FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Downside of Energy Independence

by MICHAEL BRENNER

There is a current of excitement running through the foreign affairs community sparked by the prospect that the United States will cease being a net energy importer within 25 years. The International Energy Agency’s annual WORLD ENERGY OUTLOOK 2012 projects that by 2035 or so, the country will produce enough oil and natural gas to dispense with most foreign supplies. New extraction techniques rather than discovery of new sources is the deus ex machine that is slated to work this startling turnabout.  Were this seeming potential to be realized, some imagine the United States gaining freedom of action in dealing with the oil rich states of the Middle East as well as troublesome commercial partners elsewhere like Venezuela.  We might choose to ignore them altogether. Moreover, as a net exporter itself, the United States could gain leverage on other parties. That is the happy vision that is tantalizing to global strategists.

How justified is this celebration of a euphoric future?  Is it premature? Should we worry about irrational exuberance?

The liberation of America from the coils of world energy politics thanks to a new-found self sufficiency is a nice theme for a magazine cover story. However, it is a gross over-simplification of the still uncertain, and certainly complex realty hat awaits us. Here are a few prudent considerations to keep in mind before jumping to radical conclusions.

First,  energy experts are not of one mind as to the odds on achieving complete
 independence. There are several variables that must be factored
into the equation,  and predictions about most have wide confidence margins. They are technical:  the relative ease of deep water, hydraulic fracturing, and sand tar extraction technologies on a massive scale. They are economic: can oil produced by using these costly methods compete with lower cost oil from traditional sources if world prices drop? They are environmental. They are political: possible domestic political constraints being the most prominent.

Second, there is no readily definable magic threshold beyond which the balance
of dependency between suppliers states and consumer states, and
thereby reciprocal influence, shifts drastically. That is to say, the energy trade, like most international commerce is symbiotic; it has it sown logic. However, the motivations of governments are not solely economic. There are realpolitik and nationalist sentiments at play as well.

Third, the United States’ relations with major suppliers in the Middle East
and elsewhere are multi-dimensional. They involve a host of national interests. Have we forgotten the “war on terror,” “the war on proliferation,” the democracy promotion project and our national dedication to shaping the world’s affairs according to our own lights? Then there is the open-ended commitment to Israel’s security and well-being.

Fourth, in a world of economic interdependence, it makes no sense to speak of
the United States economy as if it were autarkic. So long as other
major economies remain energy dependent, their vulnerability to supply
disruption is our problem as well.  Economic security in today’s world cannot be achieved within one’s sovereign boundaries, by dint of one’s own efforts alone.  There is no such thing as economic security in one country -whatever its energy situation. And energy is still the most crucial element needed to sustain the global economy.

Economic conditions in one country are heavily dependent on economic performance in other major national economies.  If the European Union, Japan, or China experiences a severe downturn, it quickly  will have serious repercussions on the United States. The precise degree of sensitivity to external developments cannot be calculated.  Some countries, e.g. Germany, have a larger share of their economic activity directly associated with imports and exports than some others, e.g. the United States. For the former it is 44%, for the latter it is 16%. But even the United States is unable to insulate itself from macro economic developments among the largest national economies. The global financial crisis of 2008 demonstrated vividly both the fragility of current interdependence, the weakness of coordinating mechanisms, the flawed abilities of their managers, and the swiftness with which seismic effects race around the globe. So, by implication, energy security for the United States encompasses the energy security of the developed world generally – if the measuring rod is performance and stability of the global macro economy.

The last thing we need is another sudden change in the cyclical pattern of 
euphoria and dread that has marked American thinking about its place in 
the world. The vision of energy independence carries that unfortunate potential.

So save the high fives.

Michael Brenner is a Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

Michael Brenner is a Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail