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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

America is addicted to oil: now he tells us

Finally, Bush, in his SOTU speech, recognized that "America is addicted to oil."  Specifically, he said:

America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper and more reliable alternative energy sources. And we are on the threshold of incredible advances. So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative, a 22 percent increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies and clean, safe nuclear energy.  We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips and stalks or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal, to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.

Bush's recognition of the problem here is a real step forward.  But two problems with this approach exist.  The first is that Bush does not focus sufficient attention on trying to actually reduce demand for energy consumption by carpooling or driving less, or for that matter, insisting on increasing fuel-efficiency standards for SUV's and cars.   It's true that hybrid cars can reduce the demand for oil, but so can better planning-- ie., Wendi and I have taken to driving to work together.  Isn't Bush's approach here leaving the addiction -- more or less --untreated? 

The second problem is that Bush's speech repeats the trope that our challenge is overcoming dependence on Middle Eastern oil.  But the danger of our addiction to oil is not its provenance.  Rather it is its high price and our utter reliance on it.  Oil is a global commodity and the price for it will be determined by markets, regardless of whether the oil comes from Alberta or Iraq.  To be sure, the availability of plentiful oil in the Middle East can drive down the price, but it is ultimately the price of oil that matters to our security, not its source.  That's why my friend Robbie Diamond's organization (www.secureenergy.org) is devoted to enhancing America's economic and national security by reducing America's oil dependence--full stop. 

Parenthetically, you may recall that I posted about Robbie's organization last June, and the excellent crisis simulation he organized in DC.  Well, last week, Robbie organized another Oil Shockwave simulation at the World Economic Forum in Davos.   It's nice to see that at least part of the message he's been pushing has been getting wider traction, and with many of the people who can influence policy.  (If you're interested in learning more about these issues, check out this radio program entitled "Running on Empty: America's Energy Security," produced by America Abroad Media.)

Posted by Administrators on February 1, 2006 at 03:28 AM in Law and Politics | Permalink


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Posted by: alison | Feb 7, 2006 4:06:58 PM

Good catch! I totally owe you a grand.

Posted by: Guest | Feb 3, 2006 10:55:25 AM


Bush 2005 SOTU:
"our economy is held back by irresponsible class-actions... I urge Congress to pass legal reforms this year." (Applause.)

Please contact me by email so I can collect my $1000. If you had demanded two such examples, you would have been right.

Posted by: Hillel Levin | Feb 2, 2006 8:47:51 AM


First point: Surely the chances for major destablilizations in Sweden, Alaska, or South Africa are less likely than major destabalizations in the middle east, where instability is the norm.

Second point: Other forms of energy MIGHT be cheaper that oil in the long term, but it is basically impossible to quantify the costs now and make that judgment.

The only cheap alternative to oil, at least in the short term, is nuclear energy.

Posted by: Hillel Levin | Feb 1, 2006 4:29:36 PM

The President's speech was the political equivalent of "hey! look over there!" $500 to anyone who even remembers what this speech was about in 2 weeks. $1000 to anyone who can come up with an example something the president said in a sotu address last year, or any preceding year, that actually got successfully executed.

Posted by: Guest | Feb 1, 2006 12:12:10 PM

As I explained, the problem is that we're dependant on oil at high prices; even if all the producers were liberal democracies, there would still be a grave risk to the economy and security of the country if there were disruptions in the supply, say from terrorists who attack Swedish, South African or even Alaskan pipelines. That's why alternative fuel sources and decreased demand are sought after. As to your second point, I don't think that's true, especially if renewable sources of energy are able to inflict less damage on the long term sustainability of the environment.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Feb 1, 2006 11:46:39 AM


Why does the location of the oil not matter? The problem is that our economy is dependent on an unstable region, and we compromise our security and values by backing autocratic monarchs. If oil came from Sweden, South Africa, or Japan, I'd be a little less concerned.

Also, there's no reason to think that any other source of energy will be cheaper.

Posted by: Hillel Levin | Feb 1, 2006 10:14:11 AM

I like hybrid vehicles. My car gets 47 mpg. But they're not the real answer. They're a stop-gap measure. What this country needs is actual 100% alternative fuel vehicles. And the only way to hasten that process is to require American oil companies to build alternative fueling stations. Because no automaker will mass produce a vehicle that cannot be refueled. The oil companies can afford it. As you probably have heard, ExxonMobil just reported a profit of $36.1 billion last year, the largest amount in U.S. corporate history.

It's just a matter of planning and will. Require automakers to have X amount of hydrogen vehicles by year Y. And, in conjunction, require oil companies to have Z amount of hydrogen fueling stations by that same year. Coordination with major cities would be a nice first step. It may be too much to ask that all of the hydrogen captured be from renewable sources, such as water, instead of fossil fuels, but at least have an increasing percentage of it taken from renewable sources every single year.

Posted by: Mel Gibson | Feb 1, 2006 3:18:25 AM

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