Several months ago, one of this year’s better features on the subject of peak oil was offered by John Kaufmann in his article entitled: The Energy Independence Illusion. It’s an excellent read [adapted from a presentation to the World Affairs Council of Oregon this past march] for anyone interested in this topic. [Any quotes here are from that article unless noted otherwise.]

[T]he purported benefits of energy independence are simple: an improved economy due to the reduced outflow of dollars, improved national security, and more flexibility on foreign policy, particularly with regards to the Middle East and now Russia. Those objectives are substantial, if they can be achieved.
However, drilling and mining our way to energy independence is a mirage. First, it may provide temporary economic gain, but will not cure our fundamental economic problems. Second, it will have very limited benefits for foreign policy and national security; the problem is not US dependence, but rather the dependence of our allies and trading partners. Third, it is simply unachievable. And last, it ignores carbon emissions; the real goal should be independence from carbon-based energy sources.

Okay, but if we ignore those facts, then we have nothing to worry about, Right? Gee, that was easy!

Ah, but for the pull of reality….

Temporary economic gain;” “very limited benefits;” “simply unachievable.” Is it just me, or is that suggesting we might still have some concerns worth addressing, fossil fuel industry cheerleading notwithstanding? Perhaps those in the know might want to share all that they know, rather than releasing just some of the details after being fully massaged?

Hell, we might even be able to fashion a sound plan or two with that additional information! wouldn’t that be an interesting experience!

As for those lowly consumers bolstered by prospects of lower prices (every little bit helps these days), well … not so fast. As Mr. Kaufmann notes:

Some sources believe that energy independence will mean lower prices for consumers. However, any increased domestic production will come from unconventional sources, such as shale oil or tar sands, which are more expensive than conventional oil. It only became economic to produce because of high world oil prices over the last several years. In addition, oil prices are tied to the world price of oil. Energy independence will not reduce consumer prices.

So close to good news! Doncha just hate it when facts spoil happy endings?

At what point do the adults in the room sit down and deal with those facts rather than pitching yet another context-free, fact-light narrative to those dependent on sound information to address their own needs adequately? How is making the problem worse later, for more people and industries, in more ways, with costlier and fewer options at hand to address them all a wiser course of action?

The slow, costly, and complex transition to a future no longer—of necessity—reliant upon the same marvelous energy resource responsible for the advances and growth enjoyed by society today is going to be a slow, costly, and complex one! Shading the facts to buy one more day of profit and survival is a better option? Seriously?

I don’t own a business and I’m not an elected official, so I’ll acknowledge shortcomings in my thought processes and understanding, but I’m struggling with this concept of making things worse as the better approach today.

No one wants to have to deal with a problem of this magnitude. The smaller magnitude challenges almost all of us are dealing with on a daily basis is quite enough, thank you very much. But what future awaits us if we cannot be courageous and honest enough to plan for that future with the full range and understanding of all the facts now at our disposal?

No individual, no family, no group, no business enterprise large or small, no athletic team, no organization plans for the short- or long-term future with just a few tidbits of select information and then pads those with hopes and preferences. Better plans and better outcomes derive from an assessment and incorporation of all available data. That really shouldn’t be a revelation.

Some few are likely to benefit in some manner from continuing to deflect reality and the facts of energy production to a later time and place, but what price will the rest of us have to pay in the interim?

More to come in the next post.

~ My Photo: Good Harbor Beach, MA – 10.19.08


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       * The Middle Age Follies

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