Column: The energy paradox

Sometimes we Americans can be such hypocrites. I could not help eavesdropping on the conversations of fellow moviegoers while we funneled out of the theater after a showing of the summer blockbuster “The Day After Tomorrow.” I initially was encouraged that the movie – while employing a lot of fictional science – caused some individuals to consider the threat of global warming more seriously. This sentiment quickly eroded as these same individuals didn’t think twice about getting into their gas-guzzling Suburbans and Escalades.

If you really think about it, there is no logical reason to drive an SUV. Sure, someone might be chauffeuring a family of ten or enjoy off-roading, but the vast majority of the people I see driving SUVs are single adults commuting to work. Not only do these iron horses endanger drivers piloting smaller cars, but they are also helping to pillage our environment.

The average SUV yields a paltry 15 miles per gallon, at best. Some go as low as eight miles per gallon. Either way, they continually belt absurd quantities of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere which, at ground level, serves both as pollutants and heat insulators. Poetically, the drivers of these environmental disasters are taking a serious financial hit at the gas pump. But honestly, do these people really have the disposable income to weather this storm? In most cases it doesn’t matter; the average SUV driver could probably care less about the price of gasoline. This is the conundrum.

While soaring gas prices have discouraged some new SUV buyers, the country needs to develop a comprehensive energy policy that makes alternative fuel vehicles and sources more affordable and abundant – both for our environment’s sake as well as our national security.

In the midst of the current energy crisis, hybrid cars are flying off the lot. Nearly two million were sold last year alone. While the hybrid concept is more appealing than the status quo – hybrid cars get upwards of 60-80 miles per gallon, even in a city environment – they still require gasoline to run. And continuing to buy oil from Saudi Arabia represents a threat to U.S. national security.

Saudi Arabia only exists because of a corrupt bargain between the ibn-Saud family and radical Wahabi Muslim clerics. These Muslim extremists are granted a monopoly on legitimate worship in the Kingdom in exchange for legitimizing its despotic regime. Purchasing oil starts a trickle-down effect resulting in these clerics building radical religious schools in poorer areas of the Muslim world. These schools, called Madrasas, indoctrinate young Muslims to hate the West, which often results in new recruits for al-Qaeda. The cycle must end.

Identifying that problems exist is the easy part; figuring out exactly what to do to alleviate them is another story. Some individuals, such as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, call for a 50-cent per gallon gas tax to fund a new effort to develop reliable sources of alternative energy. This is a nice idea in theory. However, given that society has become wholly dependent on automobiles due to the deterioration of mass transportation infrastructure and the suburban and further boom, the financial hit low-income households would incur could be potentially debilitating. Instead, the government should actively engage corporations in stimulating the development of new technology.

First, the government must repeal the portions of President Bush’s tax cuts affecting the wealthiest Americans. With this new infusion of funds, the government could use federal grants, tax cuts and other measures to prod energy companies into investing heavily in the development of new hydrogen power systems for cars as well as solar and wind energy for general consumption. While these new technologies are being developed, the government should increase the incentives for individuals who purchase high-efficiency vehicles. These measures would drastically lower, and eventually eliminate, our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Such a process would not only deprive the terrorists money and recruits, but it would also start a chain reaction requiring Arab regimes to provide a future, rather than excuses for their citizens.

Global warming is an issue the United States must confront. While the current administration does not consider it to be a problem, it might be persuaded by the fact that initiating such a program would also be a critical step in the ongoing war on terror. In the end we need to evaluate what is more important in our lives: being able to drive a gas-guzzling SUV or leaving a planet that is habitable for our children and grandchildren.

-The writer, a junior majoring in international affairs, is The Hatchet opinions editor.

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