So much for the idea that Bush went to war for cheap oil. Yes, I know, they're now imagining that high gas prices are actually lining the pockets of the president's cronies at Exxon and Sunoco. But this is not an argument advanced by grownups.
I cannot pretend to plumb the intricacies of oil prices. I gather that the current high prices are attributable to a number of factors including, in no particular order: the decline of the dollar, high demand, and OPEC. But it does appear to me that wherever you look along the political spectrum, a lack of sobriety on this subject reigns.
Rising oil prices delight the left. They serve to make the current occupant of the White House even less popular than he already was. But more importantly, they encourage the most authoritarian impulses among those who yearn to punish Americans for their wasteful ways. And let's not forget the Congressional Democrats, who invite oil company executives to Capitol Hill for target practice.
Some conservatives, in response, adopt an unbecoming, sometimes juvenile truculence. A group called Grassfire.org is urging Americans to "waste as much energy as possible" on June 12 and recommends "going for a drive" and "leaving a few lights on."
Can we not have a degree of moderation on this subject? We are heading into the summer months, a time when millions of American offices, homes, restaurants, and stores will be air-conditioned to suit the tastes of polar bears and penguins. Is it not a little crazy to have to don a sweater to go indoors when the outside temperature is 95? If everyone chose to be cool instead of freezing indoors this summer, we might more than compensate for the higher price of gasoline.
Since when did conservatives decide that they love waste? There are thousands of energy-saving ideas in circulation that conservatives as well as liberals can embrace. Smaller cars and more trains are just one answer. The Department of Energy has a whole page of suggestions (though for some reason they neglected to include "Eliminate Department of Energy," which would probably save a bundle). Lots of tips are simple and commonsensical. For example: lower the thermostat on your hot water heater (and wrap it in insulation), set your computer to "sleep" when not in use, turn off lights and televisions in rooms you are not using, install weatherstripping under doors, and wash clothes in warm instead of hot water.
I was recently in the Frankfurt airport and noticed that the escalators have motion sensors, i.e., they run only when necessary. Eureka! Lights in stairwells and bathrooms in many other countries are set on timers. Apparently, keeping your car serviced and your tires properly inflated can save 3 to 6 percent on gas mileage. And driving at or under the speed limit while refraining from aggressive acceleration and braking saves even more.
Conservatives are right to stress the virtues of non-carbon-emitting nuclear power, and liberals have strenuously opposed it for reasons that are 90 percent emotional and 10 percent rational. But why should we scorn solar? It cannot replace oil and gas, that's clear. But particularly for the South and Southwest regions of the U.S. that are drenched in sunshine most of the year, solar makes excellent sense as a supplement to fossil fuels. Why not at least use it to heat water as many other countries do?
All of these energy-saving measures make sense even if you are unconvinced (as I am) that the world trembles on the brink of a human-caused climate catastrophe. Just to deprive OPEC of a few of our dollars would justify any number of conservation efforts -- to say nothing of drilling in the 1 percent of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that contains oil (perhaps, say some estimates, more than Prudhoe Bay). Those pictures we've all seen of moose and caribou against a backdrop of verdant mountains are a fraud. The coastal plain, where drilling is proposed, is flat, barren, and characterized by unforgiving permafrost.
Finally, Al Gore and Barbra Streisand could give up their private airplanes and fly first class, but one doesn't wish to overreach.