oil would remain in the 50 million barrel range.

    In the mean time, I want more American energy supplies, whether it is more drilling, clean burning coal, nuclear power, wind, etc. Sending $700 billion a year overseas for oil harms the value of the dollar and bankrolls people who don’t like us. Increasing US supplies will also create jobs now, which the as-yet-undiscovered alternative energy sources can’t.

  9. Let’s just admit that we are lazy and selfish and greedy! We don’t want to walk, we want big cars, we think we are entitled to waste food, oil, gas, water and every natural resource that exists. We are fat and unhealthy to boot. Rudy G. said it at the Repub Convention….Drill, Baby, Drill….not Save, Baby, Save. Moms all over America sit at their kid’s schools with their car and air conditioners running while waiting to pick up their kids who live less than a half mile away. Can they not walk? People burn tons of gas in the drive through lines at fast food restaurants. Geez, as if getting out of the car and walking a few steps would kill them! We don’t want to spend money to provide public transportation and we don’t want to cut back on driving, Most people I see in markets are still using plastic bag! Yes, Americans are selfish and greedy….and stupid!

  10. I agree that there that the drilling solution is out of trial and why is the money that is spent on oil not used to create a machine so we do not use gas and oil at least not as much. if a person is shown the right amount of money then people will strive to make such a device.

  11. Interesting article from ABC News. I’m just glad that John McCain settled for a “greener” half-ton Ford pick-up instead of a wasteful, greenhouse gas-emitting bigger one. :)

    http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalradar/2008/09/report-mccain-h.html

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