Issue brief: Energy and Environment

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The Electoral Issue:

America's dependence on foreign energy, particularly Middle Eastern oil, harms the environment, destabilizes the economy and ties the United States to countries that do not share its national, economic and human rights interests.

The Challenge:

To achieve energy independence by expanding domestic energy production, and to reduce emissions without harming the economy.

Problems:

Energy Independence

America consumes 19 million of the 86 million barrels of oil produced in the world each day. In 2011,the U.S. imported 44.8 percent of its oil. More than half (24.1 percent) of oil imports came from the mostly Middle-Eastern countries in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

Despite the rise in alternative sources of energy and the drop in imports -- the lowest levels since 1995 -- petroleum is still America's most widely used source of energy and the country is still tied to foreign suppliers.

Business and consumers are whipsawed by OPEC price hikes, supply shocks and the international energy market. (see, for example, the energy crises of 1973 and 1979, or the up and down movement of gas prices tied to each new bout of turmoil in the oil-rich Middle East.)

Conservation & Efficiency

America is the second biggest energy consumer in the world just behind China, yet per-capita energy use is more than four times the per-capita-consumption of China, according to the World Bank,. The only countries whose per-capita consumption was greater than America's, with the exception of Canada, were island nations like Iceland, wealthy enclaves like Luxembourg, and Middle-Eastern petro-states like Kuwait.

In a 2012 report from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, the United States ranked ninth among the world's 12 largest economies in energy efficiency - our standing diminished, among other reasons, by a transportation infrastructure reliant mostly on automobiles. Many countries that outperformed the U.S. - Great Britain, Japan, Germany - have a dearth of domestic energy resources that forces them to more aggressively conserve the fuel they import at great cost.

Climate Change

The preponderance of scientific evidence suggests man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are increasing. According to the Global Carbon Project, in 2010, emissions rose by 5.9 percent (the largest absolute annual increase ever) after dropping 1.4 percent in 2009 due to the recession. These CO2 emissions are, to one degree or another, contributing to a global warming effect. 9 of the 10 warmest years in the modern meteorological record have occurred since 2000. Scientists predict a variety of negative outcomes if temperatures rise to an unacceptable degree, ranging from bad to catastrophic.

Those who dispute these findings usually acknowledge that CO2 emissions are increasing, but question humanity's role. Still others acknowledge that humans may be playing a role, but that the size of that role is uncertain and that spending money to reverse the trend is not economically wise.

GOP nominee Mitt Romney has said, "Do I think the world's getting hotter? Yeah, I don't know that, but I think that it is. I don't know if it's mostly caused by humans. ... What I'm not willing to do is spend trillions of dollars on something I don't know the answer to."

NIMBY ("Not in my backyard")

Consumers want to enjoy the benefits of new energy without being exposed to the potential drawbacks. Nuclear energy is a good example - it is carbon neutral, and cost-effective -- but people worry about the hazards of living near a nuclear plant. Build more nuclear power plants, by all means - but not in my backyard. NIMBY problems also affect the application of natural gas "fracking" technology, which may raise local environmental concerns by compromising the integrity of local bedrock and water reservoirs.

Next page: Political positions

  • Jake Miller

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