Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN6), a Tea Party Patriot darling and reputed up-and-comer for the 2012 GOP presidential primary said something this past weekend that should ease the minds of fools and scoundrels and trouble a few people with good sense.
The most easy problem for America to solve. We have 25 percent of the world’s coal here. Trillions of cubic square feet of natural gas here. We just built one of the world’s largest lines of natural gas here. We have got more oil in three Western states in shale oil than all of Saudi Arabia. Did you hear that on your local nightly news? Are you kidding? We’ve got it. I say let’s go get it.
Really? Game over, folks. Michele’s in da house!
But hold on a minute…
For drivers who will give up their SUV only when you pry the steering wheel from their cold, dead hands, Bachmann’s confidence will come as a great comfort. After all, the all-you-can-eat buffet doesn’t just restock itself — or stay piping hot — without a little help from fossil fuels. And “solving” a problem that’s plagued presidents for 40 years once and for all has got to appeal to the pander-ready vote.
But for the rest of the nation, Bachmann’s reckless statements sounded the death knell to any energy bona fides she’d like to claim. And, in my opinion, it also put her devotion to Christian service in doubt.
Bachmann’s gleeful determination to show Saudi Arabia up with scads of American oil defies widely understood evidence on the ground —you know, real petroleum geology— indicating that the GOP firebrand may suffer from sister-in-arms Sarah Palin’s penchant to parrot Big Energy talking points without bothering to ask her staffers to check the facts first. What’s next? “I can see oil shale from my back porch?”
Energy is the most serious problem facing the US. But the energy crisis is not in fact, easily solved, whatever Bachmann’s corporate scriptwriters say.
Having reached our own peak of oil production in the 1970s, the US has been in domestic oil decline ever since. There’s no question that the industry has sought ways to exploit unconventional sources, but even they know that the cost to produce tar sands, oil shale and deepwater is much higher than for conventional crude. Switching over to junk oil, even if it’s made in the good ole US of A, will only raise prices at the pump.
The industry also knows that energy is the precondition for our economy. And even though they’re loathe to admit it, oilmen do in fact get that a finite resource cannot be turned in to an infinite resource no matter how much production you shift into pumping out press releases promising miracle cures.
It’s also no secret that the environmental impact of “unconventional” oil and gas is much worse than ordinary oil, which, with its history of spills and refinery pollution, is already quite bad enough.
Last time I checked, water, air and soil are more critical to human survival than the products of oil—the Hummers, iPads and Venti Frappacinos in a petroleum plastic cup. But don’t expect a cold-hearted pol like Bachmann to care about treehuggish stuff like that.
The devil’s in the details
Jumping from oil to coal, despite mountain-top removal mining like it’s going out of style, we’re running out of the cheap stuff there, too. According to Richard Heinberg, in his 2007 book Peak Everything, “the fact that coal resources are of varying quality and accessibility leads to the surprising conclusion that a global peak in coal production could arrive as soon as a decade from now.”
It’s no better for natural gas. The New York Times recently reported doubts on the so-called natural gas boom, and questioned the existence of the gazillions and gabillions of cubic square feet of supply that frothy-mouthed investment advisers keep touting. Can we say “bubble”?
But this isn’t really news. Long time natural gas analyst Art Berman told me last year in an interview that outsized claims on shale gas would ultimately disappoint investors and leave investors and the public holding the bag.
Glad the Gray Lady finally caught up.
A screw loose in the drill bit
Like most politicians today, Bachmann feeds at the trough of Big Oil, Big Gas and Big Coal. Having received over $131,000 in donations from Dirty Energy for over a decade—which is huge for a pol from energy-poor Minnesota—fossil fuel talking points are clearly also Bachmann talking points. Industry lobbyists may even write comments up for her, enclosed with a fat campaign check.
And now that Bachmann’s going from lowly Congresswoman to would-be presidential contender, her recent statements look like she’s willing to do a deal with the devil to get more of those dirty dollars.
It’s not that Bachmann only hawks black gold. While pimping fossil fuels, Bachmann retailed the old bromide that “We need to explore all alternatives.” But so what? It’s the same dry bone that every politician throws to the public while failing to address the reality of global peak oil, which hit in 2006, according to the International Energy Agency. Why should anyone care about alternatives as long as top political figures are promising a new Saudi Arabia stateside?
Bachmann, however, wants us to believe she’s different from other politicians, a maverick in the style of Sarah Palin, accountable to the people in a whole new way, taking back our nation from…what exactly? Just from queers and feminists?
Or might she take it back from the real threats to our freedom, corporate plutocracy, lead by Big Energy?
I know. I’m not holding my breath either. It’s the worst of Sarah Palin all over again which, sadly for women voters, means no real leadership from key women politicians on energy.
Ill informed or willing shill?
I can forgive Bachmann to a point.
Just as the frustrated oil and coal industries and their frustrated friends in the bubble-making financial services sector don’t always get their hyped stories told on the nightly news, peak oil is equally under reported. Maybe Bachmann has forgotten the 1970s, and she’s wholly unaware of the real facts on energy?
Sadly this means she’s either too ignorant of the facts or too lazy to find out more. Or she skips out on national security briefings that can’t hide the real facts. She certainly can’t have sat in on any of the numerous speeches delivered from the House floor by her Republican colleague and peak oil’s voice in Congress, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (MD-6).
None of these are the kind of qualities I’d call “presidential.”
A good Christian woman
Bachmann also spent time on her campaign tour behind a church pulpit touting the miracles and good favor God provides to those who pray, repent and vow to live right. Like many politicians who wear their cross on their sleeve, Bachmann has no problem pitching to the religious right. I don’t begrudge her that. As a Christian woman myself I understand that faith and public service go hand-in-hand, and that religious conviction is an enormous source of inspiration and drive in the work we do.
But at the same time, I expect that politicians who ply their Christianity to borrow some Jesus cred refuse to mislead their constituents about our real economic and resource situation. I also expect them to refuse to serve masters other than God, say, by eschewing corporate donations and rejecting corporate talking points. Further, I expect alignment with Jesus’s own preachings on poverty, humility, compassion and good works to be at the center of any Christian-centric pitches for public office.
Embrace peak oil and show Pawlenty the door
Peak oil means that finite resources are finite resources, and there’s no way to candy coat it. Digging insanely deep under the ocean (how soon we forget the Deepwater Horizon spill, just over a year old), or boiling crushed rocks in thousands of gallons of water to squeeze out a little oil is not the answer to a nation facing permanent fossil fuel decline.
Aside from being an environmental disaster, such a strategy can be a net energy loser and is certainly an economic nightmare. It’s unconscionable — and un-Christian — for Bachmann to lead the public on with lies about abundant domestic energy, while asking nothing in the form of conservation from either government, business or the people.
In short, on energy she’s an embarrassment. Worse, she’s a danger. But as they say in politics, there’s still time to turn it around.
I’ll say to Bachmann what I’ve said to every other politician out there –
She who has the courage to start a public conversation on peak oil will own it. Obama had his chance, but he blew it.
If Bachmann wants to be a real contender she needs to offer something truly different. If she wants to be a real Christian, she needs to speak the truth. And if she wants to show that on presidential matters she’s more than an empty skirt, she needs to get real on energy, fire her corporate overlords, refuse their money, and hire a researcher. If you want to “take back our government” you have to start with rejecting the current system, from the money to the canned conversations.
Bachmann told a church this weekend that “if we humble ourselves, and pray and confess our sins, and turn away from our wicked ways, and ask an almighty God to come and protect us and fight the battle for us, we know from his word, his promise is sure. He will come. He will heal our land. And we will have a new day.”
Let’s hope she can hear His voice when it really matters.
–Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice