Obama's Energy Fail

I'D ALWAYS HOPED that the president’s “all of the above” energy strategy was a mere campaign slogan, a way to avoid riling anyone up as he ran for re-election. But he’s made pretty clear that it’s actually his guiding light.

“The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working,” he crowed in his State of the Union address. And indeed it is, if the goal is to drill, baby, drill. In Obama’s time in office, U.S. oil production has increased 50 percent; analysts estimate that by the time he’s gone in 2016, we’ll have literally doubled the amount of oil we produce in this country. The curve for natural gas production has been almost as steep, and though we’re burning less coal in our own power plants the amount we export has hit record highs.

In political terms, Barack Obama holds us environmentalists at bay with pretty words on climate change, but when it comes time to drill he’s the go-to guy. As he told a crowd of cheering oilmen in Oklahoma during the last campaign, “over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some.”

Eighteen of the nation’s biggest environmental groups sent the president a letter earlier this year asking him to back off the all-of-the-above rhetoric, and to change his policies. The only reply came from one of his counselors, who fired back a peevish letter saying he was “surprised” that they would dare challenge the president, since he’d done more than his predecessors to fight climate change. But being better than George Bush is not the point—to do anything about global warming you need to meet the bar that physics sets. And that means leaving coal and gas and oil in the ground.

In the world where physics rules, an “all of the above” energy strategy makes no more sense than an all-of-the-above foreign policy. In the world where physics rules, coal and oil are North Korea and Iran and solar energy is England. An “all of the above” policy is in fact no policy at all—it’s no different from walking into a restaurant and ordering everything on the menu to avoid having to make a choice.

In effect, “all of the above” translates into “all of the below,” a continued reliance on the fuels that are driving the greatest peril creation has yet faced. We badly need a real all-of-the-above: one that looks to the sun and the wind, not the depths of Hades, to power our lives. 

Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College in Vermont and founder of 350.org.

Image: Oil rig framed by sunset, Thaiview / Shutterstock.com

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