Depending on Energy, Not Energy Independent By Kenneth P. Green

When considering energy independence, one has to strive for clear thinking and consider all of the potential tradeoffs and potential unintended consequences involved.

‘Energy independence’ has… become a prized bit of meaningful-sounding rhetoric that can be tossed out by candidates and political operatives eager to appeal to the broadest cross-section of voters. When the U.S. achieves energy independence… America will be a self-sufficient Valhalla, with lots of well-paying manufacturing jobs that will come from producing new energy technologies…. When America arrives at the promised land of milk, honey, and super-cheap motor fuel, then U.S. soldiers will never again need visit the Persian Gulf, except, perhaps, on vacation.—Robert Bryce

Energy independence. It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? If you think so, you’re not alone, because energy independence has been the dream of American presidents for decades, and never more so than in the past few years, when the most recent oil price shock has been partly implicated in kicking off the great recession.

As energy expert Robert Bryce notes, “Every U.S. president since Richard Nixon has extolled the need for energy independence. In 1974 Nixon promised it could be achieved within six years. In 1975, Gerald Ford promised it in 10. In 1977 Jimmy Carter warned Americans that the world’s supply of oil would begin running out within a decade or so, and that the energy crisis that was then facing America was ‘the moral equivalent of war.’”

“Energy independence” and its rhetorical companion “energy security” are, however, slippery concepts that are rarely thought through. What is it we want independence from, exactly?

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