During the past three years, we have often heard that Sept. 11, 2001, was the day that everything changed. But one thing that's changed very little since the attacks is how and where we get our energy. We still depend on foreign oil and gas for much of it.
U.S. Department of Energy statistics show that we have consumed more energy than we have produced since at least 1970. And government projections show the gap widening in the future, meaning that we'll be more dependent upon oil imports than ever before.
Look at five of our top six sources of foreign oil - Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela, Nigeria and Iraq. You don't need to be a cynic to think that oil and foreign policy are intimately linked. They are, and thanks to our current energy consumption practices, they need to be. As a result, we turn a blind eye to state-sanctioned beheadings in Saudi Arabia, work to keep Venezuela's Hugo Chavez underfoot and shrug aside the systematic destruction of Ogoni homelands in the Niger Delta.
Did I mention Iraq?
Of course, President Bush and Sen. John Kerry both have proposals that purport to respond to our energy predicament.
Bush has worked for the past four years to grant oil industry wishes to expedite drilling across the western United States and in Alaska and to expand coal and nuclear power production - often discounting the environmental costs or long-term inadequacy of these supplies. One centerpiece of the Bush energy plan - drilling part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - would offer only about six months of oil for U.S. needs, according to the refuge's defenders. And even that would not reach refineries for a decade.
Kerry's plan points more aggressively toward conservation and an increased emphasis on renewable resources such as solar and wind power - both of which are important steps. But he needs to do more to clarify how the United States can avoid its dead-end courtship with petroleum.
I wish these guys would read The Professional Geographer. In case you missed the May 2004 issue - there wasn't a UNC student on the cover - Deborah Feder, a geography professor at California State University-Fullerton, outlined a strategy that could move the United States toward energy self-sufficiency at a relatively low cost. Disguised as an academic paper, her set of ideas suggests how we could be stronger as a nation by using creative energy strategies.
Feder's plan rests upon the simple notion that energy sources are not precious for what they are, but rather for what they do. Most Americans don't care how their air conditioners or water heaters are powered. They simply want cool houses and hot showers - the cheaper, the better.