Energy independence means different things to different people. The dictionary defines independence as “freedom from control or influence by another or others.” Most Americans think of energy independence in terms of crude oil, as being free from the control or influence of the big oil-producing nations (Saudi Arabia, Libya, Algeria). This is not a new idea. President Nixon first began talking about energy independence in 1974, after the 1973 Arab oil embargo brought about severe gas shortages, causing Americans to stand in long lines just to fill up their cars. The price of oil quadrupled (from $3 a barrel to $12 a barrel) in one year. This was the first time Americans realized just how profoundly the actions of another country could effect their everyday lives. President Nixon declared 35 years ago “Let this be our national goal: At the end of this decade, in the year 1980, the United States will not be dependent on any other country for the energy we need to provide our jobs, to heat our homes, and to keep our transportation moving.” Presidents have been talking about energy independence ever since then.
Energy independence is an interconnected global problem, which will require decades of planning, implementation, innovation and sacrifice. We can’t afford to mess around; we need strategies in place before the world’s oil supply runs out. Energy independence is a particularly challenging problem in that the countries of the world must be on the same page in working toward energy independence. Nothing happens in a vacuum. The world’s economies are interconnected. Any solutions must be global solutions. That means getting countries with very different financial circumstances, geography, customs and philosophies to come to a consensus on how to tailor global market strategies to construct an economy that isn’t based on oil.
Great increases in energy efficiency are a solid bankable first step toward energy independence. Techniques exist to bring this about. Saving energy is cheaper than buying it. This is an essential long-term step in the drive toward energy independence. We must be prepared to pay higher taxes to fund renewable energy initiatives. We need an “energy independent” mindset that says the problem will take a long time to solve but it can be done.
Since transportation uses the most oil, the government should impose higher automotive fuel economy standards. It should fund plug-in hybrid incentives. Thankfully, the new administration is moving aggressively in a number of areas and our prospects for a clean energy future with more energy independence are within sight.