Stop Vilifying Oil

Today I would like to say something in defense of oil. Perhaps more accurately I want to suggest we stop vilifying oil because we need it. Now of course BP is guilty of negligence and bad practices in this awful oil spill. But I'm making a different point, hear me out. In his first Oval Office address about the BP oil spill, President Obama pivoted off the oil spill to ask Americans to embrace a clean energy future. He called for a national mission to move from the reliance from oil and spoke of the need to overcome a lack of courage and candor. But candor does require that we admit, much as we might wish otherwise, there are no known technologies that can move us off petroleum for the next 20, or even 30 years.

While we may be able to find green sources of energy to power our homes and factories in the future, nuclear, solar or wind, as a fuel in transportation, there is really nothing that can remotely compete for the cost, affordability, efficiency and reliability of petroleum. That is why it has been the life blood of the industrial world for almost a century. Now we can use it more efficiently, we can stop wasting it on making plastic bottles and cans, and we should of course, extract it more safely. But even 30 years from now, in all likelihood, we will be using oil as a transport fuel for planes, trucks and some cars. That's the reality. And if we do need this oil, we should also be careful about demonizing oil companies. They are, after all, engaged in a legal activity to provide a product that we consume--all of us--by the millions of barrel every day. So why blame the oil companies for providing the oil, rather than all of us, the consumers, who are being hooked on it. The existing technologies that we know of that are green have some limits on how widely they can be applied and they remain costly. We should keep funding them. But the only serious prospect for clean energy future would be to discourage the use of oil and coal which is even dirtier, by taxing both of them, Carbon Tax, and using the money to fund new technologies all together, ones that have the same quality that have made oil and coal so irresistible. That means new taxes and smart efficient-focused government spending. And that would take a lot of courage from the White House, Congress and from all of us to support it.


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