Monday, September 1, 2008

Energy Independence and Foreign Policy

Recent troubling international events, involving especially Russia, secondarily Iran and Venezuela, have made it even more urgent for the U. S. to work more closely with our allies to deal with serious threats from these three oil and gas producing major players and accelerate movement towards a high degreee of energy independence. It's not necessary to be 100% independent, but I think we need to be at least 80%, and preferably 100% when it comes to the Middle East. If need be, we can rely on any relatively small emergency shortfall on more drilling from domestic wells, conservation, and a temporary release of some of the oil in our Strategic Petroleum Reserve, now with an inventory of more than 700 million barrels.

These events, as most of us know, include particularly Russian aggression in the little neighboring country of Georgia, threats to Turkey for allowing U. S. naval vessels to enter the Black Sea, implicit threats to Western Europe for generally supporting the U. S. in discussing sanctions against Russia for their aggression, support to Iran for developing their nuclear energy development, and potential threat to Russia to expel the country from membership in the exclusive G8 group of developed countries. These events are strategically highly sensitive because many European countries are very dependent on substantial imports of oil and gas from Russia, the U. S. needs Russian cooperation on dealing with international terrorism and the multiple threats posed by Iran. Furthermore, no one wants a return to the Cold War.

Iran, of course, is believed to be very possibly developing nuclear weaponry that could be a major threat to the entire Middle East, particularly Israel, and is causing a great deal of trouble with our current mission in Iraq. Venezuela's Chavez is establishing suspicious alliances with Iran and Russia, is a trouble-maker in our ally Columbia, and seemingly taking steps to corral oil producers Ecuador and Bolivia into their political camp. Finally, another troubling Latin American event is clear evidence that Russia has now decided to renew a major relationship with Castro's Cuba, most probably to irritate the U. S. and serve as an aggressive reaction to many of our somewhat provocative diplomatic and military actions in eastern Europe and other former Soviet Union republics.

All of these events, and their prospective economic and political consequences, make it obvious that moving boldly and urgently towards a high degree of energy independence is critical for both the U. S. and our European allies, from whom we can learn a lot. As an example, France gets 16% of their energy from renewable resources, compared to about 6% for the U. S., and gets 87.5% of their electric power production from their 59 nuclear plants. Germany has the world's largest solar power installation at Hemau, a small town in southern part of the country, and is among the world's leaders in the percentage of energy consumption obtained from solar. Little Denmark was 99% energy dependent in 1973 at the time of the Arab oil embargo. Now, after developing a comprehensive energy plan, Denmark gets 20% of their total energy needs from electricity generated by wind turbines, and the proportion is growing annually. The cost of this electricity has been reduced by 75%since 1970. Biomass energy and conservation are other important parts of their energy plan. We can also learn from Brazil's success in becoming independent with their ethanol production from sugar cane, supporting their oil resources.

Fortunately both Senators McCain and Obama support some level of energy independence. McCain indicated in a recent comprehensive speech on his energy plan in Las Vegas that he is committed to "strategic independence by 2025." Obama said in his nomination acceptance speech last Thursday that he is committed to independence from Middle East oil within the next ten years. However, both candidates need to get more specific and ambitious. I don't really know what McCain means by "strategic independence" and, it seems to me, 17 years is too long a timeframe. In terms of Obama's commitment, I'd agree that independence from the Middle East should be a priority, but I'm also concerned with a high level of independence from Venezuela, Nigeria, Algeria, and Indonesia. Canada is the only major exporter I think we can consider reasonably secure and reliable.

As I indicated in an earlier posting, we need a urgent and comprehensive national energy plan that includes the above goals for independence and very significant roles for several environmentally sensitive and cost sensitive options: natural gas, nuclear, clean coal refining technology, hydroelectric, solar, wind and biomass sourced power. There is no reason why we can't over the next 10-12 years, like Brazil, France and Denmark, increase our energy consumption from renewable sources from our current 6% to at least 15% and a target of 20% in 15 years. Achieving these realistic goals will serve us well in terms of national security, dealing effectively with global warming, preserving our environment, as well as the critical economic benefit of generating millions of badly needed new, well-paying "green" jobs.

It is also critical that we pursue well thought-out ongoing diplomacy and dialogue with Russia as well as China, the two other super powers, much as we don't like their form of government, the way they treat their own people, and many of their actions. No nation will win if a serious Cold War develops between Russia and the U. S. or between China and the U. S. We need to try to maintain our military supremacy, but, with very limited exceptions, pragmatic diplomacy and dialogue must be exhausted, before we launch a military option.


Anonymous said...

You don't mention increased drilling, which would be possible without opening our coasts to exploration. As a matter of fact, US oil companies own 68 Million acres of leases [one third of which are off shore] on which they can drill right now. Why are they not doing it? Why are they crying for more leases?

jimt said...

The first thing the US needs to do is build more nuclear plants. There is no logical reason why we aren't getting most of our domestic energy this way. The technology has been there for decades and is proven to be safe.

Second, we need to start drilling in ANWR right now. There should be no debate about that at this point, this region is practically a barren wasteland and drilling will not disrupt Alaska's wildlife or ecology.

Becoming energy independent IS a foreign policy action. As long as we keep sending trillions of $$ to our enemies for oil we will never be a safe nation.

Thomas said...

I agree strongly that we need to be more independent of foreign energy. While seeking out new energy sources is important, I believe the quickest solution is to manage what we already have better. This is already happening a lot. It is "in" to "be green". There are waiting lists to purchase the Toyota Prius because of its fuel efficiency. Water companies and Gas companies are offering substantial savings to consumers that are able to restrict their consumptions. By focusing on managing what we have better, and by continuing to encourage consumers to "think green", we can more quickly reduce our need for foreign energy.

wondarwie said...

It's too late for action. By the time we generate a response to transferring our wealth to oil producing countries, we'll be a third-rate country, totally dependent on China's goodwill to continue buying more and more of our worthless bonds. Best possible choice is to either move to the Middle East and become Muslim or move to China and start shorting U.S. bonds. Neither is appealing, but they are better options than sitting here and watching our country slowly unravel because of a few greedy and witless politicians.

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