is something profoundly disturbing in observing George W. Bush the
environmentalist. If we had not already observed Bush the peacemaker,
Bush the compassionate and Bush the advocate for immigrant rights, we
might be tempted to take it seriously.
The president’s peacemaking turned out to
be a magician’s poorly executed sleight-of-hand at the United Nations’
Security Counsel while a predetermined plan of attack was executed on
schedule. His compassion translated into a prescription drug program
shell game in which every choice was ultimately wrong. His compassion
for the working class was another round of tax cuts for the elite and
another “free trade” agreement with Central America (CAFTA). His
compassionate words for migrant workers were delivered almost
simultaneously as Homeland Security rounded up the undocumented in 26
Is this the best way to use our Homeland Security department, rounding
up migrants from Mexico and Latin America?
Just when we thought we had heard it all, the president proposes to save
us from our addiction to oil through “clean coal” and nuclear
Among the most dangerous lies this president has told is the claim that
coal, the dirtiest fuel on the planet, can be transformed into a cheap
and plentiful supply of clean energy. Not to be outdone, the plutonium
lobby (AKA big oil) promises that scientific advances have rendered the
dangers of nuclear power negligible. Reminiscent in reverse of the
hopelessly optimistic pauper selling an apple for ten grand (if he can
only sell one), the proponents of the nuke blissfully ignore the fact
that we only need to get it wrong once: Chernobyl. We have not yet begun
to solve the problem of spent fuel rods yet we have taken to using spent
uranium in shell and missile casings. Spent uranium is hard, hot and
deadly, cutting through armor like a knife through butter, and it lives
to spew its radioactive poison for tens of thousands of years.
It is rumored that Chernobyl and Three Mile Island killed far more
innocent people than will ever be known. Perhaps if we knew, we would be
tempted to ban nuclear power forever. If we knew how spent uranium is
distributed over the desert, suburban and urban landscapes of Iraq, if
we knew how many soldiers and civilians are desperately ill or dead from
that evil toxicity, we would be inclined to outlaw its use in weaponry
It is now universally acknowledged that we should have taken safe
and renewable energy seriously decades ago but the oil-energy industry
convinced us that all such technologies were a drop in the ocean of
plentiful supplies of crude. Instead of subsidizing oil exploration, if
we had committed our resources to green energy then, our world would be
very different today.
If it were not so tragic, it would almost be amusing to observe all the
politicians and pundits scrambling for “solutions” to the problem of the
rising price of gas. Within or without the administration, not one of
their proposals will have any impact on the problem. Charge an excess
profit tax and the oil industry will rediscover Enron-Anderson
accounting. Implement a temporary suspension of tax on gasoline and the
industry will pocket the difference.
In the metaphor of addiction, we are the addicts. The industry is the
pimp. We have no leverage. If we cannot afford the price of gas, our
options are dismal. We are in debt to our ears. We are commuters by
necessity. We have no choice but to commute. We have already cancelled
our vacations, rolled over our mortgages, refinanced our debts and sold
our meager investments.
Unlike other nations that have had some notion of foresight, we have had
our heads buried in the dream of treasure beneath the sands of Arabia.
While other nations have learned to conserve, we fantasized an unlimited
oil supply, secured by the blood of soldiers and the armaments of war.
Even now, the coalition of the profitable is a breath away from
lecturing its naïve subjects: “We told you so. We need that oil and it
no longer matters how we secure it.”
The difference between America and Europe or Japan is that they have
fuel-efficient vehicles and viable mass transit. The only city in
America that is even remotely prepared for the coming storm is New York.
The subway system may be overwhelmed but it will adjust and function.
Imagine Los Angeles at five to ten dollars a gallon. Imagine the I-580
corridor between the central California valley (where the workers are)
and the Bay Area (where the jobs are).
What happens when the cost of transport consumes 50, 60 or 70 percent of
wages? We are no longer talking gridlock; we are talking implosion.
Maybe that is exactly what it will take. It is not as if we have had no
warnings. Clearly, we are reluctant learners.
The solution to this quandary is as obvious as it is daunting. It
requires comprehensive change -- a change in the way we think as well as
the way our government functions. In short, it will require a paradigm
At present, though we are facing a national crisis on par or greater
than the Great Depression, we can have no hope of a national strategy
for change. The federal government is completely entrenched, bought and
controlled by the masters that finance it. The proposals offered in
recent weeks, so paltry and insignificant, should be enough to convince
us all that the current government is incapable of remedy.
Rather, I propose that California should take the lead (just as
Massachusetts has in medical insurance). The program must begin with a
massive undertaking to transform our gridlocked highways into a
comprehensive mass transit system, replete with hybrid powered subways,
solar powered trains and bio-mass busses to connect the inner-city
California has the largest commuter working force on the planet. If we
looked to a mass transit project as an opportunity to create full
employment for all Californians, including all migrant laborers, we
could effectively alter the paradigm. Beyond the obvious benefit to the
environment, we would be developing the most valuable technologies of
the new millennium -- technologies that simultaneously reduce global
warming and our suicidal dependence on oil.
We should not stop with mass transit. We should legalize industrial hemp
(no grandma, it will not get you high) with the idea of replacing all
oil-based products. We should level a tax on plastics and create
incentives for alternative materials. We should institute full recycling
of waste products – particularly those that are most toxic. We should
require all new constructions to incorporate solar panels (as they do in
Britain) and energy-efficient designs. We should unilaterally impose
ever-stricter fuel efficiency standards and challenge the courts to
overrule common sense and social consciousness. We should impose stiff
fines on the irresponsible and inefficient vehicles on our roads and
We should join the Kyoto Accords independent of our wayward nation
and become the world’s leading purveyor of green technology.
Far from becoming a wasteland for industry, as the idiots of global
capitalism forewarn, we will become the model of a new economy. We will
resume the leadership role that was stolen from us by a handful of
corrupt Texas energy corporations operating under the protection of the
Where California leads, the nation must follow. The case will be so
compelling and powerful that not even the most dogmatic “free trader”
will be able to deny it.
How do we finance such a grand venture?
Nationwide, it would only require a cessation of the war and the
occupation of Iraq. California, however, would require creative
financing -- a combination of fees, bonds and taxation. It would require
initial sacrifice but it would be the best investment we ever made: an
investment in the future of planet earth.
is the author of Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press) the
Jazzman Chronicles, Volumes I and II (City
Lights Books). The Chronicles have been published by
CounterPunch, the Albion Monitor, Buzzle, Dissident
Voice and others. Visit his website: