If you caught last week’s State of the Union, you may have been a little perplexed by President Obama’s seemingly catch-all approach to domestic energy resources. How can one be pro green energy while simultaneously touting the opening of millions of acres of on and off shore territory for oil and gas exploration and drilling?
The pragmatist would chime that oil, coal, and natural gas play critical roles in the everyday functioning of our society: roughly 70% of the country’s electricity is sourced from these fossil fuels while more than 90% of the country’s transportation energy-needs is sourced from oil.
With recent massive natural gas discoveries and increasing domestic oil and coal production, why should we worry about renewables? Well, it boils down to two major factors that many of our elected officials continue to gloss over -
- All fossil fuels are finite
- Burning fossil fuels for energy purposes is the leading contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions
Reason number one should be enough to scare the pants off of our politicians into gung-ho support of domestic renewable energy. Basic economics suggests that when a resource is limited in quantity there is an associated (exponential) increase in price and price volatility as more players compete for an ever dwindling supply of that resource.
A recent article in The Economist shows that state/government controlled companies now account for thirteen of the top fifteen entities with the largest proven oil and gas reserves. Exxon Mobil (the largest private firm) is ranked #11. These state controlled companies are puppets of such “friendly” and “stable” countries as Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Turkmenistan, Nigeria, and China. As these countries direct their state firms to acquire new resources and expand their reach around the globe, they are working towards securing reliable streams of gas and oil for their respective domestic markets. The ironic twist is that some of these same state puppets are also delving headfirst into renewable energy – namely wind and solar power in China – in a way hedging their bets on the future of energy.
The equation we are faced with is: more players + limited resources = uncertain future
Robert Byrd, the late senator from fossil fuel dependent West Virginia, once said “you can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it.” This quote is particularly apt for the situation that the United States finds itself in now with regard to its energy future. No one is denying the importance that fossil fuels play in the American economy, but the future should be futuristic and not anachronous. We’ve been subsidizing and burning coal and oil for the last 100+ years with an ailing environment, inefficient power generation, and super rich corporations to show for it.
Many Congresspeople have been taking the opportunity to criticize Obama on his rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline, citing the many thousands of jobs that would be lost without the pipeline. The truth is more modest, as experts contend that the pipeline would bring only a few hundred permanent jobs and just over one thousand temporary ones. But where is Congress’s support for the nearly 2 MILLION jobs generated by the domestic environmental industry? Not to mention that even if Keystone XL went online tomorrow, it would do little to decrease our dependence on imported oil – as most of Alberta’s crude would be destined for the refined export market.
If the partisan tug-of-war is really about jobs and energy security, we should be prioritizing renewable sources of energy as they have been proven to be job creators, reliably cheap (wind and sunshine are free), not readily outsourced (we can’t import renewable electrons from China), and CLEAN. Here’s to hoping that the national discourse gets serious about the country’s energy future – we are.