Obama vs. McCain on Oil
by Kate Heyhoe
If high food prices are cramping your wallet, then pay attention to what the candidates are saying about one key issue: oil and energy. Oil is tied to everything—and it may be the single most important issue of the election. To understand rising food costs, let’s look at the issue of oil and where the candidates stand.
First, prices for grains, meats, dairy and vegetables always fluctuate, though usually it’s because of environmental conditions, like drought or pest infestation. Today’s high food prices are artificial in the sense that they’re controllable: if you take away the inflated oil prices, the price of food would plummet. And so would the price of everything else you buy.
Oil’s impact on food costs start with bringing feed grains to farms, and then continue mile-by-mile via truck, air, ocean liner, and by your own car, to move food from farm to factory or fridge. This fuel-price impact has gone far beyond squeezing out little luxuries. It hurts basic family nutrition, meals-on-wheels, and school lunch programs. When budgets are stretched, putting food on the table often becomes more important than going to the doctor, or sending kids to college. Some schools are cutting pack on sports, books, and teachers—just to pay for school buses, heating, and cooling expenses. That’s just not right.
On the other hand, when some schools recently switched to electric-powered buses, their fuel-savings quickly paid for the new equipment, and the clean engines don’t submit kids and drivers to choking fumes. As alternative-fuel cars become more in demand, and competitive industries kick into action, everyone can win. If we vote to make it happen. Which brings us back to oil.
Foreign oil and Wall Street speculators are only part of the fuel-cost equation. If you paid more at the pump after the recent Texas-Louisiana hurricanes, you know that price fluctuations were blamed on the shut-down of domestic oil production. So whether oil comes from inside or outside the United States, as long as oil dominates all other fuels, it will always control our economy and our freedoms, nationally and individually.
We will always have hurricanes, broken pipelines, and terrorist threats as justification for punching up the price of oil at any given moment (and then leaving it there as consumers adjust).
In other words: Whether it comes from inside or outside the U.S., oil straps us to a future of dependence on an industry so awash in profits, there’s no motivation for them to ever drop prices again. Big oil can’t be controlled by government, because it’s already more powerful than politicians. Even if oil was unlimited, there’s way too much profit to be made by keeping demand high and supply low (witness the Exxon mega-profits).
Solution: Open up competition through other sources of fuel, and the oil monopoly starts to crumble. Building our nation’s strength on renewable resources makes far more sense than the rallying cry of “drill, baby, drill.”
Obama’s plan is to reduce foreign and domestic oil with other forms of energy, while McCain’s number one strategy is to increase offshore drilling at home (continuing our oil dependence). Through the development of alternative energy, Obama’s plan seriously cuts our total oil consumption by 35 percent, or 10 million barrels per day, by 2030—sufficient to offset the projected amount of OPEC-imported oil and reduce domestically produced oil at the same time.
McCain’s fallacy lies in his belief that “the sudden shocks and ever-rising prices…come with our dependence on foreign oil.” But our own Big Oil controls the market, and even if you take foreign oil out of the equation, you still have a country dependent on a single form of fuel, owned by a handful of corporations. McCain’s policy is stuck on increased drilling; it’s not a solution. It’s not even a good band-aid: it’s applied too late and it doesn’t stick. Prolonging our dependence has no good benefits anymore: oil and its emissions pollute the environment, while they simultaneously ramp up the cost of every little thing whenever there’s a hiccup in the supply system or a bump by Wall Street speculators, or a decision by oil companies to raise prices.
Obama sees offshore oil drilling as the band-aid that it is, and incorporates it only as part of a broader plan that opens the doors to overall economic solutions. More jobs, better futures, new industries, foreign independence, financial security, and stabilized economies don’t come from oil; they come from multiple new sources of renewable energy at home.
It’s true that both Obama and McCain support alternative energy technologies, but they have totally different ideas on specifics. Obama wants to tax the profits of oil companies, McCain does not. Obama sees energy as something vital, and part of the government’s leadership responsibility. McCain walks away from direct involvement.
McCain’s plan might make sense if there was no viable alternative, but that’s where his vision falls short: we already have clear solutions of benefit to consumers, industry, the economy, and the environment. So what’s keeping these solutions from becoming widespread and affordable? Big oil and the reticence of policy-makers like McCain to forge a national problem into a productive solution. He says he supports an all-of-the-above strategy (using conventional and alternative fuels), but if you’re a homeowner looking for some solar tax credits, you can’t count on McCain; he’s never voted for them. If you’re an oil company, McCain stands against taxing windfall profits, so like Exxon, you’re free to keep making as much profit as you can get away with. McCain believes such a tax would hamper domestic oil production. Which is another good argument against our dire dependence on domestic oil.
Greening Both Parties
Here’s the rub: Even if gas prices were to drop to $2 a gallon, and food prices were to drop with them, oil dependence (foreign or domestic) will never improve our lives, but new energy investment would. Alternative, renewable energies, and the competition that comes with them, open up a future of jobs, building, manufacturing—strong arms for the economy to pull itself up with and powerful legs on which to take great strides. New energies mean growth at home, not abroad. And it will take forceful policies to combat the push-back from Big Oil.
Both candidates say it’s time for change. But more importantly, it’s time for choice—McCain’s core policies sound good, but in practice his plans don’t advance the economy, while Obama’s choice is to rapidly increase the momentum of diverse energy industries and use them to galvanize the rest of the economy and the infrastructure. Obama’s forceful commitment to move away from oil and push alternative energies to the top of the agenda is the only logical direction. In the short and long run, it’s the one that will shrink food prices, carbon footprints, and economic dependence. You may disagree with the candidates on other issues, but when it comes to feeding our future, the energy plan that’s got real meat to it wins.
But don’t listen to me. Make your own choice: Whether you lean toward Obama or McCain, take a moment to read a well-researched perspective on why energy is the most critical issue of our times. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has written a number of articles and bestselling books on the issue. He says in part:
Well, I want to rename “green.” I want to rename it geostrategic, geoeconomic, capitalistic and patriotic. I want to do that because I think that living, working, designing, manufacturing and projecting America in a green way can be the basis of a new unifying political movement for the 21st century. A redefined, broader and more muscular green ideology is not meant to trump the traditional Republican and Democratic agendas but rather to bridge them when it comes to addressing the three major issues facing every American today: jobs, temperature and terrorism…
Because a new green ideology, properly defined, has the power to mobilize liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and atheists, big business and environmentalists around an agenda that can both pull us together and propel us forward. That’s why I say: We don’t just need the first black president. We need the first green president. We don’t just need the first woman president. We need the first environmental president. We don’t just need a president who has been toughened by years as a prisoner of war but a president who is tough enough to level with the American people about the profound economic, geopolitical and climate threats posed by our addiction to oil—and to offer a real plan to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
Before deciding on who to vote for, please read Friedman’s complete article. You need to become a member of www.nytimes.com but membership is free. Here’s the link to the article:
- The Power of Green, by Thomas Friedman
And in case you don’t finish the article, I’ll cut to the chase:
Equally important, presidential candidates need to help Americans understand that green is not about cutting back. It’s about creating a new cornucopia of abundance for the next generation by inventing a whole new industry. It’s about getting our best brains out of hedge funds and into innovations that will not only give us the clean-power industrial assets to preserve our American dream but also give us the technologies that billions of others need to realize their own dreams without destroying the planet. It’s about making America safer by breaking our addiction to a fuel that is powering regimes deeply hostile to our values.
Amen. May the best green candidate win.
More links to Obama and McCain energy policies:
- Drilling Down on McCain, Obama Energy Plans (CNET News, Sept. 3, 2008)
- CNN Election Center: Energy
- CNN Commentary: Obama’s Green Gold Rush (by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.)
- McCain’s Carbon Policy Increases Profits for Biggest Polluters (The Guardian, Sept. 8, 2008)