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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

All Too Quiet on the Energy Front

Jeff Sachs isn't very happy with the Bush administration's approach to avoiding an energy crisis in the future. He thinks we are fighting the wrong war:

Fighting the wrong war, by Jeffrey Sachs, Guardian: Unlimited: It always comes back to oil. The continuing misguided interventions in the Middle East by the United States and the United Kingdom have their roots deep in the Arabian sand. Ever since Winston Churchill led the conversion of Britain's navy from coal to oil at the start of the last century, the Western powers have meddled incessantly in the affairs of Middle Eastern countries to keep the oil flowing, toppling governments and taking sides in wars...

Just when one is lulled into thinking that something other than oil is at the root of current US and UK action in Iraq, reality pulls us back. Indeed, President Bush recently invited journalists to imagine the world 50 years from now. He did not have in mind the future of science and technology, or a global population of nine billion, or the challenges of climate change and biodiversity. Instead, he wanted to know whether Islamic radicals would control the world's oil.

Whatever we are worrying about in 50 years, this will surely be near the bottom of the list. Even if it were closer to the top, overthrowing Saddam Hussein to ensure oil supplies in 50 years ranks as the least plausible of strategies. Yet we know from a range of evidence that this is what was on Bush's mind when his government shifted its focus from the search for Osama bin Laden to fighting a war in Iraq.

The overthrow of Saddam was the longstanding pet idea of the neoconservative Project for a New American Century, which was already arguing in the 1990's that Saddam was likely to achieve a stranglehold over "a significant proportion of the world's oil supplies." Vice President Dick Cheney reiterated these fears in the run-up to the Iraq war, claiming that Saddam Hussein was building a massive arsenal of weapons of mass destruction to "take control of a great portion of the world's energy supplies".

Cheney's facts were obviously wrong, but so was his logic. Dictators like Saddam make their living by selling their oil, not by holding it in the ground. Perhaps, though, Saddam was too eager to sell oil concessions to French, Russian, and Italian companies rather than British and US companies.

In any event, the war in Iraq will not protect the world's energy supplies in 50 years. If anything, the war will threaten those supplies by stoking the very radicalism it claims to be fighting. Genuine energy security will come not by invading and occupying the Middle East, or by attempting to impose pliant governments in the region, but by recognizing certain deeper truths about global energy.

First, energy strategy must satisfy three objectives: low cost, diverse supply, and drastically reduced carbon dioxide emissions. This will require massive investments in new technologies and resources, not a "fight to the finish" over Middle East oil. Important energy technologies will include conversion of coal to liquids (such as gasoline), use of tar sands and oil shale, and growth in non-fossil-fuel energy sources. Indeed, there is excellent potential for low-cost solar power, zero-emitting coal-based technologies, and safe and reliable nuclear power. ...

It is ironic that an administration fixated on the risks of Middle East oil has chosen to spend hundreds of billions - potentially trillions - of dollars to pursue unsuccessful military approaches to problems that can and should be solved at vastly lower cost, through R&D, regulation, and market incentives. The biggest energy crisis of all, it seems, involves the misdirected energy of a US foreign policy built on war rather than scientific discovery and technological progress.

Whether Iraq is all about oil or not, there has been an underinvestment in research into alternatives sources of energy, and an unwillingness to consider policies to reduce carbon emissions. Iraq being about something other than oil won't change that, and I doubt it would change the administration's energy policy. We could do more than we are doing now even being in Iraq, and as Sachs notes, even more yet if we weren't.

    Posted by on Tuesday, September 26, 2006 at 01:30 AM in Economics, Environment, Iraq and Afghanistan, Policy, Politics, Terrorism | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (29)


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