This Week in the Mayonnaise Clinic: Toward Energy Indifference
Plus: Coffee Centrism, meet Knife Centrism
It’s Mayonnaise Clinic time! Below the fold, I answer a reader’s question about what kind of knives he should have in his kitchen, and how to keep them sharp in a way that’s not annoying. But first, a question about energy.
Jordan Flacco asks:
You recently discussed energy independence, but I would like to understand the history and decision-making a little more. A certain segment of the population says we were “energy independent” at the end of the Trump administration, and today we are not, and that is largely due to decisions made by the current administration. Can you shed any light on this? Was it things like canceling the Keystone XL pipeline that caused our current predicament, or was it more complicated economic factors?
People mean different things when they use this term, which I probably should have avoided, since it’s been so widely abused over the decades. The short answer to your question is no — we were never energy independent because there’s no such thing as being truly energy independent. Even a country that produces precisely as much oil as it consumes is still affected by changes in the global price of oil. And while there have been some policy changes between the two administrations, the primary drivers of swings in oil prices in recent years have been external factors — most notably, the rise and waning of the global COVID crisis, and the war in Ukraine.
Rather than the impossible goal of energy independence, what I want is an energy policy that makes us as indifferent as possible to changes in how much oil gets put on the world market by countries that range from frenemies (Saudi Arabia) to outright hostile (Russia). To this end, there are things we can do to (1) reduce how much changes in the quantity of foreign oil production affect the prices of oil and petroleum products in the US; and (2) reduce how much changes in oil prices prices affect the US economy and politics.
These moves toward energy indifference can come in a few categories:
Reduce US demand for fossil fuels. Strategies here include subsidies for renewable electric generation, electric cars, and electric car infrastructure; fuel efficiency standards; energy-saving building retrofits; technological advancements that improve energy efficiency or make non-fossil fuel options more attractive; keeping nuclear power plants open instead of closing them; power grid upgrades, including forcing Maine to allow construction of high-voltage power lines so we can import hydro-generated electricity from Canada to New England; etc.