Illustration by Leigh Douglas

On Nov. 12, the International Energy Agency (IEA) announced that by 2017 the United States will surpass both Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s top oil producer. The IEA projected that if the United States continues to wean itself from oil imports in favor of domestic natural gas, it will be energy self-sufficient by approximately 2035 and will be in turn exporting oil to other countries.

Energy independence has never been more important for the United States. The IEA forecasted that by 2035, almost 90 percent of Middle Eastern oil exports will be delivered to Asia, where skyrocketing economies are already creating a formidable host of competitors for conventional U.S. oil markets. Getting ahead of the game by exploring new technologies like hydraulic fracturing — better known by its less flattering moniker, “fracking” — to extract less accessible sources of light tight oil and shale gas will undoubtedly generate a boost in the U.S. economy.

But the impending triumph of energy independence is eclipsed by the crisis of global warming. On the same day it released its cheery projection for the U.S., the IEA announced in its World Energy Outlook report that by 2017 all of the energy infrastructures on earth will have a carbon output capable of producing an inexorable two degrees or greater rise in the planet’s temperature. The likelihood of avoiding this warming is virtually nil. According to the report, it would require an immediate overhaul of the planet’s entire energy infrastructure with a zero carbon producing model.

With the UN Population Division predicting an increase in world population exceeding 1.5 billion by 2035 — much of this growth is occurring in Asia and Africa, where demand for conventional fossil fuels is expected to tip global usage of barrels per day over 99 million — there is no way to get around the fact that climate change is going to get much worse in the immediate future.

Energy independence is a practical and achievable goal for the U.S. but it cannot come at the expense of the environment, and it should not be used as an excuse to withdraw from the global dialogue on climate change, where it must be both a role model and a leader. A Pew poll from March found that the number of Americans in favor of clean alternative sources of energy has dropped to 52 percent from 63 percent in just one year. While in the same period, the number in favor of expanding oil, coal and natural gas production has grown to 39 percent from 29 percent.

Increasing the production of clean and renewable sources of energy is already paying dividends to the American public. According to the CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association Rhone Resch, the number of Americans employed by solar power companies in the U.S. has more than doubled since 2009 as more small businesses rely on solar power. This year also marked a record year for the American Wind Energy Association, which stated in a market report that the United States can now power 13 million homes relying entirely on wind energy.

Cheap gas at the pump is small potatoes next to the fate of our planet. If we do not alter our behavior as a species, we may as well kiss the Anthropocene goodbye.