John McCain wants to have a contest that will award $300 million to the person/company that develops a better car battery.
Yes, it would be great thing if someone would develop a better battery, but it seems to me that spending massive amounts of money in a contest is a terrible way to get the job done. While prizes can be used as an incentive where the marketplace lacks an incentive, a better car battery is something that many companies are working on right now.
McCain’s contest is a gimmick. Does McCain really think that the voters are going to think, “Wow! A contest! Now someone will try to invent a better battery!”?
If contests are so terrific, let’s have a $300M contest to “cure” obesity and another $300M contest for the person who figures out a way for the U.S. to leave Iraq. The “winners” take all in each of these contests, while the “losers” get nothing, of course. That’s the nature of contests. And how will we decide who won? The government decides, of course. We already know that the winner will be a company that donates millions of dollars to a few well-placed politicians. How about a $300M contest where the winner figures out how to get dirty corporate money out of America’s political campaigns?
Instead of a contest, how about using tax dollars to fund battery research in a responsible way, where various reputable companies and universities are paid incentives to hire the people and equipment they need to accelerate their research and development?
Now consider that “huge” number McCain is proposing, $300M. Some people might be wondering why that amount so “big”? It’s not really very big at all, though, considering the importance of having a new generation of batteries. The war in Iraq is costing $720 million each day, more than twice the amount of McCain’s contest award. To put this in perspective, McCain thinks that the need for a new generation of batteries is so incredibly important that he’s willing to spend a total of ½ of the money that we spend in Iraq in only one day on developing those batteries.
Like obesity, saving energy is a mater of lifestyle. To prevent economic ruin, or to prevent the strokes and heart attacks associated with obesity, we need to run America lean and mean. Without seriously addressing the availability of energy to put into those batteries, new batteries won’t much matter. We’re running out of oil and coal is a horrible idea for many reasons. Nuclear has it’s risks (though I’m not opposed to nuclear being part of the solution). We can generate lots of usable energy using solar and wind, but not enough to sustain our current energy indulgent lifestyle. One approach shines brightly above all the others: conservation.
It really puzzles me that so many conservatives refuse to consider the enormous amount of energy that could be saved by using less energy. The recent dispute regarding the need to keep tires inflated is a case in point. “Conservatives” hate the idea of conserving. They find it demeaning and feminizing. If you don’t believe this, just listen to the conservatives demean conservation–it’s the same tone they use when they attack gays. They roar that no one will ever tell them that they can’t drive their big cars. No one will ever tell them to not set their air conditioning to 70 degrees. No one but the “free market,” anyway.
Conservation is a gift that keeps on giving. There is great wealth (and national security) that can be generated by focusing on conservation. One incredibly impressive example is the ability (using current technology) to build carbon-neutral buildings. We could each get involved in dozens of ways to use energy smartly. We could each be mini-heroes in the effort to free ourselves from economic and environmental ruin.
Here’s one more thought on what some money could do if spent in the better way:
The money spent on one day of the Iraq war could . . . outfit 1.27 million homes with renewable electricity.
I’ll end with a fantasy contest (one I’m not really proposing): What if the federal government awarded a 50% discount on income taxes to the 10 million American households with the smallest carbon footprint each tax year? If you want to see some serious grass roots movement toward sustainability, consider something like this, then let the “free market” take over. Those conservatives who continue to disparage conservation need not apply.
In the meantime, I’ve written this post to make note that McCain’s battery contest is yet another attempt to distract America from the only potent workable short-term (and long term) solution to our energy crisis: conservation.