Friday, November 23, 2012

"All-of-the-Above" Strategy for a "Balanced Diet"

A few days ago, after signing one of many climate change-related petitions, I received a response from the White House.

The letter began with the following summary of the President's energy policy:

"My Administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy is about developing every source of American energy—a strategy aimed at saving families and businesses money at the pump by reducing our reliance on foreign oil, expanding oil and gas production, and positioning the United States as the global leader in clean energy."

When I sign a petition related to climate change, clearly I am expressing my desire to hear you tout your expanded oil and gas production.

Continuing the rather cliched language:

"While developing new sources of energy is critical to our future, the hard truth is there are no overnight solutions to our energy challenges.  The only way to deal with this problem is through a sustained, serious, all-of-the-above approach"

I am so glad that the approach will be "serious."  That line just exudes the elite centrism that drives the Beltway consensus (and is embodied by Paul Krugman's term "Very Serious People.")

To fill me with further joy, the response continued to outline the wonders of fossil fuel production:

"Under my Administration, American oil production is at its highest level in 8 years, and we are now less reliant on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years.  We have more working oil and gas rigs than the rest of the world combined, and we have opened up millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration where appropriate and where it can be done safely.  My Administration has also approved dozens of new pipelines to move oil around, including from Canada, which will help create jobs and encourage more energy production."

Oil production higher than it was under W?  Why, every environmentalist should be so happy right now!  I found the phrase "including from Canada" to be particularly disconcerting.  As of yet, the President has not signed off on the Keystone XL pipeline.  Regardless, I do not see why it would excite anyone to know that we now have oil from Canada as well.

Despite my arguments with the substance of the email (and the policy it reflects), one of my largest pet peeves remains the "all-of-the-above" language.  It sounds very focus group-tested and quite pseudo-serious but accomplishes nothing other than evading the actual problem.

It reminds me of the language that soda companies often embrace when campaigning against proposed soda taxes.  Soda, they say, can be a part of a "balanced diet" and is a wholesome, all-American diet.  We are not saying that soda should be the only thing that you consume, and we don't deny the value of more healthful foods and drinks; all we want is to highlight the "balance" that we all know is important and we all strive to embrace.  The "all-of-the-above" energy policy embraces the same empty and deceptive rhetoric.  Just as a body will be healthiest without soda, the environment will be healthiest without the consumption of fossil fuels.

Perhaps an even better comparison, though, would be to the "all-of-the-above" agricultural policy that the US has even though we don't use such language.  You want to have your food raised on a local, organic family farm? You can do that (depending on place, of course).  You want to have your food from monocropped GMO corn plantations run by Monsanto?  You can have that, too!  Although studies by the UN have shown that organic farming has the potential to meet the world's demand, Congress will continue to subsidize such monocropping, with crony capitalism for an added touch.  Of course, we act as though the outcome, i.e. the dominance of GMO, chemical-ridden food, is what the "free market" wants even though the government has been distorting the market in favor of the companies like Monsanto that already have monopolistic control.

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