Monday, July 07, 2008

Talking About Energy

There was a great article in the Post on Sunday about energy and how the U.S. could become energy independent. It talked about how Brazil has achieved energy independence and how Iran is on the path to it.

I think this is a very important point:
Energy independence does not mean that the United States must be entirely self-sufficient. It simply means reducing the role of oil in world politics -- turning it from a strategic commodity into merely another thing to sell.

And that's what oil has become a strategic commodity. Imagine what would happen if a regime in the Middle East decided to use oil as a weapon as was done in the 1970s. Gas prices would go through the roof and the economy would be in free fall. I don't understand why this is not being put forward as a reason for becoming energy independent. Our addiction to oil is a major threat to our national security. It's high time that that is recognized.

The article goes on to detail how Brazil invested in ethanol derived from the huge amounts of sugar cane the country has. It details how for an extra $100 or so the vehicle can be made to run on gasoline, ethanol or a combination of both. Pretty cool. And oh yes who makes those vehicles why that would be GM and Ford. Then there is the potential of methanol or wood alcohol. It's being used in China.

There are many choices but it seems there are protectionist tariffs on Brazilian sugar-cane ethanol. Methanol isn't in the mix because flex cars only run on ethanol. So we are limiting are choices even before we get started.

One of the best points of the whole article is this:

The hard truth is that real energy independence can be achieved only through fuel choice and competition. That competition cannot take place as long as we continue to put 16 million new cars that run only on petroleum on our roads every year, each with an average street life of 16.8 years -- thereby locking ourselves into decades more of petroleum dependence.

What we need is some political leadership beyond let's drill everywhere or let's wait until some magic new technology if developed. We've go the technology right now. Let's start using it.

1 comment:

Arthur Schenck said...

I agree, but I think the Post is oversimplifying things by saying "real energy independence can be achieved only through fuel choice and competition". There need to be new technologies developed, too, and it's unlikely that private industry will invest in research with no guarantee of return. That's why most research at present is aimed at refining existing technology, trying to get a couple more mpg out of existing gasoline-fuelled engines, for example.

The political leadership you mention will need to be courageous enough to invest in research that industry will not. It will need to be courageous enough to end sweetheart deals for the petroleum industry and US auto makers (including imposing real fuel-efficiency standards—like those that already exist outside the US). And it will also need to invest in alternative fuels that don't divert food to fuel SUVs; that will mean standing up to the agriculture lobby.

So, to move forward, you're really asking politicians to stand up to big oil, Detroit AND big agribusiness interests for the promise of a payoff later on. This is why it doesn't happen and probably won't until there's a major crisis—another war, or when Saudi Arabia's monarchy is overthrown by a fundamentalist theocracy, those kinds of things.

If a way could be found to make ordinary voters demand action, the politicians will follow. But they will never, ever lead on this issue, especially when the big campaign checks from big oil, Detroit and agribusiness give them a financial incentive not to lead.