“Energy is the albatross of U.S. national security”

Caw! Caw! Ancient mariners beware!

Though not always a huge fan of Thomas Friedman, I’m buying what he’s selling when it comes to U.S. energy policy. Recently he ripped into the so-called energy realists, those who maintain that dependence on imported oil is the closest thing our economy has to a natural law. Alternative energy may someday be able to supplant fossil fuels, the realists concede, probably around the same time that we colonize Mars.

Fortunately, some cracks are starting to appear in the realists’ facade as new technologies become more viable, and as the stakes get higher. Friedman quotes extensively from a speech (pdf) delivered by Republican Senator Richard Lugar proposing a raft of incentives and mandates aimed at the transportation sector, which consumes 60% of America’s oil.

With these basics in mind, my message is that the balance of realism has passed from those who argue on behalf of oil and a laissez faire energy policy that relies on market evolution, to those who recognize that in the absence of a major reorientation in the way we get our energy, life in America is going to be much more difficult in the coming decades. No one who cares about U.S. foreign policy, national security, and long-term economic growth can afford to ignore what is happening…No one who is honestly assessing the decline of American leverage around the world due to our energy dependence can fail to see that energy is the albatross of U.S. national security.

Lugar plans to introduce his proposals in a bill this week co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Barack Obama.

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  1. Jack - April 5, 2006

    I’m all for alternative energy and weening ourselves off foreign oil. But why can’t we at least develop, in the short term, the energy that we know we have?
    If we’re planning for a future based on alternative energy sources I don’t think it’s a bad thing to provide cheaper energy in the short term to give people on a tight budget a break. If I had more money available to me (because of cheaper gas and heating/cooling) then I could spend that on alternative things like solar panels or better insulation or a hybrid car.

  2. Adam - April 5, 2006

    Hi Jack,
    There are legitimate social issues around the price of energy. People need to heat their homes and drive to work, so increases in oil prices do pose a real — and often disproportionate — burden on the poor.
    Having said that, though, you have your economics somewhat turned around. When the price of energy drops, people tend to invest the savings in…more energy. Demand for energy is somewhat elastic, which means that when it’s cheaper, we use more of it.
    Conversely, when the price of energy rises, we are more likely to seek substitutes, such as solar power, better insulation, or hybrid cars.

  3. oldhats - April 5, 2006

    But Jack makes a good point. We need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and opening up American reserves (in an evironmentally safe way, of course) is a good way to do that.

  4. Adam - April 5, 2006

    Yikes, no! If by reserves, you mean opening up the Strategic Petroleum Reserves, this wouldn’t do a single thing to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Those reserves are there to cushion against sudden disruptions in oil supply. After we use them, we have to refill them, which gets us exactly nowhere.
    Oil prices are likely high right now for structural reasons of supply and demand that, unfortunately for consumers, simply can’t be easily remedied. The only solution will come through long-term energy policy and a concerted effort to move to new sources of supply. It’s a political issue, and it will take a long time and lot of will to address.
    See the peak oil posts for additional information.

  5. SSmith - April 5, 2006

    Adam I agree. We have to save our “reserves” for emergencies. Hopefully oldhats was referring to tapping into our own energy sources close to home such as ANWR.

  6. LiveLaughLove - April 5, 2006

    Yes, our reserves are important — especially given the unstable nature of the major oil producing countries. We must reduce our dependence on oil from these countries, but in order to do so we must not limit our own energy supplies.

  7. Adam - April 6, 2006

    SSmith — I think you’re right. I think I misread the term “reserves.” Apologies for the minor freakout.
    Although I personally am not a huge fan of opening up ANWR for drilling, I am comfortable trading ANWR for substantive concessions in energy policy elsewhere. That is, if drilling in ANWR is necessary to get bipartisan support for a sensible energy long-term plan that has real teeth, so be it. Progress on climate change strikes me as too important to hold up for any sacred cows.

  8. SSmith - April 6, 2006

    Adam – no reason to appologize we are all allowed to freakout at times :) I would love for us not to have to touch ANWR but we are running out of options and if we aren’t going to tap into our own resources here at home then we need to pick up the speed on implementing alternative forms of energy such as wind – solar – etc. If our domestic oil companies are smart they will invest their huge profits into R&D on such alternatives.

  9. oldhats - April 8, 2006

    Sorry! I’ve been out of the loop for a couple of days…I missopke the other day, I didn’t mean open up our strategic reserves. I was, in fact, talking about opening up ANWR, etc. Thanks to those who “translated” my comment! :)

  10. Jack - April 11, 2006

    Adam – You’re right, the only fix is a long term fix.

    I think by now people have woken up to the fact that we need a more comprehensive energy policy to secure our future. The thing is, a lot of what people talk about doing to help save energy costs too much to implement. On an individual level we need more free cash and incentives to help us make the changes. At the corporate and federal levels I think the trend will continue toward greater efficiency, alternative fuels, and energy independence. So things like opening up ANWR would help bring the supply up and the cost back down to something sensible.

    At least that’s my hope!

  11. Adam - April 12, 2006

    I hate to sound gloomy, but ANWR just isn’t going to be the answer to your hopes. There are too many structural supply and demand issues for one more oil field to have a meaningful effect.
    Keep in mind that there are oil fields in development all over the globe. Oil is a transportable commodity, so — as far as prices are concerned — it doesn’t much matter whether the new capacity comes online in Alaska or in the Caspian Sea. It just isn’t the case that we drop a well in the ground near Fairbanks, and prices at the pump drop the next day in Atlanta.
    Arguments can be made for exploiting the capacity at our disposal — ANWR included — but keeping near-term energy prices “sensible” (which itself is a fraught issue) isn’t really one of them.

  12. SSmith - April 12, 2006

    Adam . . . Gloomy or not I hope all Americans are talking about our looming energy crisis. We need every American on board to make a difference. Wether it is through conservation efforts or by contributing to the creation and expansion of alternative fuel/energy sources.

  13. Kit - April 26, 2006

    One problem with the idea of opening up ANWR is the impact it will have on the wild life in the area. the lake they are talking about drilling is home to several rare or endangered species. Not to mention it is one of the most important molting grounds for the Black Brant and other birds.
    Plus, if we tap into Alaska now and the oil runs out, which it eventually will, then we will be completely dependant on foreign oil and then we’d be worse off than before. In my opinion, the best way to go is hybrids and alterantive fuel sources.