Friday, July 01, 2005


The Chimera of “Energy Independence”

Well-meaning people keep telling us that America can free itself from dependence on foreign oil (or at least Middle Eastern oil) and still maintain the “American way of life.” Tom Turnipseed begins a recent essay with this gut-buster: “As we travel to the beach for the 4th of July, we pay more for gas than ever before.” Later in the piece he scares us with this: “Energy investment analysts predict $3.00 gas next year.” In Japan right now, $5 gas is common, yet Americans have the balls to bellyache about gas that is predicted to be $3 next year. Breaks my heart. How on earth will pampered and extravagant Americans make it to the beach on $3 gas? If it rises to $5 they will riot.

But let me get to the main point. Even activist types apparently believe that the American way of life is not negotiable. That’s why they keep telling us that with investment in renewables, good energy policy, and concerted effort, we can make the switch to other energy sources and just pick up where we left off with the car culture, suburbia, centrally heated and cooled homes, automobile vacations, shopping malls, and ringing cash registers.

“Energy independence” in that sense is nothing but a chimera. Truly becoming energy-independent will require us to really tighten our belts and power down. Most of the infrastructure dependent on cheap fossil fuels will in the future be nothing more than a pile of worthless junk. Our luxury cars and electrical appliances will turn into rusting hulks, roads will fall into disrepair and become overgrown with weeds, and shopping malls and supermarkets will become wastelands testifying to the emptiness of the high-energy consumer culture.

Make no mistake about it: there is no substitute for cheap oil. People who tell us that if we just take Amory Lovins’ advice everything will be all right are doing us a huge disservice by lulling us into a false sense of security, when instead they should be helping us prepare for a brutal future brought to us courtesy of venal and short-sighted politicians and their corporate owners.

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