It need not be, and it should not be, a zero sum game, but the way environmentalism is pushed today, it is a zero-sum game. The same is true for energy independence. As such, the goal of energy independence can be achieved only at the expense of environmentalism, and under environmentalism we shall never be energy-independent. A zero sum game.
For example: Many believe that if only we would make massive investments in solar and wind power, we will not need fossil fuels. We will become energy-independent. This is either shoddy thinking or wishful thinking. Not only under current technologies, but even under yet uninvented technologies, solar and wind power will not likely supply more than 20% of our energy needs in the decades to come.
For example: Many believe that if only we would drill massively for oil offshore, in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve, in Colorado’s reportedly vast shale deposits and elsewhere in the country, we will become energy-independent. This, too, is not based on fact. Even under the as yet uninvented technologies that will enable our cars to raise their gas mileage dramatically, and even under the yet-to-be implemented (or even conceived) massive conservation programs, we do not have enough oil to drill ourselves out of the energy crisis. Part of the reason is that China, India and many other countries are modernizing so quickly that they will consume an ever greater percentage of the world’s oil.
Therefore, we must acknowledge that the goal’s of environmentalism and energy independence are mutually exclusive. We cannot have one or the other — completely. But we can have both partially. Yes, we must invest massively in solar and wind power. Yes, we must open up more of our land to drilling including in Alaska. Yes, we must invest massively in better coal technology. Yes, we must become serious about conservation. Yes, we must mandate higher minimum gas mileage standards for our vehicles. Yes, we must build more nuclear facilities. Yes to everything. Otherwise, we shall never become energy-independent.
And without that, we can never be responsible stewards of the environment. To the extent that the US will remain dependent on others for oil, the leverage of the US in sustaining environmental standards will decrease. And get ready, there will be a lot of sustaining to do! China is already surpassing the US as the worlds biggest polluter. While the US becomes ever more aggressive in pursuing alternatives to fossil fuels, other countries, too, will pollute more than we do.
Still worse: To the extent that the US will remain dependent on others for oil, the status of the US as a superpower will decline. And that will only accelerate an already vicious cycle: the more we need oil from others, the less they will accommodate us which will damage our economy, or cause us to drill excessively and unwisely, or both. We can see this happening already. Bush asks the Saudis to raise production so that our gas prices might go down, and the Saudis thumb their noses, blaming someone or something else, in any case raising production by token amounts. Translation: The way to prevent a massive depredation of our environment in coming decades is to drill more now along with all the other yess listed above.
In short, the aggressive pursuit of energy independence now is the best long-term guarantee of environmental integrity in the future. On this, commentator Charles Krauthammer makes a telling point: Every delay in drilling in the US doesnt save the environment. Quite the contrary. The despoliation of the environment is merely exported. In the US, many environmental safeguards are in place not so in Nigeria and elsewhere. When we do not drill here, there is more drilling elsewhere with far worse consequences. Is it the whole earth we care about, or only our little patch, here in the US? If it is the earth that we care about, we should drill more in the US, where environmental safeguards are in place; rather than refusing to drill and thus giving other countries a greater incentive to drill. These countries have little or no environmental restraints. Meanwhile, we sit smugly, not drilling and not saving the earth.
Again, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes: to solar and wind power, to oil, to coal, to conservation, to high gas mileage requirements, to nuclear power. We need them all. We cannot pit oil versus the environment, cannot afford a zero sum game. We do not live in a perfect world, shall not live in a perfect world, but will become a lot closer to one if we use all of the energy resources at out disposal and make a personal and collective commitment to use less energy.
Mayor John Hickenlooper’s raising the minimum air conditioning temperature is a step in the right direction. John McCain’s advocacy of offshore drilling is a step in the right direction. Barack Obama’s dismissal of a gas price holiday is a step in the right direction. Dispensing with air conditioning altogether, in favor of a swamp cooler (in the climates where this works) is a step in the right direction. Ditching the SUV is a step in the right direction. We need many more steps, alongside a multi-level commitment to maximize all known energy sources. A green world, an oil world both.