Jon Stewart on Energy Independence: "Why didn't it work? Why didn't we do it?"


Jon Stewart's research team at The Daily Show do a patriotic service by pointing out that weaning America off of Middle Eastern oil is not some brave new Barack Obama initiative, but rather a four-decade long unkept presidential promise. Check it out:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon—Thurs 11p / 10c
An Energy-Independent Future
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

What Stewart doesn't do, and what few people from (for lack of a better word) the Stewartian Universe do, is really attempt to answer the question he poses in the headline. (Alhough he did end in a nauseating if familiar flourish of celebrating Richard Nixon as a glorious regulator, thankfully Stewart did not go to the usual playbook on this question, which is to vaguely blame it all on the omnipotence of evil oil companies.)

This is what really irritates me about the following sentiment, uttered this week by the president of the United States:

Time and again, the path forward has been blocked—not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor. 

What's irritating is not the need for the candor, which is real, but of the quality of its contents, which is lacking. Namely, the thing eight consecutive presidents have failed to adequately communicate is that ENERGY IS HARD. Yucky oil and Dickensian coal are just stubbornly cheap compared to everything else (particularly, though not only, because the liability for extraction accidents and other environmental damages are not properly priced).

Any conversation about energy production should start with cost, which is why we dedicated our June 2009 issue to precisely that topic, comparing past and future cost/output of competing technologies, exploring the potentialities of and obstacles to a smart grid, pointing out that the noises and initiatives Obama is making are eerily similar to the expensive and ineffective measures ushered in with great fanfare by Jimmy Carter. And wretched pollution isn't limited to fossil fuels, either–dams rape rivers, solar mangles deserts, nukes poop radiation, and windmills slice birds. 

If there was a magic switch that enlightened leaders could flip to usher in a clean energy utopia, we would have been there three decades ago. There just isn't, and portraying this lack as some kind of byproduct of "oil industry lobbyists" isn't "candor," it's the opposite. No amount of declaring moonshots or mandating renewables or overstating the clean-energy genius of Communist freaking China can wave away what is a genuinely difficult problem.

You want candor? Stop pretending that making energy more expensive will create five million green jobs, and instead try to sell oilspill-averse Americans on the concept that jacking up prices is an economic hit worth taking even at a time of 10 percent unemployment, and may in some distant future create economic benefits we can't currently predict. It would be an uphill pitch, but one considerably more honest than continuing to pretend we can smite down Big Oil with the sternness of our words.

Reason on the mirage of energy independence here.