Rising gasoline and heating oil prices, along with stagnant real wages, are causing many working people to struggle to pay for necessities like driving to work or the grocery store and paying the heating bill. At the same time, society faces a looming energy crisis.
Fossil fuels like oil and coal produce greenhouse gases, which are responsible for global warming. Before the earth is damaged irreparably, alternate sources of energy will have to be found to fuel increasing world demand.
The questions of global warming and high gas prices are hot topics in the media. The politicians are talking about a number of different solutions. Will these solutions help or hurt the environment? Will they be able to provide relief from high gas prices?
One idea being discussed is drilling for more oil offshore and opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska to drilling in order to lower gasoline prices. However, according to the Energy Information Administration, exploiting offshore sources will not yield noticeable amounts of oil until the 2020s, and even at peak production its impact on oil prices would be insignificant (www.eia.doe.gov, 2/07).
Opening ANWR to drilling would also take years to have an effect, and the effect on oil prices would be small, much smaller than the effect of speculation. Additionally, the plan would likely damage these ecosystems. And using more oil will contribute to global warming, the opposite of moving towards environmentally friendly sources of energy.
Nuclear power has also been receiving more attention as an environmentally friendly way to produce electricity. While nuclear power does not produce greenhouse gases, it does produce nuclear waste, which remains radioactive for over 100,000 years and needs to be stored safely for that amount of time. Also, nuclear plants are a real danger in an earthquake or if an accident happens, like in Chernobyl in 1987. Greenpeace estimates this one incident caused 93,000 cancer deaths.
Ethanol is being touted as a green solution to dependence on foreign oil. While burning ethanol produces fewer greenhouse gases than burning gasoline, scientists estimate that producing ethanol uses up so much fossil fuels that it may even be worse for the environment. In the best case scenario, any positive environmental effects are negligible. Also, the use of corn for producing ethanol rather than food has played a role in rising food costs worldwide.
So What Is the Solution?
All of these proposals increase profits for big business, be it Big Oil (a major contributor to the Bush administration), the nuclear industry (the largest nuclear power company in the U.S., Exelon, ranks among Obama’s top contributors), or agriculture multinationals (according to the New York Times, Obama “has advisers and prominent supporters with close ties to the industry (6/23/08)). None of them solve the fundamental problem facing humanity of rising energy needs and the need to drastically decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
The real solution to the problem lies both in switching to environmentally friendly forms of energy production, such as solar or wind power, and in using energy more efficiently, such as offering free 24-hour public transportation.
These solutions, however, strike at the profit-making ability of big business, not only oil, automotive, nuclear, and agricultural companies, but others who stand to lose profits if they have to spend money reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their factories. This is why big business has been a consistent opponent of laws regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
As long as the economy is organized in the interests of raising the maximum profits, global warming won’t be stopped. The small measures that are taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren’t nearly enough.
A real solution to the environmental crisis and meeting future energy needs can only happen by breaking the power of big business and replacing the market economy with a planned economy that produces in the interests of people and the environment, not short-term profits. This system would need to be democratically run, with decisions being made by workers and consumers through committees in workplaces and neighborhoods, linked up regionally and worldwide.