The fact that windmills have nothing to do with oil appears lost on widely read pundits like Thomas Friedman. Friedman repeatedly calls for extending renewable tax credits to make wind and solar competitive with oil. Building solar farms won’t reduce oil consumption, but it is a convenient misperception that allows Friedman to blame “Big Oil” for opposing taxpayer subsidies for wind and solar. (Ironically, BP collects the same subsidies that Friedman claims they oppose.) The confusion, however, makes it much harder to actually identify and address the problem.
If we want to be more energy independent, we need to do two things. First, use less oil. Second, produce more oil domestically. The first step is consistent with the desire to reduce carbon dioxide. The second is not. Even doing both these things will not eliminate the need to import oil. If done aggressively and effectively, however, they will reduce our increasing dependence on imported oil in the mid-term.
Such a result sounds almost pedestrian when compared to landing on the moon. However, a reversal of these long-term tends – we have been importing an increasingly large percentage of our oil each successive decade since the 1980s – would in fact be a huge step forward. That reality conflicts with the grandiose language that Presidents and pundits have been using for decades and may explain why we have been losing the war for energy independence.
Claiming we can change the way we power our nation based solely on grit, determination and murky goals may be a good way to get reelected or published, but it’s a lousy way to make progress. We made it to the moon because we knew where we wanted to go and engineered a way to get there.
In his remarks, Obama made the point that we will get to the energy future we want “[e]ven if we’re unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don’t yet know precisely how we’re going to get there.” That is clearly not how we got to the moon. It does seem to be how we are trying to plug the damn hole.
Richard M. Russell founded Pinyon Labs LLC and is CEO of VIAforward, a technology consulting company.
Prior to founding Pinyon Labs, Russell spent a combined two decades as a United States Ambassador and senior Presidential and Congressional advisor on science, technology and telecommunications.