What We Talk About When We Talk About Energy Security

More

American politicians love to talk about energy security. Republicans love it. Democrats love it. Mitt Romney. Barack Obama. Buddy Roemer probably even brought it up at some point. Everyone is for energy security. 

But what, exactly, is energy security? 

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) took a stab at answering that question in a report this month that included this helpful info-graphic, which I've included below. Here's the rundown: Often times, when politicians and the media discuss energy security, they're talking about reducing imports -- about America's ability to produce all of our power and fuel needs either at home, or in nearby, friendly nations like Canada. In other words, what they're really talking about is "energy independence."

The CBO believes that's the wrong way to frame the issue. Energy security, it says, is really about making sure the cost of power and fuel stays cheap, no matter what's going on in the world around us. The only way to ensure that is by diversifying the resources we use. Consider electricity prices, which have stayed relatively stable for decades. Why? Because our utilities use all sorts energy sources, including coal, natural gas, hydro-electric, and nuclear. If one of those resources is disrupted, we can move to another. Now compare that with gasoline, which has see-sawed violently over the last several years along with the global price of oil.

But wouldn't drilling more of our own crude protect us from those swings? No, it wouldn't. As the CBO notes, even countries that export oil still have to pay prices set on the world market for what they use at home. You don't get any special discounts for drilling it up locally. 

The moral? Drilling for more oil might increase our energy "independence." But it won't make us more secure.  

43232-infographic-EnergySecurity.png

Jump to comments
Presented by

Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Ghost Trains of America

Can a band of locomotive experts save vintage railcars from ruin?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Video

What If Emoji Lived Among Us?

A whimsical ad imagines what life would be like if emoji were real.

Video

Living Alone on a Sailboat

"If you think I'm a dirtbag, then you don't understand the lifestyle."

Video

How Is Social Media Changing Journalism?

How new platforms are transforming radio, TV, print, and digital

Video

The Place Where Silent Movies Sing

How an antique, wind-powered pipe organ brings films to life

Feature

The Future of Iced Coffee

Are artisan businesses like Blue Bottle doomed to fail when they go mainstream?

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In