Earlier this week I had a reader suggest the need for the U.S. to develop a nuclear fusion program so we can finally stop relying on fossil fuel for electric power (he suggested this would be a U.S. only program, unlike ITER, which is an international collaboration). I mentioned that such a program may be nice, but I wasn't sure if the costs could be justified right now. But more important than the costs to undertake such a program (if it can ever even be cost effective) the bigger obstacle is political will. Will the American public really get behind a multi-billion dollar program to get off fossil fuel for electric power? In short answer: not anytime soon. Not in the current political climate.
But this got me thinking: If we could undertake a strategy to reduce fossil fuel consumption, what would have the best chance of getting the approval of the American public and getting through Washington, D.C.? Not only that, what type of program would have the greatest positive impact on the future of the United States?
I'll tell you what I think that program would be: A gradual increase of the tax on the price of a gallon of gasoline.
Of all ways we use fossil fuel energy, why do I think we should first target gasoline?
Reducing the demand of gasoline - through an increase on the tax - accomplishes three main things:
- Reduces our purchases of oil from regimes that want to see the demise of the US. The reason many middle-eastern countries can operate as oppressive religious oligarchies is because they don't have to operate an international competitive economy; they get their $$$ and power from selling oil.
- Protects the economy from supply shocks and subsequent price spikes that we saw in 2008.
- Lowers air emissions that produce smog and other dirty air that is damaging to our health. ( note: I didn't even mention Climate Change! Why? By not mentioning Climate Change there is a greater chance to gain bi-partisan support. If you care about Climate Change, then you obviously support any efforts to reduce gasoline consumption because transportation is a huge contributor to CO2 emissions. If you think Climate Change is still worthy of a debate ( or are so bold to call it a hoax) then that's fine, protecting our troops by limiting the funding to our enemies is the perfect reason to want to support reducing demand for gasoline!)
What would we do with the money raised from an increased gasoline tax? Proceeds of the tax would split between funding research for new forms of non-fossil-fueled mobility (like electric cars) and paying for the cost of adequately protecting our soldiers in the middle east.
But alas, most politicians and Americans are too cowardly to support such a tax. They would much rather pass along the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to future taxpayers and let their children deal with a wealthier Iran/Venezuela/Saudi Arabia. Most Americans would rather simply accept their children who have asthma can't play outside on smog alert days than acknowledge that using gasoline is one of the main reasons for the smog. Most Americans would rather have something cheap now and just deal with the ramifications later. To me, this behavior of personal selfishness at the sake of a stronger America is disgusting.
Taxing gasoline for the purpose of reducing foreign oil seems to be a no-brainer, but alas, our politicians are too scared to offend many of this country's short-sighted and ill-informed constituents.
So I said it: I'm disgusted by the American public's reluctance to take real measures to reduce fossil fuel, especially oil. Do you think I'm wrong? Do you have a better idea? Great, tell me in the comments. But make sure your greater concern is for the future of this country and the health and safety of it's citizens, not just a few extra bucks in your wallet.