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Jeffrey Feldman

Jeffrey Feldman

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The Empty Ritual of Energy Speeches

Posted: 03/30/11 04:19 PM ET

Over the past few decades this country has developed a pathetic empty ritual. Every so often -- when gas prices are high, when a gazillion gallons of oil sludge are pouring into the sea, or while a nuclear plant lies smoldering in Chernobyl mode -- the sitting president stands before the American people to call for better energy policy.

Any of us could give one of these speeches in our sleep, we have heard so many by now: less dependence on foreign oil, renewable energy, safer techniques, collective sacrifice, look to the future, it's all about the children, yada, yada, yada.

The best part? When the speech is over, nothing actually happens or worse: Our energy policy, as if by magic, actually goes in the wrong direction (abracadabra).

This empty ritual of energy policy speeches has become one of the most cynical, cowardly routines of our time. And as far as I can tell, every White House is in on it.

And so, as all presidents since Richard Nixon have done, President Obama's stepped up to take his turn, issuing a noble call to 'get serious' about long-term energy policy while a nation of frustrated consumers -- all of us begging for an actual serious shift toward renewables in our national policy -- rolled our eyes while muttering under their breath.

Here is what I muttered -- occasionally punctuated by fits of shouting and throwing things -- as I listened to the president's energy policy speech:

- With the Fukishima nuclear plant in full melt down and reports of radioactive drift, how hard is it to just say, "Nuclear power is unsafe and we are going to halt it?"

- Knowing that natural gas drilling involves pumping millions of gallons of mysterious chemical soup into the ground that poisons our water, gives our children cancer, causes earthquakes, and turns kitchen faucets into flame throwers -- how hard is it to say, "No more fracking?"

- Who are these insane people who actually believe that shifting from one environmentally destructive petroleum mining technique (oil) to another (gas) constitutes a "new energy policy?"

- Why the heck do we have billions in tax incentives for producers of wind and solar, but we virtually no national campaign, incentives or conversation to educate and encourage consumers to embrace wind and solar?

- We already had the biggest oil spill in human history, do we need the biggest nuclear meltdown and the poisoning of half our national watershed system, too, before we actually embrace renewable energy?

- What... in... God's... name... are... we... waiting... for?


Certainly, I could not have been the only one who muttered these or similar questions. Well over half the country has been mumbling them for some time.

Take natural gas fracturing or "fracking," for example.

This technique of mining for natural gas involves pumping boatloads of "proprietary" solution into the earth to "open" up a well. This wonderful process has caused, among other things: poisonous drinking water, cancer, earthquakes and -- craziest of all -- ordinary tap water to become highly flammable.

When a drilling technique is poisoning our water and turning our kitchen sinks into a fireballs, we -- by which I mean voters -- do not need to stop and think about what we want to do.

We do not want to proclaim our commitment to do a better job over the next several decades. We do not want to encourage better practices from industry in an unspecified manner. We do not want to challenge ourselves to get on the right footing and believe in the future. We want the insane practice to stop. For goodness sakes, just stop the fracking before it poisons our water, kills our children, and destroys our land.

The kitchen tap is on fire! For goodness sakes, just stop the freaking fracking.

The same for nuclear energy. For months we have been watching an American-designed nuclear power plant in full radioactive nightmare mode virtually 24/7 on cable TV. Amidst a backdrop of reports of radioactive leaks into the ocean, radioactive material dispersed into the atmosphere, and mass evacuations, we -- by which I mean voters -- do not need to stop and think about what we want to do.

We do not want to make promises to make sure that 1970s ear safety procedures are examined and scrupulously followed. We do not want to make sure that earthquake tests are up to date on facilities in the Midwest and Eastern seaboard. We do not want feel-good industry promises about nuclear plants old enough that they look like time outtakes from the The China Syndrome. We want the insane practice to stop. For goodness sakes, just stop building nuclear power plants before the next disaster is so horrific that it dwarfs the one we are watching now.

Radioactive rain is falling on Boston! For goodness sakes, just shut down the nightmarish nukes.

Simple, right? Wrong. Radioactive rain showers wrong. Flaming tap water wrong.

We know what we have to do to stop the obvious madness, but we are trapped with a political system -- stuck with an energy policy Tammany Hall -- that has been bought and paid for 10 times over by an industry that does not want us to stray from the past by more than a few oily footprints.

The empty ritual of energy policy speeches, in other words, is not empty for everyone. It fills the pockets of big oil quite nicely and will continue to do so until we as voters stand up, pound a few trash can lids together, and refuse to put up with the same nonsense year after year.

The headlines from Wall Street after the president's speech on energy policy? "Natural Gas Fuel Stocks Surge on Obama Energy Speech."

Why didn't wind stocks or solar stocks "surge" at the same time? Because everyone on Wall Street seems to understand what is actually happening under the guise of "new energy policy." And why shouldn't they understand -- it has been going on for decades.

Isn't it about time a few hundred thousand (a few million?) people from areas directly under threat from the nuclear power and natural gas industries got together to donkey kick the empty ritual of energy policy speeches?

The mumbling needs to end. The time has come to demand real change in how this country thinks about fuel -- a new way of talking about energy policy that is much louder and much more disconcerting for politicians to hear as they look at the electoral map.

No more fracking.

Shut down the nukes.

Wind and solar -- right now.

We have been waiting way too long. We are in both political parties. And we do more than talk: we vote.

 

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