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You don't need me to tell you that gas prices are rising to ridiculous (see: European) levels. This is a huge problem for everyone: people who can't afford to fill up and companies who suddenly face a significant increase in spending. As far as fixing the problem, our party wants to crack down on price-gougers, while Bush reminds us that there's no magic wand to wave. Price gouging is certainly a problem, and I'm glad that W has finally figured out the difference between fairly tale and reality. But Bush certainly isn't fixing the problem, and as much as I hate to say it, neither are the Democrats. The blame game isn't going to fix high gas prices; it's time to solve the problem once and for all.

Plain and simple, the only way we're ever going to permanently cure high gas prices is to switch to alternative energy. I'm not saying this is easy, I'm not saying this is simple, but if any country can do it, it's America. And other countries are doing it. The New York Times ran a terrific article a few weeks ago about Brazil's use of sugar-based ethanol. If you haven't read it, do so now; it'll make you realize just how ridiculous our energy problems are. In a nutshell, Brazil is producing 8.3 times as much energy from sugar cane as it expends in the process, while the US receives a rate of return at only 1.3 units on corn. I'm no scientist, but I refuse to believe that sugar cane is the only crop in the world that can be efficiently converted to ethanol.

To be clear, I'm not sure if ethanol is the best way to switch to alternative energy, but it's as good as any of a place to start. My point is that we need to stop making token efforts and begin pursuing serious investments in new fuels. The government needs to spend a significant sum of money-- in the billions (which isn't a lot, as you'll see in a second)-- specifically on researching alternative energy. There are many ways to do this. We could provide grants to corporations or NGOs. We could implement enormous tax benefits (similar to what is already in place for people financing oil and gas exploration) to individuals and companies that invest in alternative fuels. We could even put in place financial rewards for the first person or organization to reach a particular milestone of energy development or efficiency. I'm a progressive; I believe that the government can be a force for good. What better way to positively change America than to seriously invest in energy independence?

That was a little bit vague, so here's my idea. The government should invest, say, $10 billion in developing energy-efficient ways to produce ethanol from any crop that can be grown in America. Meanwhile, American farm subsidies have reached $143 billion over the past 10 years. Once we find an efficient plant to turn into energy, we should ask subsidized farmers to convert their fields into said crop. Since we'll be using the crop to fuel our cars, demand will rise significantly, and we can finally cut our farm subsidies without harming American farmers. Within a few years, we'll have saved a lot more than $10 billion, and gone a long way to resolving farm subsidies.

More importantly, we'll have solved our energy problem. We'll have solved high gas prices, which are bad for everyone: the poor can barely afford to drive, the middle class have to cut expenses, and corporations lose money when their vehicles all cost twice as much to operate as they did a few years ago. By switching from fossil fuels, we will have solved a plethora of environmental issues, including the stark reality that we're going to run out of oil in the not-so-distant future. Perhaps most significantly, we will have resolved the security issue; the fact that American fortunes are tethered to countries like Saudi Arabia is incredibly dangerous and is simply not acceptable to our national interest. Not to mention the fact that with our energy grown by American farmers and refined by American engineers and scientists, the new industry of alternative fuels will be bringing plenty of good jobs back to America.

Maybe my plan is a completely untenable and a bunch of science fiction written by a liberal arts student. It doesn't matter. America has enough amazing scientists that can figure out a working plan with $10 billion. My point is that it's time for the government to take real action on developing alternative energy. Maybe $10 billion is a lot of money, but considering how much we spend on farm subsidies and how much the country as a whole spends on high gas prices, I think it's pretty doable (not to mention that $10 billion is roughly what we spend every month in Iraq!). With a significant investment, there's no reason that America can't become the world leader in alternative fuels and break our crushing dependency on foreign oil. The Democratic Party is today in an incredible position to give America a vision for our energy future. Voters want a vision for how to solve the problem of gas prices; we can give it to them, and enact it as soon as we're elected. To paraphrase a great movie about the cornfields of Iowa (not to mention Rachel's blog post): if we give a vision, the voters will come.


Rach C said...

If you weren't convinced enough by this article, let me add a few more statistics that are sure to get you off the fence and on board with the Or Skolnik Plan to Save the Universe:
-Brazil produces about 14 billion liters annually of ethanol
-This is enough to replace approximately 40% of Brazil's gasoline demand
-The outcome of all of this is that Brazil is expected to become independent from foreign oil THIS YEAR
(Source: Wikipedia)
So as if there weren't environmental reasons enough to look into alternative energy, here's another motive for you: It's a matter of national security. It's as simple as that. The sooner the US becomes energy independent, the sooner we can stop coddling oil-rich regimes in the Middle East that support terrorism and start fighting for true democracy in the region.

OrSkolnik said...

I just found a greatarticle by DarkSyde over at DailyKos about much the same topic. Unlike me, DarkSyde is very science-literate, and he talks specifically about the technology behind solar energy. He also makes many of the same points Rachel and I do about why alternative energy isn't just an environmental or high gas prices issue but essential to our national securty. It's a terrific read.