When former vice president Al Gore appeared on NBC's Today show recently, he said he remembered when global warming wasn't a bipartisan issue like it is today. I agree. I've said for some time now that political attachments to Big Oil have turned this issue into the beast it has become, twisting it, full steam ahead, into not just partisan politics, pitting conservatives and liberals against each other in hotly contested debates, scientist against scientist and the common sense of "us" against the common sense of "them." In the meantime, the temperature rises. The outer fringes talk nothing but politics, even when many are not even registered to vote. One side knows for a fact that humans have nothing to do with global warming, that everything going on is due to natural causes. The other side says Bush is responsible for global warming because he refused to sign the Kyoto Treaty. Somewhere in between, millions of open minds exist, although I sometimes think the far right is incapable of being open to anything other than their own fiery brand of self induced righteousness.
Surely, global warming, fossil fuel consumption and the use of alternative sources like wind, solar, water, hydrogen and nuclear, will produce opinions from all sides, but each answer, whether right or wrong, will mostly be political in nature. Politicians from each state are free enact their own laws that go above and beyond what Washington does. California is a perfect example. Individually, we might choose to switch from incandescent to fluorescent lighting in our homes and, yes, as such, we can all do our small part to ultimately build it into something of significance, something to feel proud of. We can help save the planet and stop fueling al Qaeda and other militant groups at the same time by cutting our dependence on oil. Motor vehicles play an extremely large role in what impacts the planet.
Presidents take stands and that makes a nation move in one direction or another. Starting with Richard M. Nixon, when, during his administration, the first Earth Day was held, a lot of folks didn't like what the president was saying, let alone what he chose not to do, yet his administration was responsible for lowering the speed limit to 55 mph nationwide. Was this from how he felt about global warming? Of course not, but he was well aware of how many billions of gallons of fuel we would save by driving 10-20 mph less, and that meant billions of dollars of less revenue in the pockets of middle eastern oil sheiks, too. You see, Tricky Dick wasn't as much in bed with Big Oil as some of today's leaders. How odd that thirty-some years later extremists from the far right would consider what Nixon did back then as downright liberal. Nixon a liberal? Give me a break. He was never an environmental visionary, but as self centered as he was, he took the nation's best interests to heart when he lowered the speed limit, under protest from Big Oil and the politicians whose coffers they filled. How well I remember the days of the 1973-74 oil embargo, when we had to ration fuel by taking turns at the gas pumps, alternating odd and even license plate numbers with days of the week. If you had an odd number, you could not buy gas on a designated even day. That was back when fuel was leaded. Something needed to be done to cut fuel consumption and for all his faults, Nixon did just that.
Under Gerald Ford's tutelage, according to the NHTSA website (http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/cafe/overview.htm), "The 'Energy Policy Conservation Act,' enacted into law by Congress in 1975, added Title V, 'Improving Automotive Efficiency,' to the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act and established CAFE standards for passenger cars and light trucks. The Act was passed in response to the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo. The near-term goal was to double new car fuel economy by model year 1985." CAFE stands for Corporate Average Fuel Economy and since 1983, manufacturers have paid more than $500 million in civil penalties. Most European manufacturers regularly pay CAFE civil penalties ranging from less than $1 million to more than $20 million annually. Asian and domestic manufacturers have never paid a civil penalty.
Next came Jimmy Carter. He certainly took environmental issues to a higher level, but he knew more about "nucular" fuel from his old Navy days. He was not attracted to Big Oil at all. Peanut oil, yes. He didn't hang in there long enough to impact the world, let alone the United States.
Ronald Reagan brought the oil giants back into the fold and raised the speed limit to 70 mph under the auspices of freedom. Freedom to roam, like the settlers of yore. I remember a political cartoon that ran during the Christmas season, sometime while James Watt was Secretary of the Interior from 1981-1983. It depicted the Watt family decorating their tree which was a miniature oil rig. He will never be remembered as a friend of the environment because of his open hostilities and his strong support of the development and use of federal lands by foresting, ranching and other commercial interests. During a 1991 speech to the Green River Cattlemen's Association in Wyoming, Watts said, "If the troubles from environmentalists cannot be solved in the jury box or at the ballot box, perhaps the cartridge box should be used."
George H. W. Bush knew a thing or two about big oil, but under his presidency the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 forced the oil companies to eliminate lead from all U.S. motor fuels by January 1, 1996. Why? According to the EPA, lead is extremely toxic. Studies have shown that exposure to high concentrations of lead, especially in young children, can result in damage to the central nervous system and may be associated with high blood pressure in adults. Exposure to lead typically occurs from air inhalation and ingestion of lead in food, soil, water and dust. Back then, clean air was as much of a political issue as it is today, but something was done. If you don't believe the EPA was correct to whittle away at your God-given, all-American rights, by all means, feel free to go out and munch on some old paint chips. It's funny how attitudes change over time, but never at the present. Only years later. How dare the government tell me I can't paint asbestos and chew on it while I inhale some good old fashioned polyfluorocarbons and chlorofluorocarbons. If you disagree with me, you're a goddam liberal.
Next, we had Bill Clinton, a friendly sort of fellow. Well aware of global warming, he pretty much stayed in the middle of the road on issues of the environment, although he did lean a little more to the left of conservative thinking and he did have the father of modern day environmentalists as his vice president. Like all politicians, he had plenty of cronies back in Arkansas. According to the state website (http://www.state.ar.us/agc/petroleu.htm):
"By the end of 1993, oil recovery from over 200 active fields was in excess of 29,000 barrels of oil and approximately 105 million cubic feet of gas per day. Oil and condensate reserves as of January 1, 1994 were calculated to be in excess of 205 million barrels while the gas reserves associated with the oil and condensate were calculated at over 466 billion cubic feet."
Are George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in bed with Big Oil? I don't think there's a person alive, Democrat, Republican, conservative or liberal, who would touch that one with a 10 gallon gas can, lest they be branded a fool and an idiot.
Tom and Ray Maggliozzi, of Click & Clack and Car Talk fame, printed a letter in their syndicated column from a guy who increased his mileage from 34 to 44 mph by driving 60 mph instead of 75 mph. He wondered why, and at $3.00 per gallon now, is that a way to kick our oil habit? The boys answered in their normal, humorous manner, but when all kidding was set aside, they explained how wind resistance plays a major role in fuel consumption. You may wonder, they went on, how much more wind resistance there is at 75 mph compared with 55 mph. A lot, apparently. Here's what they had to say:
"Wind resistance increases by the square of your speed. If you square 55 (55 x 55), you get 3,025. If you square 75 (75 x 75), you get 5,625. So, the wind resistance at 75 mph is nearly DOUBLE what it is at 55 mph. Wind resistance is a HUGE drag on your mileage. And it's even worse if you drive some some unaerodynamic rolling hatbox, such as an SUV."
Liberal thinking? Not if you follow scientists who believe in the laws of physics and what the Maggliozzi boys explained was based on solid fact. Ask Isaac Newton. He was quite the liberal in his day.
This all leads me back to square one, I mean Al Gore. When Al Gore, Jr. was recently arrested for possession of marijuana and an assortment of prescription drugs, he was clocked driving on the San Diego Freeway at about 100 mph in his hybrid Toyota Prius. Such is the sad state of understanding from both sides. Here is a fine example of conflicting dynamics at work. On one hand, we go out and purchase cars and other goods to save the planet from destruction and turn right around and ignore it all by racing down roads at 100 mph. Doesn't that give license to buy a giant SUV and drive the speed limit? Of course, I use these examples as exaggerations, but what will come of those who are always in the right, never willing to bend and work with the other side? While the earth becomes more fragile, our egos do not. They are tempered by the heat we create amongst ourselves. One day, someone or something is going to break and suffer a meltdown unless we work together to resolve the global warming issue. Is it all from the hands of humans? No. Is it all by the forces of nature? No. Yet, that seems to be the all consuming argument, the 'you're either with us or against us' approach from both sides, and that's not fair. If Newton was alive today, I wonder what he'd say? I wonder what type of vehicle he'd be motoring around in? I wonder what Al Gore drives.