Saturday, January 31, 2015

Truth and Meaning: To the Moon

I was 13 when Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon. I remember sitting around the television with my family, all of us in rapt attention. Successfully landing on the moon was a monumental achievement of strategic planning — one perhaps unrivaled since the building of the Pyramids, Macchu Picchu or the Great Wall. Modern governments rarely plan for the distant future. We are lucky if they plan for the next quarter, let alone the next year or the next 10 years.

So now we are engaged in the seemingly endless debate over the Keystone XL Pipeline. Will it create jobs? Will it make America less dependent on foreign oil? Will it endanger our environment beyond repair? My answer to all of these questions is this: I couldn't care less.

I don't care about the Keystone XL Pipeline because building more pipes to pump more oil makes about as much sense for this nation as reintroducing the Edsel. Oil dependency has been a bad idea from its inception and throwing more time, money and human resources into that black hole is a colossal waste.

You may be asking yourself these questions. Why are we building this pipeline? Why shouldn't we build this pipeline? We are building this pipeline for one very simple reason — because our economy is intimately and integrally connected to the production of energy through the use of fossil fuels. Moving away from oil and natural gas will cause many very large and very important corporations a world of grief. Exxon, Chevron, Texaco, BP and a host of others have no interest in America moving away from a society based upon the internal combustion engine. And they represent a lot of jobs, as well as a lot of rich people who own stock in those companies.

But, our ongoing support of these corporations also reveals other societal commitments — commitments that are incredibly short-sighted. Our dependence on petrochemicals commits us to poisoning our environment on a daily basis. Oil spills, carbon monoxide, fracking chemicals and coal mining are all contributing to the gradual destruction of an environment conducive to human life. Our commitment to these energy sources also drains each and every citizen of valuable financial resources in the form of gas and electric bills, and gasoline. There are roughly 125 million households in the United States. Conservatively, each household spends $2,000 per year on gas and electric usage. That is $250 billion that could be used for other purposes if energy cost nothing. There are 250 million cars and trucks on our roads. Conservatively, each uses 500 gallons of gas each year. That is another $125 billion if running a car cost nothing. And, in time, all of this oil and gas is going to run out or become prohibitively expensive to extract from our depleted earth.

Is it fair to assume that we could heat our homes and run our cars for no cost? Yes, because we can. And that is why we shouldn't build one more pipeline. If we committed to solar, wind, geothermal and other alternative energy sources over the next few decades with the zeal we have used to pursue oil, then these limitless sources would in time cost little more than equipment maintenance to collect and use. And that does not count, of course, the trillions invested in military incursions in search of more oil.

Imagine our government setting a strategic goal of full energy independence from fossil fuels by 2025. Each home would be supplied with a solar panel and storage battery for little more than the cost of installing a satellite dish. Every car would be battery powered and gas stations replaced with charging stations. All of the oil companies could divert their valuable resources to creating 21st century jobs rather than perpetuating 19th century ones. Oil spills would become a distant memory because a sunlight spill is just a beautiful day.