China, too, has been on a worldwide march to lock up energy supplies, and other resources — such as minerals and heavy metals. We see this especially in Africa, where China trades infrastructure development, sometimes education, and always embassy presence and diplomatic recognition, for such access.
Worldwide, the private sector is making large capital investments in renewable energy technologies. The United Nations Environment Programme found that investment capital flowing into sustainable energy (especially wind, solar, and biofuels) more than doubled in just two years — from $28 billion in 2004 to $71 billion in 2006. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that as much as $16 trillion will be invested in the energy sector through 2030.
All of this deserves a more complete examination than I can give today, but even within this limited context, it is clear that it is time to move beyond the term “energy independence.” The global trading system, global dispersion of energy resources, globally-linked energy (and other) supply chains, and the effects of natural disasters, terrorism, or war, all tell us that we are globally interlinked with regard to energy, and our overall economy. Our focus, then, must be on “energy security” — with as much national energy self-sufficiency as we can muster.
The United States must shape more comprehensive national energy goals and strategies, taking greater account of the global energy system restructuring, its impact on energy markets, and on our foreign policy.
Of course, our national energy challenge is not new. In 1973, President Nixon called for energy independence, in response to an OPEC oil embargo. “Project Independence” lowered highway speeds, converted power plants to coal, prompted completion of the Trans-Alaska pipeline, and diverted federal highway construction funds to mass transit.
The Ford Administration attempted to secure our national oil supply — the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was the result.
While President Carter was mocked for characterizing the energy problem as “the moral equivalent of war,” his administration produced a broad-based “National Energy Plan” stressing conservation, renewable energy, and research. Although the Plan soon lost momentum, some proposals — such as standards for building, appliance, and automobile fleet efficiency — were enacted and have endured, to our benefit. This remains, however, an area ripe for additional enhancements.
This energy policy advance and retreat has been repeated in the decades since. Every few years, an event — the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, brownouts in California, drill rig and refinery damage from Hurricane Katrina, skyrocketing prices at the gasoline pump — stirs attention, trepidation, and limited action.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has gone from importing a third of our oil in 1973, to nearly three-quarters today, for which we paid out $327 billion last year — and the price of oil has as much as doubled over 2007 levels — with significant economic consequences.
This is the briefest snapshot of a highly complex picture. It will require a correspondingly complex response, and, this time, we must get it right.