Listening to the presidential debate last night, I couldn't help wondering what it must sound like to foreign ears.
First, here is the world's biggest energy hog struggling to get its oil and coal appetite under control. It talks about the energy problem. It IS the energy problem.
Second, what's the fuss about offshore drilling? Most Americans didn't raise any objections about new supplies in the North Sea during the 1980s, or recent drilling off the west coast of Africa, both sources of high quality crude oil. But U.S. attitudes are different when it comes to the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
Third, the rest of the world must think: Don't start in again with that rhetoric about energy independence. Presidents have been doing that since Richard Nixon, yet the United States imports more oil now than ever.
Even the candidates don't believe it. Did you see how neither one would give even a ballpark estimate of how much imports could be reduced in the next president's first term? John McCain started talking about building new nuclear plants in response to a question about cutting oil imports. You don't put nuclear power in a car - unless the cars are electric, and it will be many years before we have electric cars on any meaningful scale. (Don't get me wrong: The rest of the world will be happy if the United States cuts its dependence on foreign oil because then there will be more for everyone else, and the price will come down -- or at least go up less -- in the years to come.)
Fourth, the nuclear plants are years away, too. They take a long time to plan, finance and build - and a lot of government money too. The United States, if it moves ahead, will have to get in line behind other countries with orders for the big reactor heads, which are only made by one company in Japan.
Fifth, what in the world is "clean coal" and where have those Americans been hiding it? And if it's so clean, why did Barack Obama say that some environmentalists were angry at him for supporting it? The answer, of course, is that "clean coal" is energy Newspeak. There's no such thing as clean coal, only ways to clean up after the coal. "Clean" coal - which both candidates said they support -- refers to the technology that would capture carbon dioxide generated by coal-fired power plants and bury the greenhouse gas in the ground. But that technology is expensive and untested, and reduces the efficiency of coal plants, creating the need for more coal inputs to such plants.