Political conventions are largely mass entertainment for the party faithful, punctuated by self-serving interpretations of both current events and history. Like summer big-budget movies, this year’s Democratic and Republican sequels were replete with familiar heroes and villains, funny costumes, and predictable dialogue. But instead of “I’ll be back” or “Make my day”, this year’s installments will be remembered for a punchline of a different kind – – “drill, baby, drill.”
More than once during the Republican convention, the crowd chanted that slogan in response to the numerous calls for more oil drilling in the US. Like some mystic initiation rite, those intonations and chanted responses highlighted the degree to which a significant part of the American public still suffers from the delusion that our energy supply – – and prices – – will be bent to our will by some wave of a magic wand. Make no mistake, this is not solely the fantasy of Republicans, but the choice of oil drilling as the theme for their week on center stage merely highlights the need for a reality check for us all.
First, let’s get one thing straight – – there’s almost nothing that politicians can do about the price of oil or fuel. They can investigate “speculators”, but there’s nothing illegal about investing in commodities and reselling them at a profit – – and we call them “investors” when the same methods are applied to gold or stocks – – while these kinds of transactions add little to the price of gas anyway. They can facilitate drilling along our coasts or in wildlife preserves, but it takes nearly a decade to bring new resources to market (so no short-term price relief) and there are no untapped reserves that would offset so much of our 80 million barrel per day global addiction that prices would be affected.
But there might be one rationale for more domestic exploitation of oil. If we capped our use and then started incentivizing the alternatives, so demand would be reduced every year, it would make a lot of sense to move our oil supply chain closer to home until we just wouldn’t need it anymore. Without the cap, we’re trying to cure the addict by increasing the supply of the drug, but as long as we are using oil, perhaps we should bear all of the impacts – – despoiled landscapes, impoverished villagers, and destruction of air and water supplies. If our communities and coastlines suffered the same fate as those of Nigeria or Ecuador, perhaps more people and politicians would support a cap and whatever else it took to break the addiction once and for all.
In four years, when the party hats are donned and balloons are again released from the rafters, perhaps the chant will evolve – – perhaps we will evolve. If we do, the chant that fills the halls then might just be “cap, baby, cap.”