Energy “security” and “independence”

Some of you folks here in the old US of A may have noticed that gas is super cheap right now. Great, right? Eh…probably not so great in the long run. Because ultimately, all cheap gas prices do is keep us chained to hydrocarbon fuel sources. Which, from a variety of standpoints, is really stupid.

Let’s start with the environment. If you hate science and think that climate change was invented by Al Gore to make scientists rich, you can stop reading and go jump off the nearest bridge right now and do humanity a favor. For those of you who believe in science, I’m glad you’ve kept reading. Anywho, fossil fuels are terrible for the environment. There’s the most obvious impact, CO2. It’s a greenhouse gas that drives climate change. Climate change is bad because we need the climate to, ya know, live and stuff (in case there are still science deniers reading). Processes for obtaining fossil fuels are also bad for the environment. Oil spills in the ocean. The destruction and pollution of the water we drink. The pollution of the air we breathe.

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People around the world live in places like that thanks to the burning of coal and other fossil fuels. And let’s not forget fracking. Not only does it destroy the water table, but it also is now providing us with some really boss earthquakes. But that’s totally worth gas that’s less than $2/gallon, right?

Alright, let’s talk about why it’s economically stupid to double down on fossil fuels. At first that might seem counter-intuitive to hear. How can something that’s getting cheaper be bad economically? Because gas isn’t going to stay cheap. It’s a classic case of supply and demand. Right now, there is a lot of oil on the market and thus the price is going down. But fossil fuels are not a renewable resource. Which means that every time we use some, there is less of it to use in the future. Eventually there will come a time when the supply of oil is far outpaced by the demand. And then you know what will happen? The price of gas will skyrocket far beyond anything we’ve ever seen. That’s not fear-mongering, that’s basic math.

So, continuing down this line of thinking, what do you suppose will happen to the economy when gas skyrockets again? The price of everything will rise. Food will cost more to grow and transport, and that increase in cost will be passed on to the consumer. People won’t be able to drive as much, which means that they won’t be able to go out, and possibly that they won’t even be able to get to work. If people have to put more cash into their gas tanks every week, it means they have less money to pump back into the economy. Our entire economy–EVERY SINGLE ASPECT OF IT–is completely dependent upon a fuel source that will eventually run out and which is being used by more and more people at a higher and higher rate.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I don’t understand when politicians and corporations talk about “energy security” and “energy independence.” You hear those terms a lot in the political theater. Now that America is producing more oil, that’s all politicians can scream, “Energy independence! ENERGY INDEPENDENCE!!” Except that we aren’t independent. We’re still dependent in a big way. The way politicians talk about “energy independence” is like a drug addict saying, “Hey, instead of buying crack from those guys over there I’m just going to make it myself!!” Still stupid, still harmful, still addicted. Here, just take a look at this crazy bullshit about how fracking is safe and can fund schools! (You know something is bullshit if people have to use children as weapon to convince you to go along with it.)

Similar to this is the idea of “energy security.” Hey, America makes it’s own gas now! And we’ve got plenty of it, guys! Yay for the economy! Except it’s not yay for all of the reasons I’ve already outlined. We’ve guaranteed ourselves another what, century, of economic “security” now? Woo. Hoo. It’ll still end, and it’ll all still collapse. Since when has it ever been a “secure” idea to put literally all of your eggs in one basket? Don’t we tell people not to do that? How many financial investors do you know who sink all of their money into ONE thing? I’m guessing none, and if you do know some I would recommend not taking financial advice from them.

If we’re willing to buy into the idea of diversification as security in our investments, why can’t people extend the same logic to energy? Why dump all of your eggs into the fossil fuel basket, so to speak? If you think it’s a good idea to spread your money in stocks, bonds, real estates, CDs, etc. then why wouldn’t you adopt a similar energy policy? Why not invest in solar power, wind power, hydroelectric power, and even geothermal power? It never hurts to have a back up plan. Or two. Or three.

And that’s ultimately what I don’t get. Most people would probably agree that it’s a bad idea to put all your eggs in one basket. Most people would also probably agree that it’s good to have back up plans. Yet most people aren’t willing to think about energy in this way. And that’s why cheap gas is dangerous and stupid: it’s a disincentive for people to reevaluate renewable, secure forms of energy.

Look, am I saying that we have to give up fossil fuels cold turkey tomorrow? No. As mentioned before, the economy isn’t geared toward that. There will have to be a transition. But as far as I know, there is no timetable for such a transition in America. It’s a continuous game of kicking the can down the road. Sure, there is always vague talk about increasing the fuel efficiency of vehicles by certain dates. But again, that’s not going to solve the problem. It’s like someone saying, “Oh I’m still going to do meth, but I’ll just use a little less everyday to really stretch my supply out.” Stupid, stupid, and more stupid.

I guess what I’d really like to see is someone come up with a realistic timetable. To work the logistics of such a transition out and to share it with the world. Oh wait, someone has. Denmark aims to run completely off of renewable energy sources by 2050. Germany wants to be running 80% off renewable energy by 2050. These two countries, Germany and Denmark, have made amazing strides in this area in a relative short amount of time. Of course, that’s because in Europe people respect science and logic and don’t think that climate change isn’t real because Jesus would never let anything bad happen to them. And they have highly technical and successful economies to show for it. They’re willing to invest in science instead of shun it. Unlike America, where we invest in corn. Which we can turn into gasoline additives. ‘Murica.

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6 thoughts on “Energy “security” and “independence”

  1. To me it doesn’t seem like it’d be too difficult to make a car that’d run on Hydroxy gas or something similar. Very little water would be ‘lost’ in that, plus you’d just need to recharge the battery every now and again. You could probably subsidize that with a solar panel on the car, but I’m not 100% sure how fragile solar panels are, so I’m not sure how road-safe they’d be. I know that solar roadways wouldn’t make sense for a plethora of reasons, but hydroxy cars don’t seem like they’d be that difficult to make.

  2. It’s astonishing that any of this has to be said.

    Finite resources run out. Given that this planet is of finite size, every resource on it is finite. Any given resource might be replenishable or it might not, but it’s certainly all of a limited supply at any given point.

    Every time gas prices go down, it’s almost always a bad sign. The reason why that’s the case is because prices aren’t doing their job, because of the failures of market systems.

    The price of gas is criminally low given its real social costs. You review only some of them. Another non-trivial cost is the way that the petroleum industry has made numerous regions less safe, primarily the Middle East.

    So when people are celebrating lower gas prices, they may not know it, but they are actually saying, “I only care about me and mine”.

    That having been said, “energy independence” can be a goal to achieve. If a society can run based off of its own production, that’s the first step towards sustainability.

      1. Well, to be clear, I am anti-capitalistic, but I agree totally that within the frameworks of a state capitalism it would be possible to use tools like a carbon tax to bring the cost of petrochemicals to something representing their true social cost. I’d say that state action is still very bad at capturing extended externalities, but it’s certainly possible.

        I make this point even more strongly when it comes to inequality. While some inequality is inherent to capitalistic structures (and to be fair any good society should have “inequality” in the sense that people who work more or harder get more, in direct proportion to that extra effort and sacrifice), we know not only from the American golden era of state capitalism from 1945 to about 1970 but also from Japan that it is possible to have very low inequality while retaining perfectly capitalistic structures.

        I’d hope you’d agree that unregulated capitalism, barring highly unprobable mass consumer action, couldn’t ever lead to a reduction in fossil fuel usage.

        And, of course, it is the interests of the rich and of industry that prevents the regulation we’d need to insure species survival.

      2. I tend to lean pretty anti-capitalism myself. I don’t think we humans as a species have the self-discipline or empathy to utilize capitalism in an effective or decent way.

        That being said, as you so rightly pointed out, history has shown that it’s possible to take the best of aspects of capitalism a nd combine them with socialism in such a way that everyone benefits–not just the wealthy, who have a vested interested in behaviors and ideas that are short sighted and detrimental to the group.

        I’m not sure, though, what it would take for us to go back to system reminiscent of that golden age. Just when I think, “Finally! Surely we as a people can’t take more than THIS!” the laziness and ignorance of the American people surprises me. It seems like as long as they have cell phones, cable, and the internet, the vast majority of Americans are willing to let anyone just ride rough shot over them. I’m not sure there’s anything that we few who actually care and understand can do anymore, sadly.

  3. There’s nothing wrong with achieving sustainable energy. There’s barely such a thing. Even solar power is greatly limited…. but if we were able to harness as much of its energy from those panels, if wind power wasn’t so expensive and damaging to birds…. or even better… if hydrogen power became better and safer. Soon, my friends. If anything, Ryan, capitalism and the people involved with its entirety are the ones creating the most good out of sustainable energy…. all of the best products and investments have come from the private markets…. of course the governments have helped… especially Germany

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