Symposium 2012: Can America ever achieve energy independence?

Cartwright: Not as long as Americans are obsessed with driving their cars and aren’t willing to make sacrifices. Hell, they bitch when the price of gas goes up ten or fifteen cents. The way we’re going there is absolutely no hope of achieving energy independence.

However, I have had several proposals to help curb our dependence on foreign oil. I personally prefer raising the gasoline tax to five dollars per gallon. Let’s get it up there so high that we’ll see a lot of people quit driving or they will be more judicious in their driving habits. That’s the only way to do it. As long as gas is relatively cheap, Americans will keep driving and making Middle Eastern nations rich. If we get gas prices up high enough, a lot of people won’t be able to afford the gas and others will just choose not to pay it. Then there will be people like me who don’t care how much it costs. I’ll still pay it. The people that can’t afford it will either car pool or take public transportation. I don’t really care what they do. They’ll be less people on the road, less accidents, less pollution, lower insurance premiums, and so on and so forth. I wrote a whole article about this not long ago.

In general, the American people are lazy slobs that have an insatiable appetite for consumption. They want to be able to get in their cars and drive whenever and wherever they want. They’ll get in their cars and drive down the street rather than walk. We’ve got to change their behavior if we want to achieve energy independence. Supply isn’t the answer. Supply isn’t the problem. Consumption is the problem. We consume too much gasoline as a nation. The only way to change the consumption is through higher prices. Gas prices are elastic. As prices rise, consumption decreases.

Changes in consumption are the only way for America to achieve energy independence.

I’ve long believed that one of the worst things we’ve ever done in America is end the gas rationing of the 1970s. At that point, people were trained. The gas rationing affected peoples’ driving habits in a positive way. I was glad to see gas rationing in New York and New Jersey after Sandy. It’s something else we need to consider to influence the gas consumption behavior of consumers. If you can only buy so many gallons a week and on certain days, guess what? You’re going to be more selective in how much and where and when you drive.
RMC3: Yes, we can become energy independent. We have plenty of oil resources here in the United States both on and off shore. Unfortunately, we’ve had government regulations that have prevented drilling in some places, like Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and off the eastern seaboard and in the Gulf of Mexico. We can provide all the oil and natural gas we here in the U.S. need if we’re allowed to drill. But we’re talking about a finite supply of oil in the world, and we’re consuming it a lot faster than it’s being replenished naturally. So supply is only part of the equation with this.

I’m not sure that I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Cartwright’s philosophy of higher gas prices at the pump, but I do agree with his assertion that changes in consumption are needed. The simple fact is that we here in the United States consume way too much oil annually. As a nation we consume about 134 billion gallons of gas each year. That’s just mind boggling when you consider there’s about 195 million drivers in the U.S.. We’re each consuming on average about 700 gallons of gas each year.

No one that has a car wants to give up driving. Americans have become very spoiled in that regard. But we need to change our driving habits and improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles. Both of those would go a long way in helping reduce our dependency on foreign oil and move towards energy independence. How do we do this? We need to invest in the technologies that can help improve fuel efficiency of vehicles. There’s a lot of folks at NASA and the Department of Energy just sitting around not doing much other than riding the clock, so let’s give them this one to figure out. Let them figure out how we get a hundred miles per gallon of gas.

You know, I find it real hypocritical that there are folks out there who are so against the oil companies and foreign oil producers yet they drive gas guzzling SUVs or drive thousands of miles per year more than they really need to. And then there are the environmentalists that complain about pollution but aren’t willing to give up their cars. If you want to make a difference, just drive less. Maybe you start by taking one day per week and just stay home or walk where you want to go. If we all drove one less day per week, we’d be reducing our weekly gasoline consumption by 367 million gallons. That equates to about 20 billion gallons of gasoline annually. I think we could all give up our cars for one day each week. I would challenge everyone here that for 2013 you give up driving one day each week.

Alternatively, I’d love to see ethanol or alternative fuels become more economically viable and more commercially feasible, but I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon so we’re back to reducing consumption, increasing output, and improving fuel efficiency.

Michigan: I think that the answer is yes. We have the resources in the ground, the technology and the labor force. From 2008 to 2011 our crude oil production has been up 14%. Natural gas up 10%. Most experts agree that the U.S. could furnish all of our energy needs by 2030. This would also mean beefing up fossil fuel and nuclear power. We might have to convince some tree huggers that a green belly polywog is standing in the way of progress.
Sydney: America is not likely to ever achieve energy independence as long as it relies on oil, particularly in order to provide gas for cars. Some people believe that the massive reserves of ‘shale oil’ that companies are beginning to access is going to provide the energy independence they want. However, it is very difficult and costly to produce this form of oil and this is something that is not likely to change any time soon. It is interesting to consider the notion of ‘peak oil’ and particularly the theory held by some that ‘peak oil’ was reached decades ago and that reserves in the large OPEC countries may be far lower than the governments of those nations are prepared to admit. If this view is correct then we will have no choice but to utilize renewable forms of energy on a large scale. This would provide energy independence if the government was prepared to support the renewable energy sector.

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