“Energy independence” is silly. We must use less energy regardless of its source.

Jerry Taylor, Cato Institute

My unwavering allegiance to the American Public Media radio program Marketplace was made ever tighter by a clear and compelling opinion piece by Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute.

The piece is written so concisely I can do no better than to quote Mr. Taylor’s introduction:

President Bush and many others are fond of saying that oil prices are high because we import too much oil. In reality, they’ve got it exactly backwards. We import energy for a reason: it’s cheaper than producing it here at home. A governmental war on energy imports will, by definition, raise energy prices.

Bingo.

Our search for the holy grail of ‘energy independence’ has distracted us from the real issue at hand: we have built our country, our cities, our communities around a transportation infrastructure that relies almost solely on fossil fuels. When the cost of these fuels increase faster than expected, the repercussions are multiplied: not only does it cost more for you to drive to a market to purchase goods, the goods cost more to produce and deliver since they rely on that same transportation infrastructure.

Oops!

Our national focus should be on changing the policies that have led us to rely so heavily on fossil fuels instead of debating from which source we should purchase these fossil fuels.

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6 Responses to “Energy independence” is silly. We must use less energy regardless of its source.

  1. Ray says:

    Huh. I always thought of the Cato Institute as conservative in the sense of Rush Limbaugh rather than conservative in the sense of “let’s be judicious with our resources.”

  2. Tom says:

    Right on man, no politician has a real answer to this issue. If they were serious, or once the price gets high enough, we will drill in Alaska and maybe states like Pennsylvania again. Or start using those oil sands in Canada more. Nuclear is a good option, just need to dispose of waste. Why don’t we build more nuclear plants for electricity and convert gas engines to electric. Coal, propane, natural gas are all non-renewable and i don’t think wind or solar can produce nearly enough energy. Ethanol, or corn isn’t the answer either, modern farming practices are not sustainable, the soil can’t produce enough ethanol and food forever. More ethanol raises corn prices, takes up acreage, and raises other crop (food) prices since farmers plant less acres of the less profitable crops.

    Then again what if, just what if politicians do not really intend to find energy alternatives. Perhaps they benefit from oil being traded in dollars all over the globe. Maybe we want oil to be consumed in large quantities at large prices so that foreigners must keep us dollars in reserve for these oil transactions. Just maybe that is how politicians are financing the $2 billion/ day debt we operate under in this country. Without oil foreigners would have much less incentive to hold us dollars and thereby hold our debt.

  3. kfarr says:

    @Ray: I’m not that familiar with the Cato Institute, but the Wikipedia article paints a picture of them being a bit more centrist than Mr. Limbaugh. Of course, who knows what the real truth is; Wikipedia wouldn’t be a terribly reliable dipstick of political bias.

    @Tom: Nuclear power might be our best hope. Combined with electric motors in our mobile metal chariots we Americans love so much it could offer a significant improvement to the current cost of energy to move these chariots while also decreasing immediate emissions.

    Yes, corn derived ethanol is a joke. Fortunately, the seams are finally cracking on that foolish idea as the government doesn’t have enough money to keep propping up the ethanol carnival sideshow.

    Increasingly I begin to agree with your last theory. Assuming that demand for dollars is high because it is the primary oil trading currency, and assuming that high demand creates an environment where people are willing to purchase our debt at lower prices than they otherwise would, then perhaps there is an indirect but real motivation to continue this US dollar oil trading bonanza.

    Is it reasonable to conclude that our poor energy policy is, in part, driven by our poor monetary policy?

  4. rzu says:

    No Nukes!

    Seriously, we do not have the capability to properly store and dispose of the nuclear waste. There has been a lot of green-washing of nuclear power lately, but we are far from being able to handle that stuff safely.

    Also, from a planning sense it is silly to depend on large fixed power plants for our energy needs. On the other hand, investing in energy efficiency and renewables will allow for a more distributed and modular energy infrastructure – a much more robust system. A modest investment in efficiency more than pays for itself – imagine what we could do if instead of sinking money into a big capital project like nuclear we spent that money on reducing our energy load.

  5. kfarr says:

    @rzu: You’re probably right about our inability to estimate the true cost of nuclear waste. I just heard an NPR piece about this during one of my shifts this weekend: the jist was that we have a hard enough time estimating costs in the near future (100 years or less). But, trying to estimate the true cost of dealing with nuclear waste that can last tens of THOUSANDS of years is impossible.

    Undoubtedly, proponents of nuclear will underestimate this cost, not because they’re evil and want to see our planet filled with nuclear waste, but because it is in their organization’s best economic interest to underestimate the cost of nuclear waste.

    Consumption reduction seems like the best idea.

    And to think, we live in one of the rare cities in the USA where this is actually a plausible goal. What if the City recognized SFMTA (DPT / Muni) as the key pillar of potential it really is for reducing energy use? Yet another reason to significantly increase end-user fees for personal vehicle use.

    Uh oh, now I’m really sounding like a hippie.

  6. kfarr says:

    India rails on the US and other developed nations for their misguided biofuel efforts.

    “It is a sign of the lopsided priorities of certain countries that they will resort to measures that will produce fuel at a cheaper cost in order to meet the transport requirements of a section of their population,” [Indian Finance Minister] Mr Chidambaram said.

    He said the pursuit of such policies at a time when many in the world could barely afford to eat was “outrageous and… must be condemned”.

    Link

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