Addicted to oil - Jonathan Jutsen (Energetics) presents on ABC Radio

23 Mar 2006Archived News Energetics in the News

On ABC Radio's 'Perspective' program, Jonathan Jutsen (Founder and Director of Energetics) presented his reaction to the 1 February 2006 State of the Union address where George Bush stated that "America is addicted to oil".

Program Transcript

President George W Bush, Texas oil man through and through, owned up in his State of the Union address on Feb 1 that 'America is addicted to oil'. In his speech he defined a goal of replacing 75% of the Nation's Middle East imports by 2025.

On the surface that might have sounded like a bold initiative that just might have been about improving the energy efficiency of US cars.

But the State of the Union speech was no turning point. The goal set is not nearly as onerous as it looks on the surface. The US sources less than 25% of its oil from the Gulf so reducing this by 75% means in fact just replacing up to 18% of US oil use in 20 years!

Bush stated that 'By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past'.

But, it turns out he did not mean to achieve this by improving the efficiency of oil usage. Instead, what he had in mind was increasing Federal funding for R&D into alternative fuels by 22%, presumably so America can fuel the nation's Hummers on hydrogen and/or ethanol instead of gasoline, and to develop better hybrid cars. But in the American way, the market trend is for hybrids with slightly improved energy efficiency but greater power.

America has had a highly irresponsible energy policy for the last 5 years, and in fact you can point to over 25 years of failed leadership in this area, since the days of Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter's administration found itself responding to the second oil price shock in 1979, and he declared, "I am tonight setting a clear goal for the energy policy of the United States. Beginning this moment, this nation will never use more foreign oil than we did in 1977--never." And later...

The cornerstone of our policy is to reduce oil demand through conservation. Our emphasis on conservation is a clear difference between this plan and others which merely encouraged crash production efforts. Conservation is the quickest, cheapest, and most practical source of energy. Conservation is the only way we can buy a barrel of oil for a few dollars...

By the time we got to the Bush administration in 2001, V.P. Chaney declared that "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy." His remarks were reinforced by the White House spokesman, who dismissed the idea of people be requested to use less energy: "That's a big no! The President believes that it's an American way of life, and it should be the goal of policy makers to protect the American way of life....And we have a bounty of resources in this country!"

Jimmy Carter must be shaking his head now. Just 20 years ago America was able to supply nearly 75% of its oil needs, and now the US imports 55% of its oil use and this will be over 65% within 10 years as domestic oil supplies continue to dwindle.

Now, let's consider Australia's situation.

Australia's average fuel efficiency for its vehicles is 11.3 l/100km (about 21 mpg), and this is about the same as it was in 1963, and only 8% better than it was in 1979, during the last oil shock. Vehicle fuel efficiency has not improved at all in the last decade.

At the same time, our dependence on imported oil has exploded. In 2000, Australia was 90% self sufficient in oil production. However this was when our production peaked and started a rapid decline. Our oil self-sufficiency has already fallen to less than 60%, and like America, we stand to be at best 40% self-sufficient by 2010!

So, what should we doing?

There should be an integrated energy plan in Australia, which places an emphasis on improving efficiency of use and developing alternative fuels.

Some of the specific measures I would advocate include:

  • Fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles,
  • Taxes or incentives to accelerate the retirement of large engine vehicles,
  • Encouraging the increased use of alternative vehicle fuels, particularly ethanol in the short term.
  • Once these measures are implemented we could consider incentives for use of hybrid and high efficiency diesel vehicles.

To borrow the approach of Jimmy Carter, let's not wait until we have a crisis on our door to act decisively to protect our economy and our environment. Let us break our oil addiction Now!

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