Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Media complicity in oil dependency

George Wuerthner

As gasoline prices have climbed during the past year, there has been a lot of talk about energy independence. The response has been to push more oil drilling in the United States, as if that would solve the problem. And in this effort the supposed “liberal media” is complicit in spreading misinformation to a gullible public that doesn’t want to hear that we need to conserve energy and change our lifestyles if we are to make any significant progress towards reducing our addiction to oil.

At the Republican Nomination convention, the GOP faithful were almost giddy as they chanted drill, baby drill. Responding to misinformed voters, even Democrats caved to the drill, baby drill fantasy and approved more off shore drilling.

All this talk about drilling our way to oil independence is fostered by a complicit media that almost never mentions in its news reports that the United States can’t drill itself out of our oil dependency.

We use 25% of the world’s oil supplies. At best even if all known and suspected US oil sources were fully exploited we would produce only 2-3% of global supplies. Opening up all off-shore regions to drilling will have almost no impact on US energy supplies, or for that matter the price we pay for gasoline at the pumps.

Even though the U.S. Department of Energy projects that off-shore drilling would only add some 200,000 barrels of oil per day at peak production or about 0.2 percent of world production, and not for twenty years--the media fails to inform the public of the folly of such proposals of US oil independence.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) did an analysis of media coverage of the energy issue between June and August leading up to the Republican convention. CEPR reviewed 267 news reports, including many major national TV media like The Today Show, CNN, Meet the Press, NBC Nightly News, ABC World News, Fox News, and other outlets. They found that only one program mentioned that the government’s own estimates suggested that we could not significantly improve our energy supplies through domestic drilling.

In other words less than one half of one percent of news reporting informed the public that drilling our way to oil independence was impossible. In essence, the media presented false claims promoted by the oil industry and politicians beholden to them that are not substantiated by even government sources.

Americans want to continue to believe in the fantasy that we can have it all—drive gas-guzzling cars, live in sprawling suburbs, and avoid having to change our lifestyle to fit the present energy realities. (See my previous column on how we can realize significant energy savings through conservation) We need straight talk, not happy talk.

The hard truth that no one wants to tell Americans is that the party is over. The only way we can reduce our dependency on foreign oil is by embarking on a massive energy conservation effort, coupled with development of new alternative energy sources. And while the meager supplies of extra energy that drilling might provide won’t be realized for decades, investment in energy conservation can begin to reduce our oil addiction immediately.


EcoRover said...

Sadly, Americans DO live in that fantasy world you describe of not knowing where their oil comes from or how much America has "in reserve."

Even the well-publicized messages from T. Boone Pickens and British Petroleum do not seem to be altering the fantasy.

One can only hope to educate legislators or elect new ones that understand. McCain-Palin certainly do not understand and are not educable. In a sense, I suppose, the economists are right: the market will help us decide that oil is too costly--but probably only after more tragic & costly mistakes that make the Iraqi war & current ecological devastation in places like Alaska's North Slope look trivial...

Anonymous said...

nationalize the oil industry.