More tar sands oil is not the answer to our energy problem. In 2008, while he was on the campaign trail, President Barack Obama encouraged Americans to “be the generation that finally frees itself from the tyranny of oil.” Obama’s energy plan recognized what environmental groups have been saying for decades: “improving energy efficiency is the fastest, cheapest, most cost-effective method” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save us money, and enhance energy independence. We couldn't agree more.
The main driver of tar sands expansion is our over-reliance on increasingly dirty oil as a primary source of energy. Rather than tripling tar sands production over the next 17 years, the most rational approach to meeting our energy needs is to reduce our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels by building a clean energy economy based on energy efficiency and low-carbon, renewable energy sources.
But in order for energy efficiency to become the rule rather than exception, it’s essential that effective government policy drives investment in efficiency rather than more dirty oil production. Every year, the Canadian government gives more than $1.4 billion in tax subsidies to oil, coal, and gas companies. In the United States, government subsidies for fossil fuels range from $10 billion to $52 billion annually, far greater than any support for renewable energies.
These public funds would be better spent on energy conservation and renewable energy instead. A McKinsey & Company study found that significant investment in energy efficiency could cut U.S. energy consumption by 23 percent by 2020, at the same time eliminating more than $1.2 trillion in waste, saving customers nearly $700 billion, and creating up to 900,000 direct jobs. This would reduce the need for any tar sands oil at all and prevent 1.1 gigatons of greenhouse-gas pollution annually—the equivalent of taking the entire US fleet of passenger vehicles and light trucks off the roads.
What are we waiting for?