James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Carbon paper offsets: drilling for logic in energy policy

Posted by James McPherson on September 14, 2008

The idea of more oil drilling has long been popular with oil companies and the lobbiests and members of Congress whom they fund. Lately those self-interested folks have been joined by a skittish populace and even more shaky members of Congress, and unless recent scandals manage to stop it, American’s shores are likely to see more offshore drilling.

Three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Thomas Friedman, talking today to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria about his new book, pointed out that calling for more drilling–while chanting “drill baby drill”–would be like calling for more IBM Selectric typewritters and chanting “carbon paper baby carbon paper” at the begining of the computer age. While other countries are going full-bore on new energy technology, Friedman said, the Bush/McCain/Palin folks give that research lip service while falling back on ideas guaranteed to help the United States slide further toward technological irrelevance.

I frequently disagree with Friedman, the author of The World is Flat. He favored the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and I think he sometimes glorifies international trade and the free market too much while downplaying their accompanying problems. He is better at identifying fairly obvious problems, though with well-turned phrases, than at coming up with meaningful solutions. Still, one quote from the new book should give both liberals and conservatives pause, whether they agree with him or not:

America is always at its most powerful and most influential when it is combining innovation and inspiration, wealth-building and dignity building, the quest for big profits and the tackling of big problems. When we do just one, we are less than the sum of our parts. When we do both, we are greater than the sum of our parts–much greater.

I do agree with Friedman later in that first chapter when he writes, “America has shifted from a country that always exported its hopes (and so imported the hopes of millions of others) to one that is seen exporting its fears.”

The book is drawing mixed reviews, and I haven’t read most of it. I probably won’t. For one thing, it appears that much of it has been both obvious and ignored for quite some time.

Besides, even if American leaders buy into Friedman’s premise in a meaningful way, it’s probably too late to make much difference, in terms of avoiding either worldwide catastophic climate change or a dramatic decline in American influence. The first of those is tragic but perhaps inevitable. The second probably wouldn’t be a bad thing at all, based on how we’ve managed that influence in recent years.

I would be more optimistic that we were still capable of greatness as a nation if we chose leaders based on their knowledge and abilities. In that case, the electorate would not now face a choice between an audacious optimist with little meaningful experience on one side and a May-December remix of Bush/Chaney on the other.

Further evidence of a lack of guts or integrity that would be necessary for meaningful change: Palin suddenly forgot to mention nuclear energy when campaigning in Nevada, where the nuclear waste might end up, while new McCain ads aimed at Hispanics lie about the difference between his position on immigration and Barack Obama’s position–and even about the flip-flop immigration position McCain himself “adopted” to appeal to conservatives.

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One Response to “Carbon paper offsets: drilling for logic in energy policy”

  1. Thanks for all of the information you post. It really helps me to understand a lot of issues. Keep up the good work, I really enjoy reading your thoughts.

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