8 August, 2008
Contrary to global warming which is barely an issue in the presidential campaign, energy policy and the dream of weaning America off its “addiction” to foreign oil has become one of the main battlegrounds between candidates Obama and McCain. But do they really understand what is at stake?
High oil prices and a 4 dollar per gallon gasoline price (ridiculously low for us, Europeans, BTW) have made both Presidential hopefuls refine (some would say “flip-flop”) their views on future energy policies. Of course, the energy independence issue is not new in American politics, just ask anyone who remembers President Jimmy Carter. According to the Washington Post, no less than 24 of the 34 State of the Union speeches since 1973 mentioned independence of energy supply as one of the major objectives. Nonetheless, since that same year 1973, America’s oil imports went from 35 to 60 percent.
Here is in a nutshell what both senators have been proposing in recent weeks:
- Within ten years, saving more oil than US currently imports from Middle East and Venezuela;
- Boosting renewable energy (10% of electricity to come from renewables by 2012, 25% by 2025);
- Increasing fuel economy standards and put 1 million plug-in-hybrid cars on the road by 2015;
- Dropped opposition to new oil drilling but only under certain conditions;
- Releasing light oil stocks from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve to bring down high gasoline prices and replace them with heavy oil;
- Introducing windfall profit taxes on Big Oil to pay for energy cash rebates for working families;
- Creating a cap-and-trade system for climate change with a reduction target for greenhouse gases of 80% by 2050;
- Developing clean coal technologies;
- Introducing “aggressive” energy efficiency targets to reduce electricity demand 15% by 2020;
- Does not exclude nuclear power but points to issues of waste storage and proliferation;
For more details, read Obama’s most recent proposals’ factsheet and the critical annotated version of the Obama energy plan published by Andrew Rivkin on the NY Times Dot Earth blog
- Reforming the transportation sector through the development of cleaner cars (with tax credits for zero carbon cars);
- Giving a big push to nuclear: 45 new nuclear plants by 2030;
- Spending 2 billion dollars annually for the development of “clean coal”;
- Supporting offshore exploration of oil and gas and lifting the moratorium on domestic oil drilling (something he opposed in the past);
- No windfall profit taxes for Big Oil;
- Introducing a cap-and trade system to fight climate change (targets for greenhouse gas reductions of 22% by 2030 and 60% by 2050 – compared to 1990);
- Promoting energy efficiency.
For more details, see John McCain’s energy policy page on his campaign website
Of course, a lot of their current proposals are meant to win over voters. Whoever wins the elections in November will have to find REAL policy solutions (and not just campaign rhetoric) to solve the global sustainability crisis (which includes a lot of other challenges not addressed in the campaign such as biodiversity loss, water scarcity, food security etc.)
I am also rather skeptical about the energy independence dream. In a globalised world, energy self-sufficiency is as much a pipedream as food self-sufficiency. What we need is “energy interdependence”, more international cooperation instead of a return to energy nationalism and therefore new global governance structures where the world as a whole can learn to live within the ecological limits of our One Planet Earth.
The energy revolution which this world needs will not come from technology developments and innovation alone (although these will play a major part) but will need a rethinking of our current Western lifestyles and their model function for developing countries such as China and India. What we urgently need are new human development models which can bring life security and human happiness (not more material consumption) to this beautiful planet we are over-exploiting in an unsustainable way. No American presidential candidate (nor European political leader for that matter) dares to take the lead on this.Author : Willy De Backer