Here's Oil in Your Eye

Bush lifts drilling ban, oil execs leer, nation cringes, Obama sighs

I admit to bafflement. I admit to a bit of total confusion mixed with a certain level of stupefied awe and teeth-rattling frustration as to why anyone with the mental acuity of more than a housefly would think that stabbing more holes into Alaska and the eastern seaboard in the search for a few remaining precious drops of oil is a good idea, would solve anything at all, is anything more than the equivalent of hurling matches at the devil.

Perhaps I'm missing something. Perhaps there's some dark, secret genius behind President Bush's otherwise absolutely imbecilic and dangerous corporate-whore move to lift the federal ban on offshore drilling, a ban placed there by his own father, as Dubya actually stood there with a straight face and tried to imply that this insidious move was meant to impart something good and helpful for a gas-stunned nation, that he was "doing all he could" to help with prices at the pump, when you could actually see the oil dripping from his shivery bones and the giant hand of Exxon shoved up his weak little spine, making his mouth move.

Oh, I fully understand the corporate arguments, even the political ones. Asking why the oil companies are eager as rabbits on meth to gouge further into the planet is a bit like asking a surgeon why she wants to operate, or a lawyer why he wants to sue, or a snake why he wants to sink his fangs into a nice juicy rat and swallow it whole and smile for a week. It is, quite simply, what they do.

And politicos, well, they're of course generally terrified of their own shadows, merely following what the people scream, and enough misinformed people scream about high gas prices and demand some sort of relief and, well, politicos from both sides of the aisle will say just about anything to mollify and deflect and pretend to care, even if it means lying, even if it means feigning total ignorance and blaming the oil speculators, even (or rather, especially) if it means an utter and complete shunning of the facts at hand.

And those facts sure seem irrefutable. All signs and every bit of data we have point to the glaring fact that, even if we sucked every available drop of oil from ANWR and the outer shelf and from every junior high school student in America, it would only be enough to satisfy our country's rapacious needs for a matter of months. It would have no effect on overall demand. It would do zilch at the gas pumps. Prius owners would still be quietly snickering at every SUV from here to Atlanta.

But none of that even matters, because given the time it would take for exploration and to build the various pipelines and infrastructures, we wouldn't even see a drop of that oil (or natural gas) for upwards of 10 or 20 years, at which point, if all scientific prognostications are correct - and they very much are - we'll be well into the apocalypse. Or maybe just dead. Whichever.

So then, this sighing imponderable: How obvious can it be that drilling for more oil in the United States is pointless, pollutive, idiotic, will have zero effect on current gas prices, only benefits the oil magnates, Republicans, Bush himself, is overall a move in exactly the wrong direction?

I wouldn't bother to ask, were it not for the voluminous comments and e-mails I still receive - and those I'll surely get in response to this very column - those who snicker and whine and say hey, you know who's really at fault for high oil and gas prices? You damn liberals! You're holding us back! You and your communist environmental concerns won't let good American capitalism drill for more!

Isn't that sweet? Would that I had such power.

I can only reply: Yes, gosh, you are so right - what's actually preventing us from solving the energy crunch are all those all-powerful hippies and their refusal to let the sweet, Christian oil titans maul the planet like a blind butcher hacks at a piece of veal. Oh, those poor oil companies and their $155 billion in staggering profits(.pdf) last year, the huge billion-dollar corporate tax breaks they enjoy, and which John McCain wants to continue. So unfair.

It all ends up in another big, throbbing, perhaps hugely rhetorical question: Is there some sort of line? Some sort of threshold where what seems brutally obvious to anyone who does even the tiniest modicum of research (or possesses that most rare of American traits, common sense), crosses over into common knowledge?

Where is the tipping point, that line where the mass populace begins to dial in, when even the most cold-hearted lib-loathing conservative - like those who are, right now, hating on poor little "Wall-E," sneering that Pixar's sweet little movie is nothing more than a typical liberal fascist fantasy of overconsumption and gluttony - even they begin to say, you know what? We might have this energy thing all wrong.

Maybe it's actually not liberal claptrap to want to move toward alternative, sustainable, less pollutive energy sources, to upend the ultimately fatal petroleum economy. Maybe it can be profitable and sound and reasonable and even slightly healthy to disallow Shell and Exxon and the rest from slashing into remote wildlife preserves for no valid reason other than the usual: power, cash, distortion, a brand of outmoded gluttony that shames the world's spiritual core. You think?

Yes, I realize what I'm asking is sort of futile, that trying to cut and paste a paragraph of logic and common sense and humanity into a bloody, violent book consisting solely of power and greed and deeply ingrained, world-class deceit is a fool's game. The thoughtful utopian in you can sprinkle all the fairy dust of hope it wants, but the devil just laughs and keeps right on drilling.

Then again, if we don't ask, if the media doesn't investigate, if we just sit back and hope market forces take care of everything and let the economy choose our path out of our own self-made disaster, well, do we not merely invite more corruption, a deeply deformed sense of who we are and where we want to go? Or, to put it more technically, are we not just thoroughly fAfaEUR~ed?

Thoughts for the author? E-mail him. Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SFGate and in the Datebook section of the San Francisco Chronicle.

(c) The San Francisco Chronicle

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