Monday, August 4, 2008

Independence

I had a long conversation last night with a smart, pragmatic, and politically unattached friend of mine.

We hadn't talked in quite a while, and as soon as he found out about the Acorn Energy gig, he asked me what I thought about oil, domestic production, and opening federal bans on drilling offshore and in Alaska.

Amory Lovins is fresh in my mind, so I talked about the questionable business case for new drilling and the security and oil spill risks.

My friend wasn't convinced.

He reckons whether or not we think there's a business case is irrelevant. Leave that up to the oil companies to navigate. If they make a bad investment, they make a bad investment. Their choice. Their loss.

And he thinks it's absurd to think about risk. Of course there's risk, but there's risk in a lot of things. And we're pretty good at mitigating oil spill risk and pipeline attack risk. We're not perfect; it's true. But the probability of disaster, especially if we protect against it, is tiny.

He thinks we should explore. His foremost worry is the US economy's dependence on lunatic countries, and, for him, any step toward independence, however small, is a step we should take.

And he wants efficiency too. He wants investment in energy productivity. He wants plug in cars. He wants carbon free electricity, and he thinks electrons are the transportation fuel of the future.

But he has no patience for either/or arguments. He wants to do it all, drilling included.

And he's passionate, convincing, and, as I said, politically unattached. He got my attention. I listened. I went back through the Lovins interview. And I'm open.

If the conversation about offshore exploration and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge exploration is focused on energy independence as a matter of economic stability and not on gasoline prices as a matter of political pandering, then I think it's a conversation we should have.

We should, of course, consider very seriously the natural capital costs associated with the exploration. We should be honest about just how much or how little foreign oil we could displace if we expanded potential drilling sites. We should be very wary of subsidizing anything. And we should make sure we don't celebrate increased independence from foreign oil to the point at which anyone forgets that the long term goal is independence from oil altogether.

And then we should make some decisions.

I think.

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