Misstatement of the Union

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 03, 2006

The same US president who said, "We need an energy bill that encourages consumption" just a few years ago has now jumped on his State of the Union soapbox to announce that "America is addicted to oil".

Unfortunately, he screwed up before making it to the end of the paragraph. In the next sentence he insisted, in typical American fashion, "The best way to break this addiction is through technology."

Wrong. The best way to break oil addiction is by building dense, vibrant cities that bring destinations into close proximity. The "technology" to do this has been around for centuries.

There's no magic bullet, no combination of techniques that can allow North Americans to continue living in sprawl and driving everywhere, but that didn't stop Bush from trotting out the usual rubbish:

To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy. (Applause.)

Burning coal without producing emissions and nuclear power without radioactive waste: delusional thinking or straightforward mendacity? You decide.

We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We'll also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn, but from wood chips and stalks, or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. (Applause.)

More lunacy. I've already written about hydrogen and its many problems. Hydrogen is a storage medium, not a source of energy, and it's a very poor candidate for storage in millions of personal vehicles.

Hybrid cars can certainly improve fuel efficiency, but that's only one component of the huge complex of problems with sprawl living. Electric cars simply transfer the source of pollution from the tailpipe to the "zero-emission" coal burning plant.

Bush also announced "another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025." However, the next day, Bush's energy secretary and national economic advisor pointed out that he didn't actually mean it.

Bush's energy secretary, Samuel Bodman, explained, "This was purely an example," when Bush specifically mentioned the Middle East. America will still import oil from whatever country wants to sell it.

What Bush meant is that he expects alternative fuels and, um, "technology" will displace an amount of imported oil equivalent to three quarters of what America will import from the Middle East in 2025.

However, according to the Energy Information Administration's 2006 Annual Energy Outlook, "In 2025, net petroleum imports, including both crude oil and refined products, are expected to account for 60 percent of demand," about what America imports today.

Since most of the world's remaining oil is in the Middle East, the share of American oil coming from there will actually increase as non-Middle Eastern oil supplies dwindle more quickly - even if Bush's fantastic plan to continue America's easy driving economy somehow manages to work.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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