By Brian Clark Howard
U.S. energy independence is a buzzword that has been receiving a lot of attention the past few years. The idea is that it would be in the country''s best strategic interest to eventually become completely self-sufficient in terms of energy needs. Energy independence resonates with a public that is increasingly alarmed about the spector of Islamic terrorism, as well as U.S. military involvement in the Middle East. That''s because terrorist organizations and dangerous dictators in that part of the world (as well as elsewhere) receive much of their vital funding from American oil purchases. The U.S. produces only 40% of its oil needs domestically, and buys much of the rest from unstable, autocratic nations. Proponents of energy independence also point out that the U.S. economy would have greater stability, both in terms of pricing and in reducing the effects that disasters, political showdowns and other problems may have on the oil supply. Supporters point to the 1970s oil crisis as an example of the things that can go wrong. Environmentalists have long been supporters of energy independence, and have advocated for massive investment in energy conservation and development of renewable sources of power
, such as solar, wind, biomass and ocean energy. They believe the U.S. can approach energy independence at the same time as mitigating the effects of climate change and protecting the environment. Others do not share the same vision, however, and have promoted working toward energy independence with a number of environmentally destructive technologies and processes. This was part of the justification used by those who argued in favor of driling for oil in the extremely fragile Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as well as for expanded drilling off the country''s coasts. Others have promoted building more coal-fired power plants, turning coal into a liquid fuel
for vehicles (which is an extremely dirty process), and building more nuclear power plants, which are very difficult to site and have lingering problems with the highly toxic radioactive waste. Some critics have also complained that energy independence amounts to isolationism and protectionism. But many greens view it as one more reason why we need real reform in a national energy policy, leading the way toward a more sustainable future.