Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Non-Issue issues #1: Energy Independence

This is a series of posts about issues that really aren't- smokescreens that obscure things we really should be talking about. I chose energy independence first because it's one that both candidates agree on, differing only in details about how we achieve it.

This is an issue because it resonates with something visceral within us, the desire to be self sufficient. But no nation is, or can be, self sufficient. No society above the hunter-gatherer level can be. Even the Native Americans had extensive trade, with each of the First Nations producing goods expressly for trade with others. T. Boone Pickens has advertising saying that what we spend on oil is a transfer of wealth. Nonsense. It is trade, commerce. The fact that it's a consumable product doesn't make it a transfer of wealth; if that were true, you're transferring wealth every time you buy a loaf of bread.

Energy independence is not in America's best foreign policy interest. To hear the candidates talk, you'd think that all our oil is bought from the middle east; but according to the Department of Energy , only 20% comes from the Persian Gulf- and almost all of that from Saudi Arabia and Iraq. As to Iraq, after all that's happened, we should be buying our oil from them. Saudi Arabia is an ally- the only one there that will allow military bases and the launching of strikes from their soil. They have voted with us in the UN, and for us within OPEC. Almost all the rest of our imported oil comes from Canada and Mexico. Cutting off that trade makes no sense- it's a supply that won't be embargoed in case of war, and buys a lot of goodwill as well. I can't see that it's in America's best interest to drive them into bed with China in the search for a new customer.

It is not in America's best economic interest. Home grown oil will be more expensive- that's why we're buying from foreign countries in the first place. And don't think better cars will make up for it; completely discounting gasoline, we use five million barrels a day in industry- for plastics, synthetic materials of all kinds, solvents, even medicines. So many things are made from oil that chemists say it's a shame to burn it as fuel. Windmills and corn alcohol cannot replace it for these duties- drastically increased oil prices mean every product you buy will increase in price. It would be insane to pay more than we have to for these petroleum products just from xenophobia.

Yes, synthetic fuels should be developed- to address air pollution and Global Warming. But doing that will not eliminate our need for imported oil, and both parties know that. The attempt to achieve independence for it's own sake will cost a fantastic amount of money, with the only benefit being political, and both parties know it. Don't let them off the hook as to CLEAN energy; we need to know what they're going to do about that. But don't let either candidate or T. Boone Pickens deflect the issue by talking about "Transfers of wealth to them thar Aye-rabs", either.

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