[Paleopsych] CHE: The End of Easy Oil

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Mon Sep 27 14:43:42 UTC 2004

The End of Easy Oil
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 4.10.1


    You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist or a Michael Moore
    enthusiast to think that Donald Rumsfeld and his colleagues in the
    Bush administration are being disingenuous when they declare that the
    war in Iraq is not about oil.
    In fact, according to the authors of two new books, most
    foreign-policy and many domestic decisions made by the current
    administration -- and by its predecessors going back to that of
    Franklin D. Roosevelt -- have been shaped, overtly or covertly, by a
    desire to assure a secure supply of cheap petroleum for America's
    economic and military needs. And, the authors of the books conclude,
    maintaining that "energy security" will become more difficult, more
    dangerous, and more likely to produce violence in the years ahead.
    Our petroleum habit will have growing influence on both geopolitical
    and economic issues, according to Paul Roberts in The End of Oil: On
    the Edge of a Perilous New World, published by Houghton Mifflin, and
    Michael T. Klare, in Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of
    America's Growing Petroleum Dependency, published by Metropolitan
    As Roberts, a writer who focuses on economic and environmental issues,
    says: "Although we will not run out of oil tomorrow, we are nearing
    the end of what might be called easy oil. Even in the best of
    circumstances, the oil that remains will be more costly to find and
    produce and less dependable than the oil we are using today."
    Klare, a professor of peace and world-security studies at Hampshire
    College and defense correspondent for The Nation, suggests that the
    United States has never resolved the inherent tension between our need
    for assured supplies of petroleum to keep the economy cooking and our
    growing reliance on overseas sources of that oil, especially from
    areas, like the Persian Gulf, that have a long and continuing history
    of instability.
    Rather than develop a sustained strategy for reducing our reliance on
    such sources, he says, American leaders "have chosen to securitize oil
    -- that is, to cast its continued availability as a matter of
    'national security,' and thus something that can be safeguarded
    through the use of military force."
    Klare argues that our demands for energy and those of other major
    powers will require the petroleum-rich Gulf states to "boost their
    combined oil output by 85 percent between now and 2020. ... Left to
    themselves, the Gulf countries are unlikely to succeed; it will take
    continued American intervention and the sacrifice of more and more
    American blood to come even close. The Bush administration has chosen
    to preserve America's existing energy posture by tying its fortunes to
    Persian Gulf oil."
    Even more worrisome, Klare says, is the intense and growing
    competition among countries such as the United States, China, India,
    and those in the European Community over petroleum supplies. "This
    competition is already aggravating tensions in several areas,
    including the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea basins," he writes. "And
    although the great powers will no doubt seek to avoid clashing
    directly, their deepening entanglement in local disputes is bound to
    fan the flames of regional conflicts and increase the potential for
    major conflagrations."
    That's pretty alarming stuff, and some people may be tempted to
    dismiss Roberts's and Klare's analyses as anti-Bush, anti-oil
    rhetoric. But the questions they raise transcend approval or
    disapproval of any one administration, and go to the core of whether
    any country can -- purposefully and without vast disruptions -- make
    the transition from an economy dependent on one finite resource to an
    economy based on renewable, nonpolluting resources.
    The authors argue that such a transition would be difficult in the
    best of times, and that these are not the best of times.
    Roberts notes, for instance, that the development of renewable
    alternatives to petroleum, such as biofuels, solar power, clean coal,
    and hydrogen, has not been as rapid or as simple as their promoters
    had hoped. And even if those alternatives had been developed more
    fully, he adds, "many of the new fuels and technologies lack high
    power density and simply will not be able to deliver the same energy
    punch as the hydrocarbons they replace."
    What that means, he says, is that the new technologies must be
    accompanied by sharp increases in energy efficiency. He is not
    sanguine about achieving such gains. "In spite of high energy prices
    and rising concerns about energy security, consumers and policymakers
    alike have all but stopped talking about the ways we use energy, how
    much we waste, and what might be changed."
    Klare writes that President Bush's choice of Vice President Dick
    Cheney to conduct a major review of energy policy preordained an
    antiefficiency outcome. When the National Energy Policy Development
    Group began its work, in February 2001, he writes, the United States
    "stood at a crossroads." It could "continue consuming more and more
    petroleum and sinking deeper and deeper into its dependence on
    imports," or "it could choose an alternative route, enforcing strict
    energy conservation, encouraging the use of fuel-efficient vehicles,
    and promoting the development of renewable energy sources."
    While the group's report -- National Energy Policy -- gave lip service
    to the concepts of conservation and energy self-sufficiency, he says,
    a close reading "reveals something radically different." The policy
    "never envisions any reduction in our use of petroleum," Klare writes.
    "Instead it proposes steps that would increase consumption while
    making token efforts to slow, but not halt, our dependence on foreign
    Given the Bush administration's close ties to the oil-and-gas
    industry, such an outcome may have been inevitable, Klare says. But
    even an administration without such links would find it politically
    risky to move to a radically different energy policy. Like his
    predecessors, he notes, President Bush "understood that shifting to
    other sources of energy would entail a change in lifestyle that the
    American public might not easily accept. ... And so he chose the path
    of least resistance."
    Roberts, who focuses on the question of total energy supply more than
    on the geopolitical consequences of relying on foreign oil, finds
    little cause for optimism in our current strategy. The longer we put
    off the transition to a postpetroleum era, the harder that transition
    will be, he says, and the more unrest and violence we will encounter.
    As oil supplies dwindle, "energy security, always a critical mission
    for any nation, will steadily acquire greater urgency and priority,"
    he writes. "As it does, international tensions and the risk of
    conflict will rise, and these growing threats will make it
    increasingly difficult for governments to focus on longer-term
    challenges, such as climate or alternative fuels -- challenges that
    are in themselves critical to energy security, yet which,
    paradoxically, will be seen as distractions from the campaign to keep
    energy flowing. ... The more obvious it becomes that an oil-dominated
    energy economy is inherently insecure, the harder it becomes to move
    on to something else."
    In the meantime, Klare argues, the Bush administration's war on
    terrorism, the impulse of its neoconservative supporters to spread
    "democracy" to the Middle East, and our desperate need for stable
    supplies of oil have merged into a single strategy -- one that will
    commit us to maintaining military forces in many parts of the world
    and to using those forces to protect oil fields and supply routes.
    "It is getting hard," he writes, "to distinguish U.S. military
    operations designed to fight terrorism from those designed to protect
    energy assets."
    Many of the authors' arguments and conclusions have been advanced
    before, and both men fall into the category of "energy pessimists,"
    who do not believe that we will be able to maintain our current levels
    of oil consumption for as long as agencies like the U.S. Geological
    Survey and Europe's International Energy Agency predict. Such
    agencies, Roberts says, "are under intense political pressure to err
    on the side of wild optimism."
    But regardless of whether Klare and Roberts err on the side of
    pessimism, their message is unsettling: We are headed into uncharted
    territory, led by a government that seems prepared to use force, when
    necessary, to preserve the current system. We face growing competition
    from other countries for a finite resource at a time of growing
    animosity toward the United States.
    It is a message that is moving beyond academic and environmental
    circles. In a recent "midyear outlook" report, Wachovia Securities, a
    large investment company, examines the impact of "the end of cheap
    oil" for investors. "We neither expect, nor wish to dwell on,
    worst-case scenarios -- but the market knows it is foolhardy to ignore
    the possibilities," the report says. It warns that with record-high
    oil prices and many domestic refineries operating at or near capacity,
    "a disruption somewhere in the production chain could have a greater
    than normal effect on energy markets."
    The war on terror, it adds, "raises the risk that such a disruption
    would not be an accident."

    Malcolm G. Scully is The Chronicle's editor at large.

More information about the paleopsych mailing list