Today, President Obama set a goal that, in ten years, we will import a third less oil than we do today. That's it. That's the the big plan.
We can do better, a lot better. In 1961, faced with a Soviet Union bent on dominating the world, President John F. Kennedy embarked us on a mission to the Moon. It seemed foolish to think, at the time, we could land on the Moon by the end of the decade. Yet we did it. The tools existed in 1961, and we had will to use them. We can do great things, because we have done them.
Today, we have the tools to get off oil. It might seem foolish to think that we can do so, but we can.
Starting today, the Dylan Ratigan Show is holding a three-day energy summit live from Oklahoma on how to free America from mideast oil as part of our innovative Steel on Wheels Tour featuring a diverse array of guests from energy entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens to Ashwin Madia of VoteVets.Org.
We need three "More"s to get there.
- More investment in "less"
- More clean demand
- More of us than them
Let me explain what I mean.
More Investment in "Less"
Imagine if we could triple the number of power plants that we had online, without using nuclear energy, burning one more brick of coal, oil, or natural gas, or even sticking a wind turbine or solar cell on a roof. We can. It's a power source that American has in spades. It's called efficiency. And it's one of the best ways to "generate" more energy. Right now, we have a 34% efficiency rating, which means that we waste two thirds of the energy we burn. So if we tripled it, or even just brought ourselves up to where other countries are, we'd save trillions of dollars.
Where efficiency has been tried, it has succeeded.... wildly. It can be done at a utility level, a state level, a company-wide level, or a national level.
- California has achieved consistent energy efficiency gains for three decades, and the cost of power per kilowatt of "efficiency" is about a fifth that of generating a kilowatt from coal, nuclear, or natural gas.
- Dow Chemical's Louisiana Division held a contest to identify and fund energy saving projects from 1982-1993, and the return on investment ranged between 170% to 340% a year.
- OPower has saved 215,000,000 kilowatts of electricity by working with utility companies to encourage customers to turn off the lights.
- Germany will be completely off fossil fuels and nuclear power by 2050, and that country's strategy relies heavily on efficiency gains.
- America saved more oil from one 2005 piece of legislation (26 billion barrels) on efficiency than we have in proven reserves (23 billion barrels).
So let's do it.
More Clean Demand
We know how to make clean energy. The sun sends enough energy our way in six minutes to power our civilization for a year. We can generate energy from the sun, from wind, from tides, and from natural gas as a bridge fuel. There are safe nuclear designs.
The problem is not energy, we are drowning in it, the problem is political. Let's look at the "cost" of oil. At the pump, the price is between 3-4 dollars a gallon. Once you figure in the costs of our military, the medical and human costs from pollution, hidden subsidies in our tax code, the real price is between $10-15 a gallon (Michael Milken pegged it at $14/gallon, which is roughly what I came up with independently).
If gas were at $10-15 a gallon, you'd see market mechanisms kicking in to get us off oil. In some ways, all we have to do to ratchet up demand for clean energy is get rid of these off-balance sheet costs of oil.
Italy has already figured out how to make solar energy cost competitive on their grid. German farmers are profiting with wind turbines on their farms, because they are allowed to sell energy back to their utilities through feed-in tariffs. But here, China is eating our lunch.
Michael Liebreich, CEO of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, added, "The United States remains the global leader in clean energy innovation, receiving 75 percent of all venture capital investment in the sector, a total of $6 billion in 2010, but the U.S. has not been creating demand for deployment of clean energy. As a result it is losing out on opportunities to attract investment, create manufacturing capabilities and spur job growth. For example, worldwide, China is now the leading manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels."
We invented alternative energies here. Let's beat China on clean energy the way we beat the Soviet Union to the Moon.
And finally, the third problem.
More of Us Than Them
We all want clean energy. Some of us want it because it's safer, some because it's cheaper when considering all the costs, and some because securing oil in places controlled by very nasty people is a very nasty business. But we want it. Our government isn't delivering the framework to let us invent and deploy it. It's time to recognize why. I called it "The Coalition of the Status Quo."
- Industry - Exxon is the most profitable company in the world for a reason, and it wants to stay that way. BP likes being able to profit, blow up the Gulf of Mexico, and then profit again. Koch Industries is owned by America's original oligarchs, David and Charles Koch, who are jointly worth $44 Billion. These companies like America's dependence on foreign oil, because it means we're dependent on them.
- Wall Street - The capital flows that the oil industry generates are catnip for the banks. Citigroup loves making money helping oil companies hedge and manage their capital, and JP Morgan and Goldman manage the money from petro-states. In fact, the "global imbalances" - spurred by oil - that Ben Bernanke loves to point at are a major profit center for the big banks. Our dependence on oil means that we need to finance that dependence, and that means we're dependent on the banks to figure out ways to do that.
- Washington, DC - The only housing market in the country going up right now is in Washington, DC. We all know why. The relationships that oil and finance have with our political establishment, through think tanks, donor bundling, and politicians, are deep. And the politicians love it.
To beat them, we have to build and enlarge "the Coalition of the Future."
- Industrialists - Our massive trade imbalances have damaged our domestic industries severely. Thankfully, some companies like our sponsor Nucor Steel, and individuals like T. Boone Pickens, are beginning to speak out for a different national strategy.
- Environmentalists - The environmental movement were the original conservationists, and they have been pushing for an end to oil dependence longer than anyone.
- Young people - The oil-driven economy is no longer working for our youth. The economic ladder has been pulled up behind them, and their opportunities for jobs are far more constrained than their parents generation. They also also more comfortable with energy efficient urban living, and less tied to cars.
- Veterans - With more than a decade of warfare in the oil-rich Middle East, America has a crop of veterans that are deeply attuned to energy interests. Newer groups like VoteVets.org have members that are interested in energy and security. A generation of younger veterans are coming into the workforce deeply attuned to the need for a new national strategy on energy.
Now, oil interests and Wall Street are powerful, but here's the good news - there are more of us than there are of them. Thankfully we are still society in which that still counts for something. Now the challenge is to gather more of us and to vote for politicians willing to implement innovative policies like the carbon tax + dividend that will push America to finally achieve the true energy independence we need.
Germany is going to be completely off oil and nuclear fuels by 2050. There's no reason we can't beat them there.
We at the Dylan Ratigan Show would like to invite you to join us in creating "more of us" by joining our live town hall tomorrow night on energy at Oklahoma State University at 8pm eastern time. Panelists include:
- Boone Pickens, Oil Tycoon & Founder, BP Capital Management
- Ashwin Madia, VoteVets.org
- Bob Deans, Director of Federal Communications, Natural Resources Defense Council
- Former CIA Director James Woolsey
We're also asking people around the country to help us out. Anyone that has a thought, idea or question that you would like to ask the panel via Skype, email info@DylanRatigan.com to find out more. You can also follow the conversation via twitter by following @DylanRatigan and #SteelonWheels, and at Facebook.com/DylanMSNBC.