Dateline: June 21, 2008A series of recent events suggests that our nation's long-held definition of "oil independence" may be changing from independence from foreign oil to independence from all oil.
A Mixed Message from the President
On June 18, President Bush issued a Policy Memorandum on American Made Energy, in which he renewed his request that Congress pass laws allowing oil exploration and production in areas now considered environmentally sensitive, including the Outer Continental Shelf and a 2,000 acre area in the 19.6 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Restating his long-held view that independence from foreign oil is the key to lower and controllable gasoline prices, President Bush also called for legislation streamlining the environmental approval process for construction of new refineries to a maximum of 60 days.
However, in his speech announcing the release of the Policy Memorandum, President Bush also stated that continued U.S. reliance on oil -- from anywhere -- should be considered a "short run" situation, with the development of alternative energy technologies representing the long term solution to reduced oil demand. "My administration has worked with Congress to invest in gas-saving technologies like advanced batteries and hydrogen fuel cells. We've mandated a large expansion in the use of alternative fuels. We've raised fuel efficiency standards to ambitious new levels," said the President. " With all these steps, we are bringing America closer to the day when we can end our addiction to oil, which will allow us to become better stewards of the environment."
Ah, the Environment
On June 19, the Bush administration's U.S. Climate Change Science Program released its final report predicting that droughts, heavy downpours, excessive heat, and intense hurricanes are likely to become more commonplace as humans continue to increase the atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
According to the report, Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate, many of the predicted severe climate change events are already taking place and will continue to grow in number and intensity during this century.
On May 29, after being forced to do so by a court order, President Bush allowed the publication of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program's report Scientific Assessment of the Effects of Global Change on the United States. The report assesses the present scientific understanding of the impacts of climate change on key sectors of the U.S., such as water resources, transportation, agriculture, ecosystems, and human health.
Perhaps even more significantly, the report confirmed that at least the scientific arm of the Bush Administration acknowledged the existence and negative impacts of global warming, largely driven by greenhouse gas emissions. "Studies that rigorously quantify the effect of different external influences on observed changes (attribution studies) conclude that most of the recent global warming is very likely due to human-generated increases in greenhouse gas concentrations," stated the report.
On July 28, the Department of Transportation (DOT) reported that increasing gasoline prices had resulted in the largest reduction of miles driven by Americans since DOT began tracking our mileage in 1942. Americans stopped driving to the tune of 9.6 billion less miles in May 2008 than in May 2007. But America had just started stopping, because in the seven months from November 2007 to May 2008, we drove a staggering 40.5 billion less miles than during the same period in 2006-2007.
The implications of the events of these four days?
- The importation of oil has resulted in the highest gasoline prices in history.
- The federal government has for the first time acknowledged the existence and potential devastating effects of climate change exacerbated by the continued emission of greenhouse gases.
- The federal government is actively promoting the development of non-oil dependent, alternative energy technologies, including totally electric and hybrid vehicles.
- The price of gasoline has risen to the point at which Americans are significantly reducing their driving.
- The less we drive, the less greenhouse gases we produce.
In short, the cumulative affect of shrinking oil supplies, rising gasoline prices, and the imminent possibility of a climate we just cannot live with may well herald the end of the golden age of oil.