Facing Our Oil Addiction

One ought never to turn one's back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half.
Winston Churchill

One of the biggest security threats now confronting the United States is our continuing reliance on foreign oil. Yet our country seems to be in denial about the actions that have to be taken in order to increase our energy self-sufficiency.

On March 28, a bipartisan group composed of former military leaders and national security officials sent a letter to President George W. Bush expressing their concern about our nation's current dependence on oil that comes from the Middle East. The letter was organized by the Energy Futures Coalition, a bipartisan group organized after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The coalition is one of a growing number of U.S. organizations, including the Alliance to Save Energy (www.ase.org), which are focused on promoting increased renewable energy funding by the federal government.

"The price at the pump is not all we're paying right now. We are also paying $400 billion for a defense budget."
--Former National Security Advisor Robert "Bud" McFarlane

The group also sent the letter to the members of the U.S. Congress in an effort to build political support for their objectives. The group called on the Bush administration to commit to spending $1 billion over the next five years on specific programs to increase our country's use of alternative fuels, and to introduce new technologies that would dramatically reduce the demand for oil in the transportation sector.

"We're at war. We're stupidly relying on a part of the world with two-thirds of the world's oil and hoping something won't go wrong there," said James Woolsey, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency during the Clinton administration.

According to Robert "Bud" McFarlane, national security advisor to former President Reagan, it is plausible that an attack on Saudi Arabia's huge refinery complex could drive oil to more than $100 per barrel. He said that these facilities are vulnerable, and it would not be difficult to lose 6 million barrels of oil per day from Saudi production with a well-staged attack.

"The price at the pump is not all we're paying right now," McFarlane said. "We are also paying $400 billion for a defense budget."

In the letter to Bush, the group made several recommendations. The group said the Bush administration should make the reduction of oil consumption "a top national security priority." Furthermore, the letter states that the development of technology that uses alternative fuels "should be funded at a level proportionate with other priorities for the defense of the nation." The group focuses more on an increase in the production of "plug-in hybrids" rather than hydrogen-fueled vehicles because they consider hybrid vehicles to be a more immediate solution to reducing our current energy consumption.

Additionally, the group recommends in its letter that there should be a federal initiative to speed the development of lightweight carbon composite metals for vehicle bodies that would reduce oil consumption by 50 percent on larger vehicles, such as sports utility vehicles. In addition to the commercial uses, some of the applications have potential military value.

In a similar vein, on February 9 at the House of Representatives Science Committee hearing, Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) stated that raising fuel economy standards for today's U.S. vehicle fleet is "a national security imperative" because the United States is "startlingly dependent on the world's most unstable regions for the energy that is the lifeblood of our economy." About 60 percent of the oil consumed daily in our country is used for transportation. Boehlert is a proponent of setting stricter Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for U.S. vehicles. The standards are currently 27.5 miles per gallon (mpg) for passenger cars and 20.7 mpg for light trucks.

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy pledged to send an American to the moon by the end of the decade. The Apollo project required tremendous expenditures and effort, yet succeeded in accomplishing its goal by 1969. Now our country should show the same type of determination in establishing our energy independence. In order to maintain our country's leadership in today's turbulent world, President Bush and the members of the U.S. Congress need to commit to taking concrete actions to promote the use of alternative energy sources and the development of more energy efficient vehicles.

This editorial originally appeared in the June 2005 issue of Environmental Protection, Vol. 16, No. 5.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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