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The Pursuit of Energy Happiness - Final Draft

The Pursuit of Energy Happiness


During the State of the Union Address of 2003, President Bush said, “...our third goal is to promote energy independence for our country” (Kerry 2004). For decades energy independence has been a central issue for America and one that politicians seem to exploit over and over again. Promises are made every year but America seems to still be stuck in the same place it has always been, relying on Middle-Eastern oil. But independence from the Middle East is not the only objective. With China’s energy demand rising at an extreme rate and only a limited supply of global oil, America will eventually need independence from Petroleum completely (Murray). Can Americans really rely only on themselves to provide all the energy they need? And if so, what is needed to make this change? Many say that such a goal at this time is foolish. Others support it, willing to put all 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 (Cassidy 2004). Much of this imported oil comes from the Middle East, where America’s connections with and control of the countries there are very precarious (Brown 1996). There is no assurance that this supply will be around in the future or that it will be consistent. For years experts have tried to figure out a solution to this problem. Most argue that the answer, at least in the long term, is to find a new type of energy rather than more oil. Unfortunately, introducing a new form of energy is not enough to make Americans switch over. If oil is still provided, what will be an incentive for the public to switch? As long as the price tags are not too different, an American will always choose a nice, stylish gas-powered vehicle over, for instance, 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 other politicians have proposed – 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 (Kenworthy 2004). But this tax would be so heavy that most Americans would completely reject the idea. Who would vote for a politician that made gas prices higher?
The quick solutions to the oil issue would not likely be popular with voters. “If you doubled the price of gasoline (by raising federal taxes) that would get you something like a three to five million barrels a day reduction over four or five years,” Verleger says. “That’s a big chunk,” he adds, but “it's become the third rail of politics.” (Kenworthy 2004).

Another approach to the problem is to not worry about reducing demand, but instead increase supply. President Bush, following the typical Republican standpoint on the issue, wants to up supply, in this case by drilling in Alaska. But it is estimated that it could take 10 years before oil is successfully pumped from there. By 2025, an approximate 1 million barrels of crude oil a day will be available from the refuge. Even then, however, that would only create around a 3% drop in the amount of oil the US imports, leaving that number around 65% (Kenworthy 2004). It is also a common myth that the oil that the US gets from the refuge will be the America’s personal little supply available at a low cost. Unfortunately, the oil market is a world market and America will have to buy the oil from there at the same price as the oil the US gets from the Middle East (Murray). On top of all this, there are obvious environmental issues with drilling in the refuge. Needless to say, drilling in Alaska will not solve America’s energy problems.
On the bright side, many alternative fuels for power plants have proved successful and efficient (Mark 2004). Petroleum is obviously not the only way to produce America’s electrical power. However, America will never achieve energy independence until Americans find a way to fuel their automobiles without gasoline; 70% of petroleum usage in the US is due to transportation (Mark 2004). Currently, automobile companies are searching for new ways to fuel their vehicles. Honda has built a hydrogen fuel cell powered car that runs using no gasoline at all. The only problem is the car costs over 1 million dollars (Mark 2004). Though automotive companies are moving in the right direction, it will be a long time before it is common to see an alternative fuel car. The technology is being developed, but to get it to the public in the time frame that politicians the push for energy independence would require money and work that is just not feasible (Cassidy 2004).

In conclusion, a huge push from the government for energy independence would require vast sums of money and back breaking work that is not necessary. ExxonMobil Chairman Lee Raymond said “We do not have the resource base to be energy independent” (Kenworthy 2004). Instead of the government actively pursuing energy independence, economists believe that allowing the free-market to continue, America’s world oil consumption will decrease by itself while alternative forms of energy flourishes. Currently, it is 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 will 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 (Cassidy 2004). 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 alternative energy sources. By allowing the market to continue as is, with no major government action, the nation will become more energy independent by itself (Cassidy 2004). 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, though not enough to actually make a major step toward energy independence. 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 (Kerry 2004). 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.

Brown, Stephen P.A. October 1, 1996. "Directions for U.S. Energy Conversation and Independence." Business Economics Peer-Reviewed Journal. Vol 31 issue 4.

Clayton, Mark. “Breaking free.” 21 Oct 2004. The Christian Science Monitor. 21 Oct 2004 Edition.

John Cassidy. 11 October 2004. "Is energy independence an impossible goal?". The New Yorker. Oct Issue.

Kenworthy, Tom. 24 Oct 2004. “Energy independence may be a pipe dream.” USA Today. (Available on web at: http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20041025/a_energy25.art.htm).

“Kerry and Bush Mislead Voters With Promises of Energy Independence.” [webpage] 27 Oct 2004; http://www.factcheck.org/article288.html [Accessed 19 Apr 2005].

Murray, Bruce. “Dispelling the ‘Urban myths’ about the oil market.” [webpage]; http://www.facsnet.org/tools/energy/kaufmann.php [Accessed 19 Apr 2005].


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