The economics of it make no sense. It would at best save the average motorist about $30 over a summer of driving, and at worst the increased demand would drive up gas prices. Obama's position shows he understands that oil supply is not meeting demand, even if he has not used the words "peak oil."
In the last two weeks, Congress has seen a slew of silly proposals from both sides. Democrats want President Bush to twist Saudi arms to get the kingdom to produce more oil. If that doesn't work, they want to cut off their arms -- weapons that is. Senator Reid plans to bring an expedited resolution to the Senate floor that would block $1.37 billion in arms sales to the Saudis unless they increase oil production by one million barrels a day.
Peak oil educator Richard Heinberg warns where all this confrontation might lead: "[S]uppose we get tough with the Saudis and end up destabilizing the kingdom so that forces unfriendly to us take over. Then we will feel more or less forced to invade in order to maintain access to our national drug of choice. Where would it end? Does any of this help?"
Meanwhile, what Democrats would do to the Saudis, Republicans want to do to the polar bear and the caribou. Republicans are generally in favor of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) despite the fact that even at peak production it would meet only two percent of American's oil demand. But not all Republicans favor drilling in ANWR. Peak Oil Caucus Co-Chair Roscoe Bartlett thinks we should save the Arctic oil for a real emergency. Speaking in opposition to drilling, he said "I am having trouble understanding how it is in our national security interest to use up our little bit of oil as quickly as we can. If we could pump ANWR tomorrow, what would we do the day after tomorrow?"
Bartlett takes this position because he is operating with the knowledge that oil is finite and that the world is nearing or has surpassed peak production. If all members of Congress were operating within this framework, then we would see some very different policy proposals. I asked Lisa Wright why Bartlett's office thinks the peak oil issue has gotten so little traction in the media and with politicians. Wright blamed a human psychological condition known as cognitive dissonance, "the phenomenon that you only hear what you're interested in hearing."
"Hard truths are hard to talk about as well as hard to absorb," she said. "It's much easier to believe people who say that if we just have more American production then we wouldn't have to worry about foreign imports, without explaining that we're already pumping our minute portion of world reserves three or four times faster than the rest of the world. But we can't drill our way to self-sufficiency because you can't pump what's not there."
When asked if she saw peak oil becoming an issue in the presidential campaign, Wright said, "It will become a campaign issue if candidates make it an issue and candidates will choose to make it an issue if it shows up as being a motivating issue for voters." But, she said, "It's a chicken and egg conundrum. To the extent that voters become informed and aware through media, you'll find that candidates will follow. That's generally the way American politics works."
After years of toning down the message of peak oil in public discourse, voters need to let candidates know that now is the time to tone it up.