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Dear Governor Romney

Imagine you were driving down the highway at 65 MPH and realized there was a brick wall straight ahead of you. What would you do? (Check all that apply.)

  • Step on the brake

  • Turn the steering wheel

  • Step on the accelerator

  • Hope it's an optical illusion

I think most sane people would opt for some combination of the first two. Stepping on the brake reduces the impact speed and increases your likelihood of surviving the impact, buys you more time to live before the impact, buys you more time to steer aside, and (in the best case) allows you to come to a complete stop with no impact at all. Being uncertain whether the wall is fifty or a hundred yards away may affect how hard you step on the brake, but it doesn't change the fundamental strategy. By contrast, stepping on the accelerator means you hit the wall as fast as possible, you have as little time as possible to turn aside, and you have as little time as possible to live. Of course, if you're lucky, it'll turn out to have been an optical illusion and you've had a wild ride. If not, you're dead.

End of analogy.

There is a finite amount of oil and gas in the world. Experts disagree on exactly how much, but nobody disputes that it's finite. Therefore, the world (and every country in it) will eventually stop using oil and gas -- either voluntarily, while we still have some, or involuntarily, when we run out[1]. The former is a little bit painful for a long time; the latter is extremely painful all at once.

There is a finite amount of oil and gas in the U.S. Experts disagree on exactly how much, but nobody disputes that it's finite, and pretty much everybody agrees that it's much less than can be found in certain other parts of the world (Iran, Russia, the Arabian peninsula...), and that we currently use it much faster than those parts of the world do. If current consumption continues (not to mention grows), the U.S. will run out of oil and gas long before those other parts of the world do, possibly in my lifetime.

On that day, the U.S. will become 100% dependent on foreign oil and gas. The President of the United States will jump when the Prince of Saudi Arabia says "frog".

Governor Romney, your policy of using up U.S.-controlled oil and gas resources as fast as possible, without even trying to find sustainable alternatives, and encouraging consumption, brings that day as close as possible. The opposite approach -- restricting the extraction of U.S.-controlled oil and gas resources, raising oil prices, encouraging efficiency, and investing in sustainable energy technologies -- pushes that day as far away as possible. Which strategy would a patriot who loved his country prefer?

[1]Technically, we won't wake up one day and suddenly have no oil -- it'll just get scarcer and scarcer, more and more expensive, until we can't afford it. The point is the same: kicking the habit voluntarily and gradually is less painful than kicking the habit involuntarily and suddenly.


I probably don't realize the same difficulties that you do, so go ahead.

I'm aware that oil and gas are global markets, and increasing or decreasing the extraction rate in a particular region doesn't much affect retail prices in that region, only worldwide prices. However (as we learned in 1973), the government of the place where the resources are can choose to sell more or less, thus lowering or raising prices, for political purposes. Whom do we want to have that power, when?</p>

I can see a few ways somebody could possibly think the Romney plan is a good idea. From most to least charitable:

1) he honestly thinks the U.S.'s reserves of oil and gas are so enormous that we can safely leave the problem to the technologists of another century (IOW, the brick wall is miles away, so we have plenty of time to avoid it, even if we speed up now);

2) he thinks that when oil and gas get scarce and expensive, if any other country refuses to sell it to us we'll just invade and take it by force;

3) he believes that the sum of an increasing infinite series can be finite; or

4) he honestly doesn't care what happens to the country or the world beyond his own life expectancy.

Yes, I know it's not actually a sudden impact, which is why I added the "footnote". Maybe a brick wall preceded by a wooden wall preceded by a ten-foot layer of marshmallows? :-)

The real question, however, is do you step on the brake BEFORE hitting all that stuff, or wait for that stuff itself to slow you down?

The wall represents how much oil there is. Technologies for recovery and exploration don't change that; they only allow you to race towards it more quickly.