|The following is an article from Uncle John's Triumphant 20th
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Middelgrunden off-shore wind farm (Photo: René Seindal [Flickr])
With rising gas cost at the pump, violence in the Middle East and the upcoming Presidential Election, it's no wonder that politicians are saying they have plans to make the United States independent of foreign oil. But can it be done? Here's a country that has kicked the foreign oil habit: Denmark.
In 1973, in response to the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Egypt, the Organization of Arab Oil Producing Countries began the infamous "Arab oil embargo" - any country that supported Israel in the war would stop receiving shipments of oil. That meant the United States, Japan, and most of Europe. The effect was devastating - soaring oil prices set off a worldwide recession.
Most of the affected countries quickly initiated plans to conserve energy: The United States lowered the speed limit to 55 mph and started programs like "turn off the lights at night."
But when the crisis ended, most nations dropped those programs and went back to their old ways. Denmark was different: being 99% dependent on foreign oil, it was particularly badly hit by the embargo. Determined never again to be at the mercy of their oil suppliers, the Danes kept conserving and worked to produce their own energy.
A COMMUNITY EFFORT
In 1976 the Danish public got behind an ambitious (and expensive) program to become entirely energy-independent, and, with the development of new, clean energy systems, to get out of the foreign oil business completely. Some of the steps taken:
• Strict energy-efficiency standards were placed on all buildings.
• Gas and automobiles were heavily taxed (Today new cars are taxed at more than 105% of the cost of the car.)
• "District heating systems" were implemented throughout the country, reusing normally wasted heat produced by power plants by piping it directly into homes. Today more than 60% of Danish homes are heated this way.
• The government invested heavily in clean and renewable energy systems, especially wind power. Today 21% of Denmark's energy production comes from wind farms. On top of that, they lead the world in wind-power technology - another product to export. The industry has created more than 20,000 jobs.
• Rebate campaigns helped people buy more energy-efficient - and therefore more expensive - home appliances. Today more than 95% of new appliances bought in Denmark have an "A" efficiency rating. ("A" is the best; "G" is the worst.)
• They started drilling for - and finding - more oil and natural gas within their own waters in the North Sea. (Showing that no plan is perfect, these efforts have long been opposed by environmentalists.)
• In 2005 the government committed $1 billion to develop and integrate better solar, tidal, and fuel-cell technology.
Denmark is a small nation geographically - roughly half the size of Maine - with a population of about 5.5 million, so that has to be taken into account when comparing it to larger and more populous countries.
Still, the Danes' accomplishments are startling. Remember that in 1973 Denmark was 99% dependent on foreign oil? Today they produce enough energy to cover all their own needs and sell the extra to other countries, the only European nation to do so. And their energy conservation programs have been so successful that over the last 30 years, even with extensive modernization and a 7% increase in population, their annual energy use has remained basically the same.
Still, although Denmark has among the highest taxes in the world, it also has one of the highest standards of living. And polls show that a majority of Danes would pay even higher taxes to remain self-sufficient and live free of fossil-fuel dependence.
In 2007 the Danes set further goals for the country: They hope to be able to provide 75% of all their energy consumption from wind farms by 2025 - less than two decades from now. "We aim to make Denmark independent of oil, gas, and coal in the long term," Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, "and strengthen our position as a world leader in clean energy." Svend Auken, a member of the Danish Parliament, added, "It need not be dull, it need not be boring, and we don't have to give up our lifestyle. We just have to be a little bit smarter about how we live."