With oil prices sinking, not soaring … will investors from Wall Street to Silicon Valley lose interest in energy technology? Not hardly. But in the cold dawn of more “rational” oil prices, investors and policy makers will fare better keeping in mind seven energy realities.
So, where are the high-tech solutions in this conflict with terrorists, plotters and evildoers? Surely a nation that can produce iPods, cell phones, gigabit data streams, server farms and laser-guided bombs can sniff out some bad stuff without banning every water bottle and toothpaste tube from air travelers. Our soldiers are struggling mightily with a similar problem, trying to detect improvised explosive devices. Putting policy implications and opportunities for political mischief aside, why don’t we have high-tech sensors and sniffers—electronic moats and virtual walls—to protect citizens and soldiers from bad guys and bad stuff?
My, how times have changed. In 1993, the Clinton administration proposed an energy tax equivalent to just $4 a barrel of oil. The proposal earned a prompt bipartisan slap-down. Even though most believed the tax would reduce oil demand, everyone worried the tax would hammer the economy. Instead, by 1999, oil collapsed briefly to $10 a barrel (how soon we forget), followed by the 600% rise to today's price. The economy? With the DOW at record highs, Wall Street hammered the forecasts of oil-economy pundits, and demand for oil actually rose modestly. What happened?
Both the Senate and the House passed energy bills this summer, which they hope to reconcile early this fall. All energy bills are basically shopping lists, and notwithstanding the dismal talk of disappearing supplies, the list of possible energy sources grows ever longer. The debate comes down to which hydrocarbon, carbohydrate, fissile element, photovoltaic semiconductor, or 100-foot windmill blade belongs higher on the list.
THE UNITED STATES consumes about 7 billion barrels of oil a year. Quite a few of those barrels come to our shores from the Persian Gulf, a fact that has elicited, since 9/11, a surprising convergence in our politics. Today, it is not just leftwing environmentalists who complain about our consumption of oil but also a range of sober-minded centrists and conservatives, from commentators like Fareed Zakaria and Max Boot to former Clinton CIA director R. James Woolsey to one-time Republican officials like Robert McFarlane, C. Boyden Gray, and Frank Gaffney. The concerns of these "oil hawks" (or, less felicitously, "geo-greens," as the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman calls them) touch only incidentally on the environmental issues that previously drove most energy activists. Their primary aim is not to "save the earth" but rather to secure our own small corner of it.
They call this "convergence." Old lines are changing, or disappearing altogether. What it's doing under the hood is downright electrifying.