Friday, December 30, 2005

Let's Make a Deal

Let's Make a Deal
A Deal
That Would Change The World

If George Bush wants to secure his place in history as a great president, time is running out. But fate has created a historic opportunity for George. Only once before in my lifetime has a president been so uniquely positioned to change the world in a positive way. The first was rabid anti-Communist Richard Nixon and his sudden and unexpected trip to Chairman Mao's China, a trip that changed the US/China relationship for the better, forever.

George W. Bush's opportunity is no less radical, no less expected and, if embraced with the same stubborn enthusiasm he has shown for tax cuts and fighting terrorist, it would change the world, literally.

Here's the George's trip to China.

In his State of Union message next month he announces the following deal:

Congress will approve drilling for oil and gas in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge. But, the legislation authorizing oil company exploitation of this precious and irreplaceable national asset comes with conditions: :

Terms and Condition's

1) 70% of profits (as determined by independent audits) that oil companies make off ANWR oil must be reinvested into a ten years of research and development of renewable energy products to replace their oil fuel products.

2) The federal government will match every dollar in oil profits oil companies reinvest in this ten year transition, including but not limited to their ANWR oil profits. Oil companies will be required to use this federal money to help finance the restructuring of their existing energy delivery and distribution infrastructure to accommodate new energy products, such as hydrogen refueling service stations for autos and trucks and grid-interconnected solar for residential and industrial electric generation, storage and delivery.

3) During this ten year program oil companies will not be allowed to sell a drop of Wildlife Refuge oil or its refined elements outside the the continental United States, or to use ANWR oil to replace domestic oil sold aboard. This will ease oil and gas prices for US consumers during this ten year transition to renewable energy products that will replace oil.

That's the deal. Ten years to cleaner energy and energy independence in return for access to ANWRs oil. A proposal from, of all people on earth, Texas oil man, George W. Bush -- the same man who has not only refused to sign the Kyoto Treaty stemming greenhouse gas emissions and refuses to even acknowledge there's a real problem. In one sweep of his Presidential pen such a deal would relegate Nixon's trip to China to distant second place in the annals of Presidential boldness.

History would place such a move next to John F. Kennedy's 1960 commitment to put a man on the Moon before the end of that decade – but only if he delivers.

I can hear the sound of a thousand eco knees jerking out there already. The Wildlife Refuge will be ruined, caribou will die, the wilderness defiled. How could I make such a suggestion?

Simple. Whatever environmental damage that might occur in ANWR by making this deal will be dwarfed by the catastrophic ecological collapse sure to occur if we just keep on doing what we're doing. And that's precisely where we are headed right now.

That ecological collapse is already in it's early stages. We have maybe a few decades left of living dangerously before the damage becomes irreversible. Polar bears are already drowning by the dozens as the arctic ice melts under them. Oceans are warming changing climate around the globe. Katrina and the dozen or so other hurricanes and tornadoes this season are signs that Mother Nature is suffering hot flashes from global warming – and She's getting increasingly cranky about it.

<>Nevertheless we are paralyzed by a combination of stubbornness and lack of imagination. Both sides have dug into their positions and refuse to budge. And if they don't budge -- both of them -- we and our children are all going to pay a price higher than can be imagined.

It would be nice if we humans always did the right thing simple because it was the right thing, without being forced or given incentives. But that's just not the way things are. So energy companies and environmentalists are insisting on their way and refusing to even consider the position or needs of the other side.

Oil companies are not about to change. Why would they, especially now. They are racking up record profits. The same goes for their bankers, underwriters and shareholders. Energy stocks soared in value last year. An era of shortages and higher demand is a capitalist's dream. Where's the incentive for them to change? Because it's the right thing to do? Forget about it.

On the other side we have hard core ecologists who rank oil companies right up there with rapists and child molesters, the kind of people you just don't make deals with. To them oil companies are conscienceless predators that cruise the planet in search of the next virgin paradise to defile.

The only way to break this stalemate is a deal - a deal of true historic proportion.

Any successful deal gives each side something it wants. This deal has that.

* Environmentalist want cleaner, renewable energy.

* Oil companies want to survive as profitable businesses.

We have the makings of a deal here.

And both sides have to give in on something:

* Environmentalists don't want to reward oil companies by letting them drill in the Alaska Wilderness.

* Oil companies don't want to give up selling a product that's more valuable now than ever before.

Yep, all the ingredients for a deal.

Both sides would have to swallow hard to make this deal work. But of the two parties Big Oil will need to swallow hardest. Because this deal would unequivocally spell the end of what has been histories most profitable product lines -- oil. To get Big Oil and it's shareholders to agree to such a thing they will need some kind of ironclad guarantee that they are not committing corporate suicide. They need a financially realistic path to a post-oil business model. The costs of such a massive reorganization is too high for any industry to shoulder alone. Like the national highway system, it must be subsidized to some extent by taxpayers. Energy independence, like putting a man on the moon, must be as much a national commitment as a corporate one.

That's the reason for the matching federal funds. They will not just provide the money needed to make this conversion profitable for energy companies, but will provide the assurance that they are not being asked to shoulder the risks alone. That, if they agree, we will make sure they have renewable energy products to sell us when the day comes, as it surely will, that oil is at last relegated to National Energy Museums.

This is probably the most important thing we as a nation can do right now. The stakes are higher here than they ever were or are in Iraq, Iran or North Korea. Far higher. As Tom Friedman wrote recently:

“Mr. President, what more has to happen - how many more Katrinas, how much more reckless behavior by Iran, how many more allies bought off by petro-dollars - before you realize that there is only one thing to do for the next three years: lead America and the world in an all-out push to conserve energy, reduce dependence on oil and develop alternatives? Because three more years of $60-a-barrel oil will undermine everything good in the world that the U.S. wants to do - and that's no myth.”

Assuming the President rises to this momentous moment and proposes such a deal, Democrats had damn well better make sure it succeeds. This will, of course, require a significant change of both heart and mind. A change no less momentous as Bush's would be. Democrats first instinct would be to turn this potentially historic suggestion into a weapon against Bush – "another sweetheart deal -- a giveaway to Bush's oil buddies.” Democrat strategists would ache to run ads pointing to his proposal as further proof that the President “cares more for corporate profits than the environment.”

If Democrats react in a purely partisan way to such a proposal they will only prove that it is they, rather than Bush, who are captives of narrow special interests. That it is they, not Bush, who are willing to risk the long-term health of the environment for short term political gain. And, that it's Democrats who offer no realistic alternative to foreign energy dependence.

It's an issue that must transcend political ideologies and allegiances. Energy, where it comes from, who produces it, how it's produced, what it's made from and how it's distributed will be the defining issues in the decade ahead. How we resolve those problems and how we pay for the solutions, will decide how we survive in the centuries ahead.

Or more to the point, if we survive at all.