If you ever wonder why America is so reliant on Middle East oil as opposed to pumping its own petroleum out of the ground, here’s the reason. In his recent book, The Age of Turbulence, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan recounts the peak of oil production in the United States in December 1970 and the entanglements we now face to keep Middle East oil flowing. In a surprising statement, Greenspan opines, “…the Iraq war was largely about oil.”
When looking at a country’s energy policy, we must look at its energy mix. The energy mix determines the types and percentage of various forms of energy that comprise the whole. In the United States, our energy mix is comprised largely of coal, oil, and natural gas; all finite fossil fuels that will run out eventually. But perhaps before they do, they will become prohibitively expensive; thus the argument that market forces, not total depletion, will force America off of fossil fuel dependence and onto renewable energy.
Today, we have a growing number of renewable forms of energy to add to our fossil fuel-dominant energy mix. Two of these renewables include wind power and solar, both clean energies that have great potential. Hydrogen is another possibility, though issues of efficiency, pricing, and availability are still a challenge. And the aforementioned Alan Greenspan advocates (for the transportation sector) plug-in hybrids powered by nuclear energy.
The most important consideration in the quest for alternative power sources is how that new source of energy affects the environment and society. A good example of an untenable renewable energy source is undoubtedly ethanol, which as we have seen recently, is in large part why global food prices have skyrocketed in recent weeks. This has caused mass protests and starvation in poor countries such as Haiti. Furthermore, ethanol production exacerbates global warming by emitting nearly as many tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (if not more) as traditional fossil fuel production.
I’m personally excited about the future of alternative energy. I see a good mix of clean renewables that, given technological advances in efficiency, will serve to power the future. However, that doesn’t mean the transition from oil to renewables will be fun or easy, as we see today with skyrocketing food prices and increased hunger.