Asleep at the wheel

President Bush doesn’t get it. As he keeps on pushing his unpopular and unnecessary Social Security “reforms,” Joe American is paying $60 to fill his Excursion and wondering what went wrong.

Hey Joe, guess what: Whoever told you gas would be inexpensive forever either conned you or didn’t know what he was talking about. The era of cheap gas is over, friend.

And what does the president want to do? Same old same old: Drill more, use more coal and nuclear, loosen environmental regulations and, oh yeah, try to conserve more. Read my energy bill that cleared the House, he says.

That bill is a disaster. Filled with corporate giveaways and tax breaks for the oil companies, which are already making money faster than they can spend it (ExxonMobil recently posted the largest yearly profit in history, $25 billion), it does next to nothing to address the two great energy-related issues of our time, dependence on foreign oil and global warming. The problem is one of demand more than supply, and it’s rich in irony.

As New York Times columnist Tom Friedman puts it, “By doing nothing to lower U.S. oil consumption, we are financing both sides in the war on terrorism. … That is, we are financing the U.S. military with our tax dollars and … the jihadists … through our gasoline purchases.”

And global warming is real. So real that it’s the greatest single threat to this planet we live on, as Elizabeth Kolbert demonstrates vividly in a recent, exhaustive three-part series in The New Yorker. Imagine the chaos and destruction that will occur when ocean currents change course, sea levels rise and flood coastlines, and once-fertile lands dry up. It’s a horrific thought, and if we don’t change our ways beginning now, it’s going to happen. The polar ice caps are melting while we dawdle.

The single most effective way to cut oil dependence and reduce global warming—though far from the only one—is to manufacture vehicles that go farther on a gallon of gas. Existing technology can make all new vehicles average 40 miles per gallon within 10 years, and already techies are tweaking hybrids to up their averages to 100 mpg or more. And gearing up for a clean energy policy would generate jobs—as many as 3 million, reports the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor and environmental groups.

Why not do it? Even some otherwise rock-ribbed Republicans in Congress are now taking energy independence seriously, as a national-security issue. If we can send rockets to the moon, why can’t we develop clean energy? The Democrats should jump on it as a campaign issue. Gas prices aren’t going down, and the president is asleep at the wheel.