Complacency can be risky

Jan. 26, 2009

by Ivan Raconteur

Complacency is a bit like strolling among a pack of ravenous timber wolves after a particularly hard winter while wearing bacon-flavored britches. There is a good chance it will result in us getting bit in the posterior.

When gas prices were flirting with record highs a few months ago, energy issues suddenly flared up hotter than a habanero.

When $4 per gallon at the pump became a reality instead of just a bad dream, energy efficiency became a necessity for many Americans, rather than just a fuzzy notion about something we should strive for some day if it happens to be convenient, inexpensive, and not too much work.

We finally began to slowly, grudgingly change our habits, not because we had finally seen the light, but because we couldn’t afford not to save energy.

Then, something terrible happened. Prices began to drop.

Many Americans saw this as a good thing.

They believed the crisis was over, and dropped their plans to improve efficiency quicker than they could say Jack Robinson (or any other name that can be said quickly).

For a brief period, people proved that they could save energy if they put their minds to it, and they could even do it relatively painlessly.

The fact is, we need to save energy whether we like it or not. With increasing demand and limited supplies, a crisis is inevitable.

We need to save energy, not just because it will help save the planet (although that is a pretty good reason, too).

We need to save energy because it is critical to our national security.

This is illustrated by the recent fracas between Russia and the Ukraine, during which the supply of natural gas was shut off to about 10 European nations.

Russia blamed the Ukraine, and the Ukraine blamed Russia, but regardless of who was responsible, the gas stopped flowing.

This was bad news for countries involved, especially those that get between 80 and 100 percent of their gas from Russia.

Other countries that were able to increase supplies from other sources fared slightly better.

Russia’s pipeline shenanigans are not new.

Similar battles have taken place during the past few years, including a case in 2007 that went something like this:

Russia has a state oil pipeline operator called Transneft.

The company operates the Druzhiba pipeline, which crosses Belarus to reach markets for the oil.

The company turned off the tap on that particular pipeline, accusing Belarus of illegally siphoning off oil for which it did not pay.

This was just another development in an ongoing squabble between the two countries.

Belarus claimed that Russia had not paid the tax to ship oil across Belarus (a tax that was imposed after Russia doubled the price it charged Belarus for gas).

In the meantime, European nations that had nothing to do with the dispute were deprived of their oil supply.

In these cases, there was no shortage of gas or oil. There was no natural disaster or act of war. The country that had the supply simply withheld shipment, putting countries that depend on the supply in an awkward position.

Energy suppliers do not need to use military power to create international mayhem. They simply need to turn off the taps to put other countries at their mercy. It gives these suppliers a terrifying amount of power and control.

Terrorism is one threat to our energy supply, but countries who control energy resources can create just as much misery by simply shutting off the taps.

We depend on energy for just about everything we do, and, unfortunately, much of the energy we use comes from countries that are less than sympathetic to our needs or objectives.

We can’t allow a temporary reduction in energy prices to weaken our resolve to improve energy efficiency and develop alternative renewable sources of energy – sources that reduce or eliminate our dependence on the whims of freaky foreign governments.

These things take time, and we can’t afford to wait for the wolves to show up at our door before we start taking the problem seriously. We have had our warning. The wolves are getting hungry, and their teeth are sharp.