Political post. You have been warned.
I also need to point out that I had begun crafting this before McCain's announcement recently. (Needless to say, I applaud McCain for this proposal.)
News flash - we are addicted to oil. And Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and every other oil producing company owns us. The solution is very simple - reduce this dependency. The solution isn't to only invest in more fuel efficient cars; that's only part of the solution. The true solution must be a three-pronged attack - increase supply, reduce demand, and find alternatives.
Recently, George Bush and John McCain have called for the lifting of the ban on new offshore drilling. Many have derided this as increasing our dependence on oil at the risk of damaging our environment. Unfortunately, the choice is to either risk damaging the environment, or continue to be in a situation where Saudi Arabia can summon the "Leader of the Free World" whenever it sees fit.
Economics 101 is all about supply and demand. We must increase supply, and specifically domestic supply, or at the very least, encourage countries like Canada to produce more oil. The more we produce here, the less we have to purchase from abroad. It's just that simple.
Granted, this doesn't solve the long term goal of eliminating our dependence on oil in general. But the fact remains that today the fuel we need is oil, and we don't know when that will change. Even if Ford produces a gas free car tomorrow, the cars we drive today won't change overnight. We can invest in the future while focusing on our present reality and giving ourselves a safety net in case technology doesn't progress like we hoped.
This is very simple. Consume less oil. And of all the proposals here, this will show the most immediate return on investment.
During the 1970's when we faced another oil crisis, we introduced both mileage standards and implemented a national speed limit of 55 MPH. The simple fact is that when you start driving faster than 60 MPH your mileage drops precipitously. It's time to implement a nation wide 60 MPH speed limit.
We can also start encouraging people to start driving less. The simplest way to do this is with tax benefits. Taxes make an excellent carrot and stick. Offer companies who allow their workers to telecommute when possible, or a 4 day work week, a tax break. Offer citizens who begin carpooling or taking mass transit tax breaks - or free registration on their cars (added bonus side effect - less wear and tear on the roads, less needed for upkeep).
If Congress sat down tomorrow and passed such a measure, we could see it implemented before the end of the summer.
Hydrogen. Hybrid. Bio-diesel. Water. All of them are possibilities when it comes to the car of tomorrow. The problem is we don't know which is going to work out as the most viable, or when it will become viable. After all, we still don't have our flying cars.
Going back to the tax benefits carrot before, we can offer a contest to all auto manufacturers. First one to produce a viable, 4 door sedan that gets 60 MPG or uses no fuel at all wins. Many private contests have been implemented this way (Spaceship One anyone?) and have seen success. Why can't the government do this? If you offer incentives to private industries they will produce. The first one gets a huge tax break, plus a contract for all government cars (where appropriate).
The solutions are out there. The issue is it will take multiple solutions to solve this problem. It will also require politicians coming together to hammer out these solutions. Granted, Congress hasn't always been the best when it comes to such things. But now that we're faced with one of the biggest issues ever in our nation's history maybe we can come together.
And at the very least, we will show the world that we're serious about breaking our addiction. Up to this point, talk of decreasing the addiction has been merely that - talk and rhetoric.
It's time to move beyond politics and solve problems.
Here's to hoping, anyway.