Newt Gingrich: I Vant to Suck Your Oil

newt.jpgBefore the financial meltdown severely undercut John McCain’s presidential ambitions, his campaign was giddy over the apparent success of its energy policy message: Drill, baby, drill!

It is, after all, a simple sounding solution that appeals to politicians in love with the quick fix, oil companies desperate for access to new sources, and auto-dependent Americans, many of whom now find themselves stranded in far-off suburbs, trapped in expensive car commutes and completely lacking freedom of choice when it comes to transportation. No matter that drilling here and drilling now isn’t going to do much of anything to reduce gasoline prices or wean Americans from their crushing oil dependence. 

If you’re curious about the masterminds behind the message, head over to Newt Gingrich’s "tri-partisan" American Solutions web site. There, you can download "The New Language of Smart Energy," a 42-page talking points memo from Republican pollster Frank Luntz. Luntz handily sums up his findings as "The 10 Communications Commandments for 2008." Not surprising, given the buckets of fossil fuel money behind Gingrich’s American Solutions, the Commandments can pretty much be summed up as "Thou Shalt Drill. Thou Shalt Drill Here. Thou Shalt Drill Now."

Here, courtesy of Frank and Newt, is some of the messaging that oil companies are using to maintain their grip on U.S. energy policy and get to those environmentally-sensitive leases. Mock and ignore them at your own peril.

  • First off, before even getting into the Ten Commandments, make sure you present yourself as having risen above partisan politics.
  • Then frame the issue in terms of national security. Our dependence on oil isn’t the problem. It’s our dependence on "foreign oil" that’s the problem. All that stuff about oil being a globally traded commodity? Too complicated. Skip that. 
  • Shortages "are unacceptable in our 21st century economy." All that stuff about geology and peak oil? Too wonky. Skip that.
  • "It is about American oil and American gas." (Bold and underline formatting courtesy of Frank Luntz.)
  • The more you can talk about futuristic "breakthrough technology," the more you’ll be embraced by the American public.
  • "Diversity of supply leads to security of supply." But focus, mainly, on diversity of oil and gas supply not diversity of energy sources.
  • Do: Talk about new technology and the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid. Don’t: Talk about conservation or sacrifice.

Newt, Frank, and the rest of their ilk seem to be in retreat for now. But with some drivers returning to their gas-guzzling ways, how long until the next "crisis" hits — and the oil-suckers emerge from their crypt?

Happy Halloween.

Graphic: Carly Clark

  • According to most independent scientific studies, global oil production will now decline from 74 million barrels per day to 60 million barrels per day by 2015. During the same time demand will increase 14%.

    This is equivalent to a 33% drop in 7 years. No one can reverse this trend, nor can we conserve our way out of this catastrophe. Because the demand for oil is so high, it will always exceed production levels; thus oil depletion will continue steadily until all recoverable oil is extracted.

    Alternatives will not even begin to fill the gap. And most alternatives yield electric power, but we need liquid fuels for tractors/combines, 18 wheel trucks, trains, ships, and mining equipment.

    We are facing the collapse of the highways that depend on diesel trucks for maintenance of bridges, cleaning culverts to avoid road washouts, snow plowing, roadbed and surface repair. When the highways fail, so will the power grid, as highways carry the parts, transformers, steel for pylons, and high tension cables, all from far away. With the highways out, there will be no food coming in from “outside,” and without the power grid virtually nothing works, including home heating, pumping of gasoline and diesel, airports, communications, and automated systems.

    This is documented in a free 48 page report that can be downloaded, website posted, distributed, and emailed:

    I used to live in NH-USA, but moved to a sustainable place. Anyone interested in relocating to a nice, pretty, sustainable area with a good climate and good soil? Email: clifford dot wirth at yahoo dot com or give me a phone call which operates here as my old USA-NH number 603-668-4207.

  • The Peak Oil Update at is a valuable resource. It combines data and projections into a simple graphic that tells the story at a glance. And it’s updated regularly. If you’re trying to explain to a friend what’s happening, it’s a useful tool.

  • Clifford, you don’t need liquid fuels to run trains. Railways can be electrified. And many locomotives are diesel-electric, so could probably be adapted to all-electric operation.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    And Electric power comes from what? I guess Eric is talking about the modern Nuclear Electric, or maybe Solar or Wind Powered trains. Or is he applying rule #5 “The more you can talk about futuristic “breakthrough technology,” the more you’ll be embraced by the American public.”

  • Erik, When oil is too expensive to provide for heating oil and highway maintenance, it’s over. If you can maintain the highways, you can’t maintain the grid. It’s all over.

  • Niccolo, if someone thinks of electric trains as a “futuristic breakthrough technology” then that’s fine with me. But the fact is that a mainline railway was electrified in the USA over 100 years ago according to Wikipedia. And yes, electric trains can easily be powered from a wide variety of sources. That’s one of the many advantages of trains over other forms of transport.

    Trains are a very energy-efficient form of transportation because steel wheels on steel rails provides very low friction. A train uses about 0,1 kWh/pkm per passenger-kilometre, which is about a third of what cars use.

    Clifford, VMT on the highways has already dropped and could continue to do so with the right policies. Investing in railways is a great idea.

  • JK

    Ignore at peril indeed. McCain and Obama were both reading from Newt’s script. Tax credits for tech, US coastal drilling, clean coal, US natural gas, alt energy. Forget carbon tax, cap and trade didn’t even make it into the debates and Obama’s stand to keep the already modest federal gas tax was courageous. A lot could change after the election and it will have to. Building a giant transit infrastructure and high mileage vehicles will not reduce gas consumption and car use without measures that increase the cost of driving, parking and sprawl. That means rethinking the mortgage tax deduction, parking and road subsidies, energy taxes and road pricing. It also means more federal help for cities and less for sprawl development. Very tough since suburbanites are the swing voters most pandered to. Big city dwellers are taken for granted politically.

  • Ian Turner

    Actually, both Obama and McCain favor some kind of carbon tax or cap-and-trade system.

  • niccolo machiavelli

    Of course Eric. Apparently I have failed yet again to be humorous. I also sought to point out how dirty are most electric power plants and how hynotized we are with techno fixes. Speaking of techno fixes, how about building lighter passenger trains? Or is the coefficient of fruction so low it doesnt matter?

  • zach

    Does no one here remember that this blog is mostly about bicycles and pedestrians? Yes, electricity will get more expensive. Roads will be less well maintained. Is this armageddon? Heck, no. I’m living in Cairo, Egypt, now and the roads are a mess and electricity is far far more expensive than it is in the US in relation to incomes. Crime isn’t higher. Sure, people eat very little meat, and almost everyone takes ad hoc public transportation, but is that so horrible?

    Peak oil isn’t going to happen in an instant. It’ll be in fits and spurts, so to speak.

    Good trains will help. Looking at India makes me think we should have held on to British colonialism longer.

  • Emily Litella

    What’s all this fuss I hear about BIG oil? This is america and the bigger the better, especially when it comes to oil. Why I get those one gallon jugs of canola and grease up my… What’s that? Oh PEAK oil, oh


  • That picture of Vampire Gingrich is excellent.


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