The one thing Jimmy Carter got right -- and the one thing even many Tea Party congressmen get wrong

You don’t have to be an “environmentalist wacko” to have concerns about our heavy reliance on fossil fuels. Long before I ever heard the word “environmentalist” — and long before “greenhouse effect,” “global warming” or “climate change” had entered common parlance — energy conservation was an urgent topic.

If you came of age when I did, or before, you probably remember the first national “energy crisis” — the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74. You’ll recall the huge spike in gasoline prices, the way we adjusted our thermostats a little colder than we liked in the winter, and a little warmer in the summer, and even the way fewer folks put up Christmas lights that year because they were worried about their energy bill.

One thing Jimmy Carter was right about was that the struggle to reduce our reliance on foreign oil was “the moral equivalent of war.” We know that now more than ever — for it is with our petrodollars that Saudi Arabia funds the building and maintenance of madrassahs all over the world that indoctrinate millions of young Muslims in the Wahhabi doctrines of jihad. Rich with our petrodollars, and the clout that comes with that wealth, the Saudis control most of the mosques in the United States, making sure that they’re run by radical imams. The sad fact is that most of the major oil-producing countries of the world are either hostile to America (Iran, Venezuela, Russia) or politically unstable, the latter a category into which now falls even Mexico, our second-largest supplier of oil (after Canada).

That is the real problem with fossil fuels, not their alleged contribution to the alleged global warming phenomenon. Man-caused climate change has been exposed as a fraud, thanks to “Climategate,” which has revealed appalling violations of scientific practice by well-connected, well-funded but completely unscrupulous scientists. Man-caused climate change is at best doubtful and at worst, imaginary. Unfortunately, our real problem is neither doubtful nor imaginary: the fact that our whole way of life depends on petroleum, and so much of our petroleum supply depends on people we can’t trust.

In 1973-74, and again when gasoline was rationed in 1979, we Americans said, “No more! We will reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The Arabs will never again be able to put us over a barrel!” (Literally.) Well, like so many New Year’s resolutions, those goals went by the wayside. We are more dependent than ever on foreign oil — and the foreign entities from whom we buy it are a nastier, more volatile, more dangerous lot than ever. (Who would have guessed 30 years ago that Venezuela, one of of our biggest oil suppliers, would become our mortal enemy?)

As Congressman Allen West has said:

Energy independence is critical…. Today we are importing close to 65% of our energy resources from foreign sources. Due to this increased reliance on foreign energy supplies, terrorists have found a great source of funding through “petro-dollars” emanating from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Libya.

Now is the time to make America energy-independent by encouraging the indomitable spirit of American ingenuity and developing our full spectrum of energy resources. That means that we must invest in oil, natural gas, clean coal, nuclear, hydrogen, cost-effective bio-fuels, wind, and solar (research, exploration, refinement, and development).

Please note the qualifier he uses for bio-fuels: cost-effective. That rules out ethanol, which for every 1.0 unit of energy required to grow corn and process it into ethanol, yields only 0.7 to 1.8 units of energy! In other words, we’re lucky to get back out as much energy as we put in; in many cases, we actually get less. (Compare to oil and natural gas, which have output-to-input energy ratios of up to 10, i.e., 10 units of energy produced for every one unit of energy that was needed to get it.) Can you imagine a business that would spend a dollar making a product that would only sell for 70¢? Of course not. The corn ethanol business, like so many other bad ideas, continues only because of government subsidies, i.e., your and my tax dollars. Why does the federal government subsidize it? Because of one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, that of a corporation called ADM.

The new chairman of the House’s Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Darrell Issa, has said he’s particularly concerned with cutting waste in federal spending. He should investigate why one company is allowed to have such inordinate influence on our energy and agricultural policy. Ultimately, the ethanol boondoggle even affects national security, since the devotion of so much of our acreage to ethanol instead of food causes sharply increased food prices that have sparked food riots around the world.

I have seen many otherwise conservative and sensible Congressmen and Senators fall for the ethanol scam. Allen West’s insistence that bio-fuels be cost-effective is nothing more than common sense — but many Republican politicians remain to be persuaded. Among Midwestern congressmen, even Tea Party candidates have not been immune to the siren song of the ethanol pushers.