So yesterday I was attempting to enjoy a nice lunch at my favorite Chinese restaurant, and catch up on some back issues of Science, when the pretzelnit appeared on the television to issue a steely-eyed announcement that he was lifting the ban on drilling in offshore locations, in an attempt to "do something" about the high cost of gasoline. Gazing into the camera like the big-eared monkey he is, he threatened Congress (who, he said, had been hearing from their constituents during the Fourth of July recess about the problems being caused by said high price of gasoline) to go along with him or else. He then stalked back into the White House and the television went back to pumping out the noon news, for which I was infinitely grateful--as otherwise I might have had difficulty swallowing my dish of Hunan shredded pork.
The problem with the pretzelnit's idea is, of course, that it won't work--like most of everything else he's tried over the last eight years. Even if by some miracle BP or Shell or Exxon manages to poke a drill into exactly the right spot tonight and unleashes a gusher of light sweet crude with the promise of hundreds of billions of barrels more to come, it will take a minimum of several years to tap that well properly, construct a pipeline, and provide the storage and refinery capacity necessary to turn that crude oil into gasoline fit for sale--by which time Bush and his cronies will be long out of office (and, please God, just starting their lengthy jail terms in Guantanamo Bay, where they will enjoy the same rights and endure the same treatment as they gave all those detainees for all those years...). So what the hell--we might as well try alchemy. It's got just as good a chance of doing something to bring down the high cost of fuel as what Bush was proposing.
Plus, as the Obama campaign and the congressional Democrats were quick to point out after Bush was off the teevee, the oil companies already own leases on nearly 70 million acres of federal land, on which they're perfectly free to drill for oil right now. None of them has been, of course, because for years it was cheaper to buy it overseas--and once it became profitable to drill in this country again, the oil company execs were so busy giving themselves obscenely outrageous compensation packages and gold-plating everything in their offices that they could that they didn't have the time to bother with anything so petty as renewed oil exploration.
Of course Mr. Bush wasn't about to suggest anything like a reasonable course of action to all his buddies in the oil industry, because he expects them to help him get even richer once he's out of office, and he doesn't want to jeopardize that gravy train (since I have to think it's about as unlikely as my waking up tomorrow morning to the news that I've been elected pope that Bush is actually going to be able to make much money in any of the more traditional ways ex-presidents have occupied their time, since nobody not actually drawing a paycheck to do so would voluntarily go and listen to anything the man had to say). I do hope, however, that the Democrats (and the few sane Republicans) in Congress will, with the best will in the world, tell Mr. Bush exactly what he can do with his threats, and then perhaps offer a few suggestions on how best to fold them to present the maximum number of sharp corners while he does so.
The present energy crunch is serious business, and we need someone who's serious--and in touch with reality--to work on it. Unfortunately, the roster of people in the Hedgemony who fit that bill has as many names on it as the list of Bush Cabinet appointees that are likely to be offered their posts back in Obama's first presidency--to wit, none. The only thing that might (and regrettably, I have to stress the word "might") do something to bring down the cost of fuel would be to release some of the millions of barrels we have stored in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. But even that would be only a temporary expedient, and eventually we'd have to fill it back up again at a much higher cost in all likelihood.
The smarter answer to this present crisis was, of course, along the lines of the measures that President Carter suggested way back in the mid-1970s, the last time we found ourselves in something of an oil crunch. But no sooner had St. Ronnie of Ray-Gun swept into office atop the "Let's drown government in the bathtub" nonsense of Grover Norquist than they dropped any suggestion that Americans needed to curtail their appetites for petroleum products, nixed the regulations that would have required American automobile manufacturers to have started work that might have begun to bear fruit right about now on significantly raising fuel efficiency, and abandoned almost all forms of alternative energy research. We're pouring money down that rabbit hole right now (and that's a good thing), but we're years behind the learning curve and are not likely, barring the kind of scientific breakthrough that can never be planned for, to find much in the way of tangible results for years or decades yet.
Alchemy. It's the only way, I tell you.