“Let this be our national goal,” Richard Nixon said in response to the Arab oil embargo in 1974. “At the end of this decade, in the year 1980, the United States will not be dependent on any other country for the energy we need to provide our jobs, to heat our homes, and to keep our transportation moving.”
Similar quotes can be found for presidents Carter through Bush II. Obama goes one step further, recognizing that his predecessors have called for and failed to achieve their energy goals. But he says we’ll do better: “Today I’m announcing the first steps on our journey toward energy independence, as we develop new energy, set new fuel efficiency standards and address greenhouse gas emissions.”
But some people don’t believe in energy independence — and some don’t like it much either. The very sensible energy writer Robert Bryce thinks that energy independence is neither possible nor desirable. Instead, America should stop demonizing the Arab world and other energy exporters and start working together with them in a rational way so that all nations benefit from the interconnected global energy market.
Here’s the rub. Today, the US uses much more than our fair share of world energy. With just 5% of the world’s people, the US uses 25% of the world’s oil. It’s hard enough convincing other countries, especially growing powerhouses like China and India, that they should develop their economies in a more energy-efficient way than we did to fight global warming or stretch out world oil supply. They just think that we want to keep hogging the oil. As development continues in Asia, global pressure will certainly mount for the US to deal with our oil gluttony.
The bigger issue is, assuming we’re probably at peak oil this year, then the world is running out of cheap oil and other easy fossil fuels at just the same time that China, India, and other nations are building armies of consumers who want to start using as much energy as we do. Unless somebody kicks the oil habit, there’s going to be a lot of fighting over the remaining dregs.
Better that Americans kick that habit before we’re forced to do so by peak oil and competition from other countries. Many entrepreneurs agree, and they’re already found lucrative opportunities in the blooming green economy.
Give me less energy, please?
While solar panels and wind turbines are needed more than ever, their sex appeal too often pushes aside the less flashy but perhaps more necessary solutions to reduce our energy use through efficiency and conservation such as weatherizing homes or redesigning communities to be more walkable and bikeable.
And he’s also realistic about the challenges to energy independence, pointing out that both solar panels and wind turbines require rare earth minerals available only from one country: China.
In the end Fridley says it’s less about technology than about culture and habit. Americans just need to get used to the idea of using less energy overall. And while Fridley doesn’t say so, the obvious conclusion is that businesses who help people save energy will find a market.
What’s your business idea to help people save energy, and not just through a cool gadget, but by changing minds?