Energy independence could free the United States from fear of trade retaliation when making foreign policy decisions.
Energy independence has become a popular position in the United States recently. On both sides of the aisle, politicians are calling for increased domestic energy production and reduced importation of fuels like oil, which often come from places fraught with political tensions.
To be truly energy independent, the United States would need to produce enough energy to sustain the entirety of its population and industry. Such independence seemed like a far off goal not too long ago. However, innovations in sustainable energy and the recent shale gas boom have made the idea of an energy independent future seem more attainable.
As it seems more and more possible for the United States to achieve energy independence in the not-so-distant future, it’s important to remember that this process is complicated. Though it can be achieved in different ways to different effects, energy independence will require the US to radically re-envision the way it supplies and uses energy.
That being said, this article will consider how — and why — the United States and other countries might choose to become energy independent.
The United States is already a leader in the $6 trillion global energy market. Though the US imports about 20 percent of its energy, that number has been declining since new technology allowed for the extraction of shale oil and gas that was previously inaccessible.
The natural gas boom has freed up space in the American economy. Instead of purchasing barrels of oil from other countries, the US is able to supply more of its own needs, which allows money to be cycled more easily back into the American economy.
Seeing the impact that natural gas extracted from US territory made on the economy, many investors and politicians took notice and began advocating for energy independence. Indeed, the money to be made from natural gas amidst growing demand is one tempting reason to strive for energy independence.
Energy independence also boasts possible geopolitical benefits. The United States imports most of its energy from countries where political tensions run high. Saudi Arabia, Iraq, China and Russia are all huge exporters of energy, and this has put the United States in more than one awkward position over the years.
In addition to the amount of defense money spent protecting US oil interests abroad, relying on foreign oil has prevented the US and other countries from intervening in conflicts around the world. Europe’s lack of intervention when Russia annexed Crimea is just one example of energy stability influencing foreign policy decisions for the worse.
Energy independence could free the United States from fear of trade retaliation when making foreign policy decisions. This would make it easier for the US and other energy independent countries to boycott or otherwise intervene in unjust systems and governments. It would also give other oil producers more claim over their own energy.
Though energy independence fueled by the recent natural gas boom may have economic and political benefits for the US, it could end up hurting the country’s chances at environmental sustainability in the long run. It’s important to remember that “energy independent” doesn’t always mean sustainable energy.
Though natural gas is somewhat cleaner than other sources of energy like coal, it is not renewable — eventually, like all other fossil fuels, its reserves will run out. Time-bomb energy like this does not equate to long term energy independence. At best, it would be a temporary solution to a long-term problem.
In order to battle climate change while working towards energy independence, the US must reduce demand for fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and hydropower.
A large-scale switch to this sort of energy would come with the same benefits as gas-fueled energy independence while also being cleaner and removing the need for transportation of heavy fuel across oceans and lowering risk of oil spills and other disasters.
Luckily, it is possible to make the US and other countries energy independent through use of renewable energy. Though it will require large investments in place of more established energy like oil and natural gas, renewable energy is the best way to ensure long-term energy stability at home and around the world.
Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.