14 June 2007

The usefulness of "Energy Independence"

TigerHawk offers a nice discussion of why politicians who talk about 'energy independence' are being disingenuous. The concept, of course, is popular because it provides a way to get hawkish types who want to quit playing nicely with the middle east on the same side with warm fuzzy enviros. The post offers a couple good arguments against it: focusing on "supporting" the declining American oil industry (subsidizing it) translates to a failure to focus on actual reduction of fossil fuel use, and American fossil fuels production will never be enough to make us 'energy independent' without dramatic changes in our energy habits. The post also wants to know how come, if we're so concerned about having economic ties to politically unstable regions, we don't hear politicians calling for 'diamond independence' or 'cheap electronics independence,' given that those products also come from countries with "dodgy" politics. The answer, I think, is that interruptions to our supply of oil are disruptive on a level way beyond what would happen if we suddenly couldn't import African diamonds or Korean electronics. Diamonds suitable for use in research applications and jewelry are already made in labs; electronics can be acquired from other countries for a tiny increase in cost. Oil flow, though, affects pretty much every aspect of daily life; the threat of cutting us off is a powerful threat.

The post concludes:

Anthropogenic global warming is a very good reason to cut fossil-fuel consumption, but that means grubby American coal as well as greasy foreign oil. It has nothing to do with “energy independence.”

True. But a lot depends on where the 'energy independence' talk leads to -- if it results in real action to address fossil fuel use and efficiency, I'm willing to go along with it for awhile, if only to get the U.S. acclimated to a new way of thinking about energy.