Spoonfuls of an Elephant

Very slowly (since somewhere around early December), I’ve been absorbing Elizabeth Royte’s book Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash. This is a wonderful book that makes me think a lot about my freshman year in college, when I did, in fact, follow the trail of my own trash. But that’s another post.

There’s a part of the book where Royte is talking to the manager of a New York scrap yard, and when describing the amount of scrap metal the author was seeing versus the amount of metal processed by the yard in a single year, the manager, Steve Shinn, said that it was "spoonfuls of an elephant". What a wonderful, wonderful turn of phrase that applies to this nation and its approach to energy conservation and environmentalism perfectly, with one minor tweak: we tackle the issue in spoonfuls of a white elephant.

President Bush, in his State of the Union address this year, payed lip service to the problem of global warming and the need for energy conservation through enforcement. I heavily agree with Charles Krauthammer, a syndicated columnist in The Seattle Times, when he says that what the president proposes is simply not enough. Bush has now admitted that there’s a white elephant in the room, but is loath to get rid of it. Allow me to copiously quote Mr. Krauthammer on at least one front:

First, tax gas. The president ostentatiously rolled out his 20-in-10 plan: reducing gasoline consumption by 20 percent in 10 years. This with Rube Goldberg regulation — fuel-efficiency standards, artificially mandated levels of "renewable and alternative fuels in 2017" and various bribes (er, incentives) for government-favored technologies — of the kind we have been trying for three decades.

Good grief. I can give you a 20-in-2: tax gas to $4 a gallon. With oil prices having fallen to $55 a barrel, now is the time. The effect of a gas-tax hike will be seen in less than two years, and you don’t even have to go back to the 1970s and the subsequent radical reduction in consumption to see how. Just look at last summer. Gas prices spike to $3 — with the premium going to Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez and assorted sheiks, rather than the U.S. Treasury — and, presto, SUV sales plunge, the Prius is cool and car ads once again begin featuring miles-per-gallon ratings.

No regulator, no fuel-efficiency standards, no presidential exhortations, no grand experiments with switchgrass. Raise the price and people change their habits. It’s the essence of capitalism.

"Energy Independence – Seriously", January 29, 2007

Now is the time to get aggressive. Actually, no – now is the time to get downright pissed. The plain and clear reality is this: we’re only starting to realize the problem, and even with a Democratic Congress, we’re unlikely to accomplish huge leaps and bounds that aren’t simply an undoing of a previous political gaffe or maneuver. If we want to have a world that we’re proud of and want to live in, we have to realize that this comes with enormous responsibility and cost. Thus, I reiterate my Five Steps Towards Oil Independence, and I challenge you, dear reader, to respond: what can we do? What’s reasonable? What’s not? It is only through debate that we truly begin to understand the issues.

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