Every nation has its own problems. However, as we move forward in the 21st century, energy security proves itself to be a problem that practically every nation faces. Historically, energy has been the most important factor for any regime, nation, or leader. Without it, there is a major threat to day-to-day operations, including everything from powering transportation to taking a shower.
First, you might wonder what energy security specifically refers to. At its root, we can understand energy security as the accessibility, affordability, efficiency, and environmental stewardship of a nation. Further, energy security speaks the independence of a nation. When one is insecure, they either stagnant and fail to progress or they must depend on others for the progression.
Let’s break down each idea:
Energy Security as Availability – Availability speaks to the accessibility of resources. As reported by Benjamin Sovacool and Marilyn Brown, “Part of ensuring availability entails procuring a sufficient and uninterrupted supply and minimizing foreign dependency on fuels… Aspects of availability are diversification and preventing the sabotage or attack of critical infrastructure.”
Energy Security as Affordability – Being able to acquire the resources unavailable to you is the next step in energy security. According to the same source, “Slightly more than 50% of the examined literature suggest[s] affordability [is] as an important principle” as availability. Truth is, many – if not all – nations don’t have access to all the resources needed.
Energy Security as Efficiency – Conservation and efficiency of the resources bought and available is the next most important factor. Here, “innovation, research, and development” are crucial aspects to energy security. Here, a major component is consumer demand and behavior.
Energy Security as Environmental Stewardship – Finally, the act of “balancing current resource consumption with the resource requirements of future generations” is the next step in energy security. As many argue, we simply borrow our world from future generations, and ensuring a healthy, resource-laden environment is a moral obligation.
How Secure is the United States
It may not come as a surprise to many people – the United States is one of the most insecure nations regarding energy. Despite the creation of the Department of Energy in 1977, the Energy Security Act of 1980, and even the recent push with the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, the US faces major hurdles to energy independence and, in extent, security.
But how do we measure this?
In a study by Benjamin K. Sovacool and Marilyn A. Brown titled “Competing Dimensions of Energy Security: An International Perspective”, 22 countries – including the United States – were compared and evaluated on a level of 10 energy security indicators. Among them were oil import dependence, dependence on petroleum transport fuels, fuel intensity, natural gas imports, and electricity use.
From 1970 to 2007, each country was assessed given its direction of security. For example, if a country required more oil imports, a negative score was given.
Here’s the energy security table of z-scores (click to enlarge):
As we can see, the United performed poorly compared to the other 21 countries. In fact, only Greece, Portugal, and Spain performed worse than the United States. As reported by the study, “The country has improved in only three of the indicators from 1970 to 2007—energy intensity, fuel economy, and SO2 emissions. In contrast, the country has become significantly more dependent on foreign supplies of natural gas and oil and remains the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases.”
Because of this, the United States has been placed in a position of susceptibility. Not only are we more prone to price spikes and energy disruption, but we have little ability outside the military to quickly remedy these problems.
Finding security in the world requires a dynamic approach to the problem. From renewable energy like solar and wind to efforts in green education, the United States must swiftly and strongly move toward a more sustainable, secure energy future. At the same time, consumers in the United States must work at making more sustainable choices in their everyday.
Although we face immediate insecurity, there is still hope. Small actions on behalf people translate into big change, and pressuring representatives to invest in an independent energy future is a step in the right direction.
Special thanks to Benjamin Sovacool and Marilyn Brown, as well as Annual Reviews.