T. Boone Pickens is one of America's biggest independent oil producers, so he could be forgiven if he simply chose to sit back and pile up his profits. But the Texas entrepreneur is convinced that America must break its dependence on oil as a major source of energy, and has announced that over the next few weeks he is going to outline in the major media a plan for doing exactly that. He is right on the money, and I am going to listen carefully to what he has to say.
There is no doubt that this country is deeply hooked on oil. It is, after all, the source of the gasoline on which America's cars and trucks run, and a national economy in which oil didn't play a major role is virtually inconceivable. But we are deep in a dilemma in which the tail is, for all practical purposes, wagging the dog. Our foreign policy, in particular, is bent out of shape by our desperate need to keep Middle Eastern oil flowing to us and to our European allies.
Those last three words deserve special emphasis. The United States itself could survive on its own oil resources and those of dependable allies in Latin America and elsewhere. But the friendly nations of Europe would grind to a halt in a matter of weeks if their supply of Middle Eastern oil was cut off, and the United States simply couldn't afford such a disaster, either economically or militarily. For all practical purposes, therefore, we are as dependent on Middle Eastern oil as they are.
A solution to the problem is hard to come by. Shaking off our dependence on oil will involve huge technological changes, even if (which is unclear) these are theoretically possible. Just as a practical matter, are the American people ready to forsake their neighborhood gas pump and shell out the money necessary to build and buy cars fueled by solar power or some even more exotic form of energy?
It may well take a war, or some other disaster that interrupts foreign oil supplies, to force the leading nations of the West to get serious about replacing precarious sources of oil with forms of energy under their own dependable control. Democracies are notoriously disinclined to undergo painful privations until it is all but too late.
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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