MULTIPLE THEMES pervade the energy debate. But the three addressed here -- energy security, adapting energy use to new price realities and distrust of the private sector in energy resource development -- are at the core of every energy discussion.
Perhaps no contemporary energy problem is as critical as that posed by insecure oil. Accidents, wars, terrorism, insurrections, revolutions, production cutbacks and embargoes all produce threats, ranging from serious to near catastrophic, to the world at large.
In assessing these risks and suggesting policies to deal with them, Energy and Security distinguishes between the critical (and too much neglected) problem of energy shocks and the serious but more manageable long-run issue of rising oil prices.
Three themes unify this collection of 13 essays to which 14 authors, drawing on their government experience and academic research, contributed. First, vulnerability is not the same as dependence on imported oil. Stockpiles can reduce vulnerability while imports continue; conversely, an energy self-sufficient country remains vulnerable to shocks borne by others.
Because "energy autarky is an illusion," U.S. policy must therefore consider actions and motivations of other countries. Expanding on this second theme, almost half of the book reviews energy problems and policies of key oil importers and exporters.
The third theme is that actions must be tailored to specific threats. The diversity of things that can go wrong -- and of how wrong they can go, and how fast -- means that multiple goals must be pursued using numerous policy tools, most of which must be in place before a crisis comes.
As the history of recent domestic energy policy shows, however, it is politically difficult to impose present costs to lessen uncertain future ones. And internationally, only an optimist can be hopeful about achieving cooperation when the incentives are to let the other guy bear the burden while you share the benefits.
In this context the book suggests a more activist international energy role for the United States. Growth of producer influence over world oil markets, at the expense of international oil companies, has "underminded traditional mechanisms for coping with crises."
Afghanistan has added one more worry about the security of the Persian Gulf and its oil exports. But the "Soviet interest in the Gulf is not oil per se, but the manipulation of Western dependence on that oil." Since oil supplies cannot be assured, importing economies must be made less vulnerable if foreign policy is not to be hostage to uninterrupted oil flows.
Much remains to be done. Political effort has concentrated on measures such as conservation, synfuels and solar energy that, however worthy on other grounds, do not provide much "shock proofing" for the economy over the next decade or even beyond. Energy and Security suggests we should instead be preparing for emergencies which are almost sure to come -- and perhaps soon.
This systematic treatment of energy security is essential reading for energy analysts. While the book has weaknesses, they mostly derive from its strengths. Multiple authorship supplies expertise and different perspectives but also produces some unevenness and repetition. Timely publication meant less time for careful editing. And the audience of decision-makers may be turned away by, the lost in, the detailed coverage needed to sserve specialists.
The final chapter, however, forms a quality briefing paper for officials dealing with energy and the economy. They should also dip into other sections, in particular the careful presentation of the uses and limits of military power in achieving oil security. The appendix on preparing for an emergency compresses much wisdom into a few pages.
The framework Energy and Security provides will help guide the coming energy debate, and its chapters will provide a ready reference as policy unfolds.
The pain of sharply rising energy prices can be substantially lessened -- in some cases all but eliminated -- by exploiting our vast potential for energy conservation. Our Energy: Regaining Control provides a thorough reconnaissance of that potential -- in transportation, buildings and industry.
This study has numerous virtues, not least in that Ross and Williams dispel a picture some may have of conservationists: reformers obsessed with solar energy as the only path worth contemplating and intent upon the federal government prescribing energy-use guidelines for society. The two physicists, though recognizing the inevitable solar transition, find that for the next several decades the possibilities -- largely on economic grounds -- point to a modest rather than decisive solar role.
They profess unease over major government intervention: "Energy efficiency improvements are usually discussed in terms of automotive fuel-economy standards, appliance energy-performance standards, and the like. . . . Market strategies tend to be more effective in promoting conservation than regulatory approaches." They want an even-handed shake for conservation -- meaning no unfair supply-side subsidies -- but do seek enlarged government involvement in conservation-enhancing research and development, particularly in partnership with universities. And advocacy of energy pricing reflecting "true" social costs -- a centerpiece of the analysis -- clearly implies unique governmental taxing initiatives.
Existing trends in energy use point to growth of no more than around 1 percent yearly over the next several decades. The authors, uncharitably, label this a "business-as-usual" course as if the deceleration from historic rates three times as high has not already signaled a change in practice and temperament. Their "fuel-conservation" hypothesizes an actual decline in U.S. energy use (of around 20 percent by 2010). That pathway, though intriguing, presupposes such fundamental change as to invite skepticism. It certainly requires substantially more thinking through, especially in terms of broad socioeconomic implications.
Ross and Williams' focus is on demand management, not supply enhancement. However, that "saved energy can be regarded as the major energy resource" (their italics) is too strong an assertion. One needs to anticipate the point where it may cost more to save an additional unit of energy than it costs to supply extra energy, even if, for now, conservation is decidedly more advantageous.
But Ross and Williams have filed an articulate brief for conservation. Detailed documentation and a readable text commend the book to college courses and a wider readership.
Who, when he observed the haphazard, if technologically innovative, development of our fuel and power system, called for "some central point in the federal government where these problems may be adequately considered" in 1920? Eugene V. Debs -- Socialist presidential candiate? Wrong. None other than that mining engineer, Herbert Hoover, whose reprinted piece in America's Energy is one of 103 articles and editorials published during 1894-1980 in The Nation.
The book has sections on each of the major energy sources, the one on oil -- with its attention to global issues and corporate control -- being especially extensive. The list of contributors is extraordinarily varied and surprising. For example, James M. Cain, provides a sympathetic and colorful account of the turmoil accompanying incipient unionization efforts in West Virginia coalfields in 1923. There are pieces by Fiorello La Guardia, George W. Norris, Bruce Catton, I.F. Stone, Leo Szilard and numerous more recent articles by The Nation's own correspondent, Robert Sherill.
Public land giveaways and "Big Oil's" pursuit of big bucks in defiance of the national interest are, predictably, prominent and enduring themes. One doesn't pick up The Nation expecting homage to the energy industry's enhancement of American welfare. Anyhow, clear-cut episodes of economic and political abuse justify much of the magazine's populist fervor.
Still, institutions -- even corporate ones -- do change with time, and it would be refreshing to find some acknowledgement that, say, an Atlantic Richfield of the 1980s might be impelled by goals and norms different from those of a 19th-century Standard Oil trust. And you don't have to be a Mobil fan to find Sherill's harangue against The New York Times, The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times for printing that company's ads journalistic talent misspent.
The editor's involvement went beyond choosing excerpts and providing background remarks. Engler's commentary, frequently more petulant and opinionated than The Nation's own editorials and articles, includes these diagnostic and prescriptive observations: "Corporate and government action has given highest priority to resources that are the most expensive, the most limited, or the most dangerous. . . . Socially desirable technologies have received minimum encouragement or have been withheld when they threaten private planning. . . . Energy has been abandoned to the profit manipulations of the global corporations. . . . End use planning must be introduced whereby the community developes the power to limit energy-devouring production while encouraging socially needed goods and services."
But the merit of this collection rests on what has been culled from a respected and lively journal of opinion rather than Engler's flirtation with caricature. The range of topics and historical periods surveyed illuminate the passions and complexities which have persistently conditioned the energy-policy debate in the United States.