Jim Henley says that "energy independence" is the most ridiculous phrase in the American political lexicon:
The concept of "energy independence" is a sham.
I think it’s generally code for "Then we can stop being nice to the fvcking A-rabs," but this gets gussied up with terms like "instability" and references to Hugo Chavez, who has been around a lot less long than the Magic Words. (It is often also code for "let’s float politically connected domestic producers some subsidies!") There’s no question that the oil-producing world is full of problematic regimes. But you don’t hear every respectable politician in the country calling for diamond independence or cheap electronic toy independence or independence in all the other things that come from places with dodgy politics.
Anthropogenic global warming is a very good reason to cut fossil-fuel consumption, but that means grubby American coal as well as greasy foreign oil. It has nothing to do with "energy independence." Energy independence is just another dream of autarky. It would take so long to achieve any version of it worthy of the name that the politics of various oil-producing nations might be unrecognizable by then, for good or ill.
The only reason you shouldn’t automatically disqualify any politician who utters the phrase is that they all utter it, so you’d be disqualifying all of them. Actually, that’s not a good reason.
I used to not mind the silliness so much, but my conversations with folks in D.C. last week convinced me that it really does carry lots of weight — it’s not just something people use as a populist garb to lay over global warming policy. People believe it. It’s the reason lots of otherwise intelligent Congresscritters have not rejected CTL out of hand.
Time to join this fight, I guess. Here’s a preview: the goal should not be energy independence but resilience in the face of all kinds of stresses. The things we need to do to fight global warming will increase resilience and cut GHG emissions. Pursuing energy independence via coal will do neither.
Not independence. Resilience.
Get Grist in your inbox