Posted by: bmeverett | September 27, 2010

The Myth of Energy Independence

Last week, I was honored by an invitation to give a talk and participate in a seminar at the United States Air Force Command and Staff College (ACSC) at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery Alabama on the subject of energy security.   The ACSC trains field-grade officers, usually majors, not only in the narrow skills of the warrior, but also in the broader skills of foreign policy and economics.  Attached is a copy of the presentation material I used which offers the following conclusions.

There are no economically viable substitutes for oil in transportation today.  There may be someday, but as Aragorn said in Lord of the Rings “That day is not this day.”  As a result, the US economy would be crippled by a real attempt to eliminate imported oil, which would rob us of our social and economic mobility.  The US economy is deeply integrated with the global economy.  We have always been a trading nation, and our economy cannot survive without a safe and secure international trading system.  The US has a powerful strategic interest in a secure and stable world, and those responsibilities would not change if we stopped importing oil.  Would we really allow Iran or China to take over the Middle East oil fields of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait?  How would our allies view a US statement of indifference to the fate of the oil market?  We cannot just opt out of the world oil market.  We are indeed vulnerable to disruptions, but we have no choice but to cope with that vulnerability to the best of our ability.

All of us share a measure of anxiety over the difficulties the US faces in the world today, including terrorism, nuclear proliferation and the rise of China.  You will be heartened to know that our military leaders are among the very best and brightest, as well as the strongest and bravest of our society.  The knowledge and analytical skills on display at the ASCS are the equal of any of our top graduate students.  Perhaps even better, since these men and women have both a wealth of practical experience and a real personal stake in US foreign policy.  I was greatly encouraged, but not the least surprised.

AF presentation 9-2010 Blog version



  1. You say: “the US economy would be crippled by a real attempt to eliminate imported oil, which would rob us of our social and economic mobility.”

    Energy Independence is not about focusing on “eliminating” imported oil, but rather on increasing USA production of alternative fuels, which the U.S. can do using its abundant natural resources of coal, biomass and shale.

    By creating our own alternative fuels, imported oil would no longer be needed, and in that way “eliminated” as a result.

    • In reply to Mr. Bengston’s comment, the US has lots of resources, but none now capable of replacing oil in transportation except at a prohibitive cost. We have enormous reserves of coal and shale gas, which can take care of our electric power generation needs for many years to come, but are no help in transportation. With current technology, biofuels are simply too expensive, and offer an unacceptable trade-off between food production and fuel. Someday, maybe, but not yet.

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