Oil Prices and the Paradigm of Stupid
The debate over oil drilling has exposed the stupidity divide in America. Tom Friedman touched on this in his New York Times op-ed piece last Sunday:
"Two years ago, President Bush declared that America was 'addicted to oil,' and, by gosh, he was going to do something about it. Well, now he has. Now we have the new Bush energy plan: 'Get more addicted to oil.'"
Predictably, the explosion in oil prices has led to the taking of sides. On one side are George Bush, the Republicans, and the oil companies, who argue for more oil drilling in environmentally sensitive places, such as off our coasts and in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). On the other side are Democrats and environmentalists, who argue that we would not benefit from any such drilling for years, and that our potential oil supply is nowhere near enough to satisfy our demand in any event.
Why does every problem lead to such a binary response? Are there really always two sides to everything? Is it just human nature to divide into opposing camps? Or are entrenched money interests driving the binary paradigm? Are the cable television news networks, which thrive on such Right versus Left battles, partly to blame?
Instead of the Right/Left paradigm that seems to govern every problem and which invariably stifles common solutions, I would like to suggest a new paradigm: the paradigm of stupid. Under the paradigm of stupid, we look at our problems, and the proposed solutions thereto, by shedding our political beliefs just for a moment, and by asking a simple question: is the proposed solution stupid? If so, the solution, no matter who proposed it, should be rejected. Anyone who cannot do this should be suspected of having a financial or other bias.
The paradigm of stupid can be applied to the oil crisis by using mathematics. The math says that the U.S. has only three percent of the world's oil reserves but uses 25 percent of the world's energy sources. The math also says that the estimated amount of oil under ANWR and off our coasts is just a drop in the barrel compared to what we use, and thus it could not possibly meet our oil demand. Finally, the math shows that developing nations, especially China and India, are competing for more of the world's oil supply each day, so that the prognosis for the world's oil supply versus its demand isn't good. In short, the math dictates that approaching the problem of rising oil prices simply by calling for more oil drilling is stupid.
The non-stupid answer to our energy crisis isn't easy but it is obvious: we need to conserve more energy, and we need to develop alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, hydrogen, etc. Under this paradigm, many people who oppose more oil drilling off our coasts might support such drilling in the short term IF people on the other side would support a comprehensive, long-term plan to develop and switch to clean, renewable energy sources.
Anyone still caught up in the binary debate might do better to get rid of the stupid and figure out a way to get in on the vast fortunes that are inevitably made by those who solve America's big problems. That's not politics. It's just math.