Is Energy Independence Feasible or Desirable?

A number of the presidential hopefuls are trying to enhance their platform by promising Energy Independence. The approach is normally promoting more domestic drilling, and making more ethanol, and biodiesel.

The US imports 55% of its crude oil and 13% of its liquid motor fuels. If all the corn growing areas were dedicated to ethanol, it would increase the gasoline supply only 6%! If all the soybeans grown were used for biodiesel, the supply would only go up by 1.2%.

The only way to achieve energy independence would be to scrap half of the motor vehicles in the US and replace them with small cars and hybrids. No one seems to mention that option.

Are the politicians uninformed or just lying to us?

“Are the politicians uninformed or just lying to us?”

Usually both.

Of course it’s silly. We are living in a global economy (and it’s becoming more so by the day), energy is just another commodity that will be traded across borders whenever the economics make sense. This type of isolationist rhetoric plays well to some folks, especially those who are in a position to make money from “domestic” energy.

If Brazil can become energy independent, why can’t we? There are new techniques being developed for Ethanol and Biodiesel production. So just like with most other innovations, your statistics will soon be moot. The techniques being developed to make Ethanol from switchgrass are a good example. Unlike corn and soy beans, switchgrass is cheap and easy to grow and harvest and it can be grown in areas where corn and soy can’t be grown.

“Are the politicians uninformed or just lying to us?”

The likely answer is both. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done though.

Thanks for your input! Brazil consumes a fraction of the motor fuel that the US uses, and has an area almost as large with less than half the population. I agree that if most of Louisiana, Mississippi, and maybe other araes were planted with sugarcane, it could be done.

Making ethanol from twitchgrass and other non-food sources makes sense; it needs more development. Most sensible technical/economic problems are solved by decreasing demand, while increasing supply. Both are difficult, but, as Craig says, is this sacrifce really desirable in a global economy?

Making a lot of bio-fuel without driving up food prices is tricky indeed.

Years ago, Saudi Arabia tried to become self-sufficient in food production. The gave away millions to would be farmers to grow grain and other foods. The result was the world’s most expensive wheat, and a general failure of the program.

Each country should do what it does best; that’s what world trade is all about.

There are plenty of other options besides having to “scrap half of the motor vehicles in the US…” If every urban and suburban American took mass transit once a week (where it is available), that would make a HUGE impact. If half of all Americans carpooled twice a week (when possible), that would also have a big impact.

Desirable? Yes.
Feasible? Without major lifestyle or technological changes, not likely.

The largest consumption of oil is manufacturing not transportation(#2).

So your idea of scrapping vehicles for smaller and hybrids only asks manufacturing to consume unless we buy everything from abroad :slight_smile:

Desirable? No.

Why would an isolationist policy for energy make sense in the 21st century? There are other sources of energy that are more cost effective than U.S. sources, it makes no sense to pick energy as one commodity to be “independent” from the rest of the world. The U.S. isn’t “independent” of the rest of the world for any other commodity, and it isn’t 1796 anymore. Also, we have to remember that transportation is only one part of the total energy use, any misguided attempt to play with the energy markets will have significant unintended consequences.

This is nothing more, or less, than the usual political rhetoric (i.e., noise).

Producing enough energy to meet all of our needs does not necessitate isolationism; it gives us the ability to play on the world market on a better footing. Besides, it’s unlikely we can be energy independent at our current consumption levels, and reducing overall energy usage should be good for the planet.

“Years ago, Saudi Arabia tried to become self-sufficient in food production. The gave away millions to would be farmers to grow grain and other foods. The result was the world’s most expensive wheat, and a general failure of the program.”

Good example, and pretty much what we should expect from any attempt to make the U.S. “energy independent.” This is not a U.S. problem, it is a worldwide issue that will require a global solution. Americans seem to forget they are only about 7% of the worlds population and have significantly less influence than they think.

Who said it was an isolationist policy? Why do you think increasing domestic energy production means isolation?

Like most changes, this one isn’t all or nothing. Increasing domestic energy producation doesn’t necessarily mean we immediately cut off all imports. Simply increasing production gradually is a choice that you don’t seem to have considered.

Again, this is not just a U.S. issue. I do think U.S. consumption is too high and U.S. energy prices are much too low, at some point in the (not too distant future) prices will start to increase and consumption will be reduced somewhat. It is not realistic to expect U.S. production and consumption to equalize, and it’s probably not really desirable.

The whole picture is likely to change over the next couple of decades as the per capita energy consumption in the developing world (primarily china and india) reaches western levels. The U.S. needs to stop trying to figure out how to win the last war (as always) and get out in front of the next technologies (whatever they may be). When we have 2.5 billion new energy consumers on the planet, it won’t really matter is some clown in the U.S. is driving a hummer or a hybrid.

You are still looking at this from the point of view of the U.S. only.

I doesn’t mater where on the map the production takes place, there is a total worldwide production that will go to whoever pays for the resource. This is not a U.S. issue.

That is a good point, as the U.S. gets out of the manufacturing business some of the energy demand will go elsewhere. That will happen regardless of their energy policy, so they may end up importing more goods and less oil. That’s OK, but it doesn’t really change anything. The trick is to figure out what “value added” goods/services the U.S. needs to export to preserve a reasonable balance of trade (they can just let the dollar keep degrading).

Completely Independent???

Probably not…But with EXISTING TECHNOLOGY we can drastically reduce our energy consumption…But there’s a catch…it’ll cost a LOT…So MOST people and gonvernments are NOT willing to do it.

“You are still looking at this from the point of view of the U.S. only.”

No I’m not.

“This is not a U.S. issue.”

I never said it was.

Whoever is willing to pay the most for the energy will buy it regardless of their country of residence. Wouldn’t it be nice to reduce our trade deficit by increasing exports if local energy distributors get outbid by foreign interests? Either way we win!

“Wouldn’t it be nice to reduce our trade deficit by increasing exports if local energy distributors get outbid by foreign interests? Either way we win!”

Who is “we”?

That’s exactly what I mean by a U.S. point of view. The “best” overall solution may not be in the U.S. national interest.

Even in a global economy, a trade deficit is not desirable on any side. It is an indicator of a lack of equilibrium in trade that will some day self-correct. So when I say “we” I mean American citizens AND all of those global citizens who trade with us. I thought this was a global view. Am I wrong or are you assuming facts not in evidence again?

Jeremy; I am a strong supporter of public transit where it makes sense. When I go downtown, I park at the train sation and ride the train to my destination.

The Los Angeles area could use some more rapid transit systems, but the geography makes it difficult. For the US, carpooling makes a great deal of sense, as you point out.

I worked in Paris suburb for 6 weeks and did without a car; the trains (electric, powered by nuclear generated electricity) got me downtown Paris in 20 minutes; I could go to London, England in 4 hours if I really wanted.

In the final analysis, all solutions will be implemented; more busses and trains, biofuels, MUCH MORE FRUGAL cars (diesels, hydrids, plug-in hybrids), as well as downtown redevelopment where people prefer to live in condos, New York and San Francisco style.

OK, you threw me by referring to the U.S. in the first person (“we,” “us”).

My point was that the whole discussion of “Energy Independence” is a little provincial. I don’t really understand why energy is being singled out as needing to be independent from the rest of the world. The U.S, is never going to balance their trade with energy (or manufactured goods). Once again, they’re fighting the last war.