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The Pursuit of Energy Happiness - Rough Draft

During a presidential election campaign speech, Senator John Kerry stated “as president, I have a real energy plan to harness the full force of America's technology and make this nation independent of Middle East oil in ten years.” President Bush has made similar claims, proposing that he too could make America energy independent (1). But are these goals practical? Can Americans really rely only on themselves to provide all the energy they need? Many say that such a goal at this time is foolish. Other’s support it, willing to put their efforts into this ambitious task.
In 2003, the United States consumed approximately twenty million barrels of oil a day, of which a little more than half was imported. Though Americans constitute a mere 5% of the population of the world, they consume over one quarter of the world’s oil supply (2). Much of this imported oil comes from the Middle East, where America’s connections with and control of the countries there are very precarious. There is no assurance that this supply will be around in the future or that it will be consistent. Obviously if Americans can’t supply enough of their own oil, then they’ll have to greatly reduce consumption. Kerry’s energy plan focuses on reducing consumption too, but he never presents a way to actually do that (1). Some politicians argue that if other means of efficient energy is introduced, Americans will switch over to the new system and leave our oil problem behind. Unfortunately, if oil is still provided, what will be an incentive for the public to do that? As long as the price tags are not too different, an American will always choose a nice, stylish gas-powered vehicle over a noisy clunky vehicle that runs on compressed air. Analysts say that the only way to reduce oil consumption quickly – in the time frame that Bush and Kerry propose – is to impose a heavy tax on gas guzzling vehicles and give tax breaks to those who buy vehicles that use other forms of energy or use oil far more efficiently than current cars do. But what sane American would vote for a politician that wants to make gas prices higher?
Another approach to the problem is to not worry about reducing demand, but increase supply. President Bush, following the typical Republican standpoint on the issue, wants to up supply, in this case by drilling in Alaska and increasing the amount of energy we get from other means, like hydroelectric and wind power. But it’s impossible to replace our huge dependence on the world’s oil supply by these meager attempts at other energy sources within the decade or two that Kerry and Bush propose. Along with reducing demand, Kerry also seeks to increase supply of alternative energy sources. By using energy derived from the sun, ocean, and crops, Kerry endeavors to produce 20% of America’s energy by the year 2020. However, the sources are weak and prove to be unreliable and expensive sources of energy. Also, the alternative energy sources are proposed for power plants, which are not the cause of our major oil consumption. The majority of our oil consumption lies in vehicles.
A huge push from the government for energy independence would require vast sums of money and back breaking work that isn’t necessary. Instead of the government actively pursuing energy independence, economists believe that allowing the free-market to continue, our world oil consumption will decrease by itself while alternative forms of energy flourishes. Currently, it’s uneconomical for automotive companies to spend money researching alternative fuels for their vehicles. If they make a good looking car that has at least average gas-mileage, it’ll sell. However, oil is running out and gas prices are rising and will most likely continue to rise. As prices go up and oil supply goes down, it will be more and more economical for people to buy vehicles that use alternative sources of fuel and thus companies will actually start to profit from designing these vehicles. During the energy crisis of the 1970’s, oil consumption plummeted and Americans looked for other ways to get the energy they needed. When forced to look for other sources of energy, Americans research, develop, and market it. If gas prices sky rocket again, it will become the smart thing to do economically to invest in photovoltaics, wind power, hydrogen power and other renewable energy sources. By allowing the market to continue as is, with no major government action, the nation will become more energy independent by itself. Of course, the government can still step in to help this process. If the government gives tax breaks to consumers who buy cars that run on alternative forms of energy, put a tax on gas guzzling vehicles, and drill for domestic oil, then the market and the consumers will benefit. Some have even suggested awarding a one billion dollar prize to the first company to make and sell an alternative fuel vehicle on a mass production scale. But no great sum of federal money or a huge new energy policy is needed to head this up. Either way America will be more or completely energy independent eventually, but to talk about doing that now and within a limited time frame presents more problems than it does solutions.


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