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Bob Torres © 2001


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Bush asks California Agencies to ‘cut back on email’ to save energy

When I first read the headline, I hadn’t had enough sleep. My habit of late has been to crawl out of bed early in the AM to skim a portfolio of news sites before things get too hectic, too rushed. Sometimes, my insomnia gets creative with the news before I can understand it. But digging deeper on this particular morning, I saw that I hadn’t misread. It was true. The inhabitant of the White House, the President-Select, The Shrub, Gee Dubya -- anything except "president", thank you very much -- had asked Federal agencies in California to cut back on their use of email to save energy and to prevent more rolling blackouts.

This is daft, even for The Shrub. Perhaps, in all of my days installing Linux and setting up servers, I had missed something important, or failed to grasp some fundamental yet elusive core principle. But no: once the servers are on, they’re on. Period. Energy consumption is practically the same whether two hundred or two million emails pass through the server. Such high and informed inspiration is characteristic of the "new" energy policy being put forth by The Shrub and his handlers. Cheney, always a few hopeful heartbeats away from massive coronary failure, was sent out on the road to sell the plan. In case you’re not familiar with it, it has all of the predictable elements of any energy policy produced by former oil men (sic), complete with supply-side tinkering under the guise of the "free" market, and calls for the destruction of pristine wilderness all in the name of lower gas prices for the average "merkin". The plan, noteworthy only in its absence of any real promotion of conservation, was plugged by Cheney in the following way:

"Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy." (New York Times).

Reasoned policy may be a sign of intelligence, but it definitely cannot be a sufficient basis for insuring that The Shrub and his ilk repay the massive debts incurred to the fossil fuels industry during the last election. Cheney, while stumping for this policy, was careful to argue that increased drilling was the way forward, as opposed to, say, raising fuel economy standards, researching viable alternatives, or even encouraging consumer conservation.

In any case, conservation would not be popular. With vehicles like the "big, strong, and gracious" 7,156 pound Ford Excursion on the road, most 'merkins aren’t in the mood to hear that they’re responsible for a disproportionate amount of fuel consumption. The Excursion has the ability to carry one ton of cargo, or as the review I read says, "four 300 pound defensive linemen, three 250-pound linebackers, and an anorexic German shepherd". Such power is clearly a necessity in suburban America, where no self-respecting family would dare show up at soccer practice without a vehicle capable of transporting enough military personnel to restage the Bay of Pigs invasion. (In case you’re interested, you can supposedly buy the Excursion in any one of one hundred and fifty colors, minus yellow -- test marketing at Ford indicated that people too easily mistook the vehicle for a schoolbus.)

While the Excursion may be one of the largest passenger vehicles in America, it is not, unfortunately, in a class by itself. In my small VW, I always feel as though I’m in a canyon of steel and headlights. Most of the vehicles on the road now have bumpers where my windows are, all so people can feel empowered as they drift off to the mall, or to buy groceries. Like the first brave American settlers, we too have territory to discover, new crap to claim as our own, and many bumpy roads to deal with. As ‘merkins, we’re on top of the world -- and there’s no reason why our automobiles shouldn’t be as big and strong and powerful as our great nation is. And if you have a problem with that, son, you can go back to Mexico, or whatever commie rock you crawled out from under.

Despite my intense dislike of SUV drivers and their quest to overtake America, they have a certain pornographic value. The "SUV squirm", a courtship ritual involving a prolonged period clutching a gas pump, accompanied by increasingly concerned glances at the meter, followed by a double-take, cringe, careful dribbling withdrawal and reluctant spent fumbling for wallet, is one of the high moments in the love affair between US bourgeoisie and the automobile. Gas prices are expected to go as high as $3 per gallon this summer, which, as one of the members on the excellent Metafilter website pointed out, means the cost of filling that 44 gallon Excursion tops out at $132. The Excursion, let’s not forget, gets 10-12 mpg. That’s an awfully expensive ride to the mall.

In this climate of SUV madness, the administration has played off conservation as an impossibility, and has instead turned its focus to the development of a space-based missile defense system to guard the US from all of our enemies. A comrade and fellow weblogger summed this up beautifully in a recent message:

"i was reading today about the Bush admin's plans for full-scale space warfare development. sure, we can make that work. but, if you think that we can make a reliable electric car, boy, you're being unrealistic. space men with laser cannons shooting at missiles travelling at high speeds, now that's has an electric car (and toyota too). dual-powered, actually. gets something like 70 miles per gallon. the one we saw was $17k. it looked ridiculous, though. and, the effective range was low. i think i'll buy a space cannon instead. but only if it is specially designed for chinese targets."

Indeed, we may all be buying space cannons soon. In either case, the goal of the administration is the same: to line the pockets of those interests that got them elected in the first place. The administration has sworn off fuel price caps, which makes lots of sense if you were a one-time (and probably future) oil baron, as both Cheney and the Shrub were.

While most analysts see this policy as a huge political liability for The Shrub’s administration, I’m not so sure. I can accept that any challenge to the apparently god-given right to consume at low cost is bound to make most people in America antsy, and $3 or $4 per gallon gas prices are bound to make all of those Excursion drivers downright angry. But because the emphasis is on more drilling, more consumption, and building more power plants -- rather than the more sensible aim of the "personal value" of conservation -- I think this policy has some serious mileage left in it. When it comes down to it, this is what we want. Americans do not want to be told that they need to cut back, or to be limited in their ability to roll their armored personnel carriers freely around the suburbs. We want cheap gas, dammit, and if someone can bring us that, well then, he’s our man.

If you do happen to be stateside this summer, though, keep your eyes peeled for angry SUV drivers who will be especially keen to run you down; if you had such a large vehicle and were paying so much to operate it, you’d need to feel like you could actually use the power for something a little less sedate than trips to the mall. If you do manage to survive the onslaught, be sure to pop into a gas station for a quick titter. And whatever you do, please be sure to send as little email as possible. We wouldn’t want you wasting all of our precious resources.

Bob Torres' daily weblog appears at




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