President Bush is about to waste a second crisis, this one on energy addiction.
I am reliably told by a Bush administration official that there is an old saying in Texas that goes like this: "If all you ever do is all you've ever done, then all you'll ever get is all you ever got."
Could anyone possibly come up with a better description of Bush's energy policy? America is in the midst of its worst energy crisis in years, and what is the big decision our Decider has decided? Drum roll, please: Our Decider decided to lift the executive orders banning drilling for oil and natural gas off the country's shoreline even though he knew this was a meaningless gesture because a congressional moratorium on drilling passed in 1981 remains in force.
The economist Paul Romer once said to me that "a crisis is a terrible thing to waste." Bush is well on his way to being remembered as the leader who wasted not one but two crises: 9/11 and 4/11. The average price of gasoline in the U.S. last week, according to the Energy Information Administration, was $4.11.
After 9/11, Bush had the chance to summon the country to a great nation-building project focused on breaking our addiction to oil. Instead, he told us to go shopping. After gasoline prices hit $4.11 last week, he had the chance to summon the country to a great nation-building project focused on clean energy. Instead, he told us to go drilling.
Neither shopping nor drilling is the solution to our problems.
What doesn't the Bush crowd get? It's this: We don't have a "gasoline price problem." We have an addiction problem. We are addicted to dirty fossil fuels, and this addiction is driving a whole set of toxic trends that are harming our nation and world in many different ways.
When a person is addicted to crack cocaine, his problem is not that the price of crack is going up. His problem is what that crack addiction is doing to his whole body. The cure is not cheaper crack. The cure is to break the addiction.
Ditto for us. Our cure is not cheaper gasoline, but a clean energy system. And the key to building that is to keep the price of gasoline and coal our crack higher, not lower, so consumers are moved to break their addiction to these dirty fuels and inventors are moved to create clean alternatives.
I understand why consumers think we have a gasoline price problem because they are immediately hurt by higher gas prices, and the pump is where most people touch our energy system. They tend not to see the bigger picture. But that is why you have a president: to explain that and lay out a response.
Alas, we have a president and a vice president who deny that climate change is hurting our environmental body, who refuse to see the connection between the dollars we are shifting abroad and the rise of petro-dictators, who do not care about biodiversity loss and who are apparently untroubled by the sharp decline in the dollar, partly because of all the money we are paying for oil imports.
If you want to know what an alternative strategy might look like, read the speech that Al Gore delivered Thursday to the bipartisan Alliance for Climate Protection. Gore called for a 10-year plan to shift the entire country to "renewable energy and truly clean, carbon-free sources" to power our homes, factories and even transportation.This moment $4.11 represents Bush's last chance for a legacy. It amazes me how inadequate his response has been. By hectoring the nation to simply drill for more oil, he has profoundly underestimated the challenges we face.
Thomas Friedman is a New York Times columnist.