Anyone who was watching the Super Bowl last month will probably remember the controversial government-sponsored advertisements equating drug use with supporting terrorism. One ad featured several people looking in the camera and dead-panning lines such as “I just helped kidnap a family.” The purpose of these ads was to illustrate that by buying illegal drugs, Americans indirectly support terrorist activities funded by drug trade money.
While these claims are undoubtedly true to some extent, many commentators — including former conservative Arianna Huffington — have noted that there is another, more pervasive industry that funds international terrorism: the trade in fossil fuels.
In our current global economy, America relies heavily on fossil fuels, and a majority of our supply is purchased from countries that have been labeled hotbeds of terrorism. This frightening reality has led to an intense scrutiny of the sources of our energy, prompting the government to conclude that our current situation necessitates a reduction in oil imports. The White House and the House of Representatives believe the best way to address this would be through an increase in domestic fossil fuel production.
Their proposed solution is a reflection of the fact that, as a society, we have become cemented in the belief that there are no viable energy alternatives to the fossil fuel economy. President George W. Bush suggested this week in his national radio address that we must decrease our dependency on foreign oil, but even while paying lip service to energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, he advocated drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of America’s last true wilderness areas.
The United States contains only 2 to 3 percent of the world’s fossil fuel resources, yet consumes 26 percent. The president said in his address that “U.S. oil consumption is projected to increase by about one-third during the next 20 years — [and] our demand for electricity is expected to rise by 45 percent.”
He acknowledges these facts, but still claims that relatively small-scale extraction operations within our borders would enable us to wean ourselves from foreign sources of fossil fuels. In reality, domestic drilling would have to be increased to an intolerable level even to begin to meet our current level of energy demand.
Beyond political and developmental concerns, there is the crucial fact that the global climate is changing rapidly because of the excessive use of fossil fuels and the release of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. As the world leader in fossil fuel consumption and the dominant global economy, America occupies a uniquely powerful position to slow this change significantly.
Instead of exploring environmentally destructive options for fossil fuel production within the United States, we should hasten the necessary transition to sustainable energy.
We have come to the point where our only responsible option for fulfilling our energy needs is to direct our attention, legislation and funding to continue researching and implementing alternative energy sources. Technologies such as solar, wind and small hydroelectric power, among others, are efficient and effective solutions.
The debate concerning these alternatives has shifted from questions of utility to questions of economics. Even though solar power, for example, is cost-effective in the long run, the initial investment required for installation is prohibitive to most consumers. These market barriers, however, are not insurmountable. Private and public institutions can lead the way by adopting and promoting clean energy.
For example, if Yale were to replace the power plant at the Medical School with energy supplied by the Connecticut Energy Coop — a local green energy provider — it would help make energy from this provider more affordable for all Connecticut residents. If Congress approves an energy plan that subsidizes green energy beyond the mere tokenism of the National Energy Policy currently before the Senate, this would also facilitate the transition to price-competitive green energy.
Unfortunately, the current administration has recognized the political problems of foreign oil dependency but drawn the wrong conclusions from them. Our dependence on oil, regardless of the source, creates a host of problems both political and environmental. Now is the time to embrace a sustainable energy future, and not attempt to address a foreign policy concern by adding to our domestic environmental degradation.
Noah Chesnin is a sophomore in Berkeley College. He is chairman of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition.