Two Crises, One Policy

     Somebody stole my bike the other day, from off my balcony. It seems to happen when there have been workmen around the apartments.
     It was pretty cheap and pretty old, so not a great loss. Now I walk to work. Which puts me in a bigger demographic group.
     One person in the U.S. rides a bike to work for five who walk for 154 who drive a car to work.
     Those statistics came from an article I read last Sunday in the New York Times on the thirst for oil, as it grows more and more expensive.
     But the statistics that shocked me were not those illustrating what a car-dependent culture we are, something you need no more than drive on a freeway to understand.
     The stats that shocked me were the comparison between the fleetwide standards for gas mileage imposed here at home and those set by foreign nations.
     While we set a low, low 22.2 miles per gallon standard on light trucks which include SUVs and Minivans, the European Union imposes a 43 miles per gallon average on its carmakers, nearly double the U.S. standard.
     China, that nation so roundly criticized for its environmental policies, sets a 36 mpg standard, roughly fifty percent above ours.
     But those numbers don’t stand alone. They have direct consequences.
     Having spent a lot of time in Denmark when I was younger, still having friends there, and considering it a model nation in many ways, I always get a kick out of seeing that small nation showing up in first place in categories like the “happiest people,” admittedly a tough concept to nail down, and in another that is very quantifiable, the nation that has done the most to reduce use of oil.
     Since 1980, the Danes reduced oil consumption by 33 percent, with Swedes a close second at 32 percent.
     During that same period, the U.S. has increased oil consumption by 21 percent. We splurged, they conserved.
     It is tempting to see our nation’s policies seen through the prism of oil, given the history of both the President and the VP in that business.
     But it is also part of the culture of our nation, to consume in great quantities and to forgive politicians their concessions to the short-term interests of powerful business groups.
     But if you were to look through the prism of oil, you could see our war in Iraq and the incompetence with which American administrators undertook the occupation as prompted in part by, and then focused upon, the vast riches of oil lying under the Iraqi sands.
     Such a filter on events seems cleaner and clearer – less gunked up by other factors when it comes to gasoline policy. Lowering oil consumption is good for the nation and good for environment. Increasing oil consumption is bad for the nation, bad for the environment. But it is good for energy companies.
     So one might even be considered reasonable and centrist in concluding that refusal of our government to impose more efficiency on American carmakers is a cave-in to those dinosaurs, that hastened their deserved fate by fighting higher mileage standards, and to the energy companies that certainly did not want people using less gas.
     OK, so now there are two huge worldwide economic crises going on. One is the rising price of oil, the second is the rising price of food. Lo and behold, they are linked.
     They both involve U.S. policy on energy.
     By heavily subsidizing corn used for ethanol production, the U.S. has contributed to the tightening supply of corn and wheat. Increasing production of ethanol is good for the energy companies but not good for the U.S. consumer who is now paying higher prices on food, and is very bad for the population of poor nations.
     There is one constant in all of this. The U.S. policy on energy is not what is good for the nation, not what is good for the environment, it is what is good for the energy companies.
     All that said, the Democratically controlled Congress has done nothing to increase fuel standards and, with California Democrat Nancy Pelosi’s enthusiastic approval, has just passed a $280 billion farm bill that subsidizes farmers when they are making record profits and when the business is dominated by big corporate farms.
     So I think I’ll just walk back home.
     

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