In this election year, anyone with even a cursory familiarity with contemporary national and international affairs knows that energy policy in general and our dependence on foreign oil in particular are both hot-button issues. Can we rid ourselves of foreign - and in particular Middle Eastern - oil? If yes, what policies ought we to put in place so that we get to our eventual goal of energy independence? What roles can politicians, economic incentives and research play in helping us get out of the mess in which we currently find ourselves and lead us to the path of energy independence? These are the sorts of questions that are usefully addressed by this most propitiously timed book.
The book itself consists of fifteen chapters that are split up into three parts. We are told that for almost a century, the United States was a major player in the expanding world oil market in the sense that it was able to effectively dictate terms to both large and small nations. Then, in the early 1970s, things changed dramatically and the nation quickly found itself dependent on foreign oil. As a result, the lives of Americans were suddenly disrupted by the specter of gasoline lines, and the political authorities in the U.S. struggled to convince voters that they had effective solutions to America’s nascent energy woes. The detailed story of how this remarkable reversal of fortune occurred is narrated in detail in the first seven chapters that also comprise the first part of this book.
A salient point made by this book is that when examining policy options today, it is important to keep in mind that we did solve our last energy crisis and, in the process, we also cut our oil imports in half. Many factors were collectively responsible for this advantageous state of affairs, but a key role was played by the 1978 energy package that was passed by the 95th Congress in cooperation with the Carter administration. As the book helpfully points out, with the passing of this package, it became “the policy of the federal government to wean the country off the use of oil by means of conservation and the development of alternative fuels.”
The book goes on to chronicle the heavy cost of our dependence on Middle Eastern oil and point out that our continued use of fossil fuels has exacerbated the problem of global warming. As a result, we are now de facto conducting a dangerous experiment with our planet. To address this unsavory state of affairs, the book asks our political leaders to focus for the next several years on energy policies that are “threefers” - that is, policies that help national security, the economy, and the environment.
A laudable aspect of this book is that it makes seven concrete suggestions for getting us on the path to eventual energy independence. Chapters 8 through 14, comprising the second part of this book, discuss these individual suggestions in some detail. Some of these suggestions are more noteworthy than the others but, having said this, it would be difficult to quibble with the three core suggestions: that we ought to drive the cars of the future, bring alternative fuels to the market, and plug into an electric future.
The book recognizes that without the right political environment, even the most meritorious suggestions will not become common practice. The single chapter comprising the third and last part of this book focuses on what is needed to get to ultimate energy independence. We are told that the positive results of sensible energy policies occur with significant time lags. Therefore, we need to comprehend the following two points. First, we must pay more attention to the Congress, and we must also increase the political participation of young people. Second, we must elect individuals to office who are not afraid to lose.
This book contains a very small number of factual errors. Second, the problem of a few missing words would have been eliminated had the book been proofread more carefully. Third, relative to the first two parts, the third part of this book is too succinct. Fourth, one can quibble with specific aspects of the analysis that is undertaken in this book. These four points notwithstanding, it is altogether appropriate to conclude by noting that this book provides a lucid account of the genesis of our present energy woes and the most sensible ways in which these woes might be addressed.