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OPEN FORUM Bush’s Greatest Failure BY ROBERT BRYCE George W. Bush is missing his “Nixon Goes to China” moment. In 1972, President Nixon was able to go to Beijing and negotiate with the Communists because he was an ardent anti-Communist. Bush, the Texas oil man, has a golden opportunity to ignite fundamental change in America’s ruinous energy policies, but he hasn’t done it. And that is the single greatest failing of Bush’s presidency. Democrats are attacking George W. Bush on many fronts: the lousy intelligence that led to the Second Iraq War, his go-italone foreign policy, the faltering economy, the paucity of new job creation, his penchant for deficit spending, his questionable record while serving in the Texas Air National Guard, and even his syntax and invention of words like “nucular.” All of those things are being used to bludgeon Bush. But all of them pale when compared to the most important issue in America today: energy. George W. Bush’s greatest failure as the 43rd president of the United States has been his lack of serious action on energy policy at a time when the world desperately needs leadership from America. Global energy consumption is soaring. Oil and gas production is faltering. Almost every month, new studies come out that corroborate the harm being done to the world’s atmosphere by carbon dioxide, which comes from the burning of fossil fuels. And yet, Bush has done nothing to address America’s long-term energy needs or deal with the greenhouse gas problem. The unfortunate truth about America in 2004 is that it is in the same position as it was in 1973, when the first OPECinduced oil shocks paralyzed the country. Despite three decades of rhetoric, six different presidents, and a plethora of promises, America still doesn’t have a viable long-term energy policy. It never has. America has been stuck in the same misguided trance that has paralyzed policy makers since the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries decided to shut off the flow of oil to America in early 1973. Despite all that has happened since thenadditional OPEC price hikes, two wars in Iraq, and the Saudi-funded attacks on America on September 11, 2001, to name just a fewAmerica’s policymakers are still afflicted with acute energy myopia and a firm belief that we can produce ever-increasing amounts of energy to fill our gas tanks. And George W. Bush and his cronies are the blindest of them all. In 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney headed the National Energy Policy Development Group, which was charged with assessing America’s energy situation. The resulting 170-page report, “Reliable, Affordable, and Environmentally Sound Energy for America’s Future” \( serious energy shortage since the oil embargoes of the 1970s.” And while the report includes two chapters on efficiency and renewable energy, the bulk of the document focuses on ways to produce ever-increasing amounts of energy from coal, natural gas, and oil. The report doesn’t mention the possibility of declining world oil production. It gives little discussion to the issue of greenhouse gases or global climate change except when discussing the benefits of nuclear power plants, which, the report says, have “a dependable record for safety and efficiency and discharge no greenhouse gases.” Cheney’s report can be summed up thusly: America doesn’t need more efficiency or renewable energy because there’s always going to be plenty of oil available. We can produce our way out of our energy predicament. There’s only one problem with that thinking: It’s not true. All it requires to see that it’s not true is a look at the predictions known as Hubbert’s Peak. In the 1950s, M. King Hubbert, a geophysicist who worked for Royal Dutch/Shell in Houston, began looking at oil production trends in America. In 1956, using mathematical models, Hubbert made a bold prediction: American oil production would peak in about 1969. That’s exactly what happened. In 1970, U.S. oil production reached 9.6 million barrels per day. And despite a surge in Alaskan oil production in the 1980s, domestic production has been declining ever since. \(In 2002, the United States produced about 5.8 million barrels of oil per day, about one-third of the 18.8 million In the years after Hubbert made his prediction, he was derided for his pessimism. The 1950s were perhaps the fattest times in the history of American oil business. However, a few academics and energy analysts took Hubbert seriously. One of Hubbert’s co-workers at Shell was a young geologist named Kenneth Deffeyes. In the late 1990s, Deffeyes, who was then teaching at Princeton University, decided to use Hubbert’s models on global oil production. In 2001, Deffeyes published his findings in a book called Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage. In the first chapter, Deffeyes gets right to the point: In 2003 or 2004, he predicted, world oil production will begin declining. “…An unprecedented crisis is just over the horizon,” wrote Deffeyes. “There will be chaos in the oil industry, in governments, and in national economies. Even if governments and industries were to recognize the problems, it is too late to reverse the trend. Oil production is going to shrink.” Deffeyes was not alone in his predictions. Over the past few years, an increasing number of energy analysts, including 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3/26/04