Column: More Oil Does Not Solve Energy Needs

This story was written by Michael LaFemina , The Chronicle

Any national energy policy that seeks energy independence but does not take into account the interdependence of human life and the health of the planet will ultimately prove unsustainable and disastrous.

As a young person expecting a healthy and livable future, I am concerned about healthy soil and food, clean air and safe water; nothing exists without these. I recognize that while there are geo-political benefits to lessening our dependence on foreign oil, there are serious risks that come along with domestic production. A solution that links our national interests with environmental sustainability and economic stability must be created.

We are led to believe that drilling for oil is an easy, safe, reliable and viable option to help solve our energy problems. It is not.

Regarding off-shore drilling, a practice that had essentially been prohibited since 1981 but was recently made permissible by Congress in a bi-partisan compromise, we should consider the following: continued reliance on oil only increases the amount of atmospheric pollution and emitted greenhouse gases while perpetuating a lack of persistence for technological innovation in the energy sector. Offshore drilling is years away from producing usable oil, in which time the global demand for oil will only increase, thus negating any effect an increased supply will have on price.

In addition to off-shore drilling, the quest for energy independence has spawned oil projects in Northern Canada and Alaska. One of these sites, already in business as the largest oil project in the world -- covering a piece of land larger than Florida -- is in northern Alberta, Canada. Millions of acres of old-growth in forests have been cut down and burned to allow for a project known as "Tar Sands" to develop. The environmental and political implications are severe: Large forests like these and the rainforests are considered "the lungs of the planet," breathing in carbon dioxide and releasing breathable oxygen; many indigenous communities have had their lives and land destroyed by this project; and the toxicity of this project threatens communities across Canada and the United States.

In American cities where this oil is shipped, residents experience increased water and air pollution problems as a result of the very dense and crude tar sands oil, which is much more energy and water-intensive to refine. It should be noted that tar sands oil omits three times the amount of greenhouse gases in the production process as conventional crude oil. Although last June, the U.S. Conference of Mayors agreed to prohibit the importation of tar sands crude oil into their cities to be refined, the Tar Sands project is still expanding. In order to further the project to meet its production goals, a proposal was submitted to build 20 new nuclear reactors to power the Tar Sands (nuclear energy to drill for oil), but to date that is still under environmental review.

While necessity is the mother of invention, we are led to believe that because more energy is needed, more oil is needed. This is shortsighted and an economical disadvantage. Ultimately, the financial costs of forfeiting industrial advancement in energy technologies, dealing with the continued and new environmental devastation brought by oil exploration and accidents, and paying for the health care needs of Americans who are exposed to pollution from either the burning of or the production of oil are immeasurable. These costs trump any argument made about the economic advantages to offshore or domestic oil production. Factoring in the geo-political benefits of moving away from any dependence on oil-that the wakening of oil-rich nations like Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia-my argument is politically, economically and environmentally stronger than any that argue in favor of further oil exploration.

But you won't hear much about it because oil interests and American politics have been closely linked since at least 1953, when the United States helped to overthrow the (democratic) government of Iran to the benefit of British Petroleum-this was the moment from which our bad relationship with Iran precipitated. The revolution in 1979 was a response, and neither party has trusted the other since.

Political stability depends on nations not fighting over access to resources, making the case for environmental sustainability and justice unequivocal. We absolutely need a different source of energy. But, any proposed energy package that retains oil as an integral component will have significant negative effects for human and environmental health, technological advancement, political stability and economic development and should be questioned for their viability. Drill, baby, drill? I don't think so.

As young people, we should demand a clean energy future that enables technological innovation in renewable energy, creates "green collar" jobs, reduces the amount of pollution and greenhouse gases we put in the atmosphere, shifts geo-political power back to the United States and promotes an environmental policy that is rooted in sustainability and social justice. Anything less is unacceptable because it would be hazardous to our future.