Culture Change e-Letter #3
Spare Iraq and the atmosphere, avoid oil shock
The impending attack on Iraq does make sense for pumping up the U.S. and British military. But it does not pump more oil. Oil may be secured in the short term, which has been the history of U.S. and European involvement in the Middle East. But the danger of upsetting the oil cart becomes more severe as years go on.
The always restrained New York Times has warned, "If oil supplies are disrupted, as they were during the 1991 gulf war, and (oil) prices rise sharply, the economic effects would be felt in the United States and around the world." (July 30, 2002) The next day, the Times's Thomas Friedman spoke of oil at "$60 per barrel or $6."
As a veteran oil analyst I think the risk could be even greater than something like 1979's oil market disruption that was triggered by the Iranian revolution. (A 9% shortfall in gasoline supplies made for a replay of the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo's "days of lines and hoses," as immortalized by my co-publisher Dan Lundberg.)
The peak of world oil "production" (extraction) is happening about now, or in the next few years. The inevitable downturn in oil extraction, an unalterable fact no matter what additional reserves are eventually extracted, will not allow for any more "unlimited growth" in the economy. A small shortage in world oil supplies can cause panic buying, and create economic chaos in a matter of days. The bubble of the stock market and the whole petroleum infrastructure will burst, and an historic phase of socioeconomic reorganizationalong the lines of thrift and local self-reliancewill start to replace the world oil/motor vehicle economy. Renewable energy cannot provide a seamless transition (as explained below), especially when the trucks finally stop coming to the supermarket.
The final crippling oil shock is coming in the next several months or years whether or not we throw the Middle East into a deadlier mess. But the Bushies assume that (1) the U.S. military can control everything during and after the attack, and (2) the world economy will be even more under U.S./corporate control to a satisfactory degree. However, the likelihood of precipitating an oil-related economic disruption is enhanced by war, international jitteriness on oil supply, and the greater chance of violent reprisals like 9-11.
This is no time to step up the milking of the "war-time president" formula for popularity and immunity from ethical and legal scrutiny. But, this is a very activist regime, known around the world as a renegade, so woe to other peoples of other lands. This nation has engaged in over one hundred military interventions in its history and has killed perhaps six million civilians. Now the difference is that a major petroleum disruption, which is on tap anyway, can kill more than bombs and depleted uraniumleft on the ground amidst food boxes rained down from agribusiness-military contractors. Here's how:
The world is eating petroleum: For all but the few remaining self-sufficient villages and nomads obtaining all their own food, the whole globe is fed by oil-shipped food that was grown mostly with petrochemical agriculture. Think also of the oil fuels used in tractors and in other machinery. Today's mechanized, petrochemical agriculture uses 100 times the energy that traditional, non-mechanized agriculture does (or did).
Traditional, non-mechanized agriculture produces (or produced) ten calories of food for each calorie of energy inputted into the food system.
The U.S. uses more than twice the per capita energy per acre of farmed land compared to other industrialized nations, and 28% of the world's agricultural energy budget.
Flying commodities by air, which uses nearly 40 times the amount of fuel that sea transport uses, is now a regular feature of world trade.
Every ten glasses of orange juice drunk in Britain requires one glass of diesel fuel for processing and transport. That diesel poisons the world.
This petro-agriculture system has allowed for a massive swelling of all industrial and semi-industrial populations since the 1930s. There is no handy replacement for petroleum in agriculture/food distribution - for six billion people, anyway. Therefore, a crash in oil supplies would mean a population crash, if the needed oil is not well distributed during a well-planned oil-weaning phase.
With economic crash, and people no longer able to consume their lives away and drive for dollars, agriculture and food distribution could be hit with insurmountable interference, upon an oil/socioeconomic collapse. The fact that unethical corporate energy corporations have put nails into the economy's coffin is sort of a side show, with ironies including the Bushies/Cheney type of profiteers.
There will be a petroleum supply crash because the dominance of petroleum corporations and oil exporting nations has been complete. The oil market is sensitive and vulnerable because it is so massive, which in turn keeps alternative energy forms suppressed and undeveloped. And, the substitute energy forms that that have been introduced are not nearly as versatile as petroleum. Petroleum in the form of natural gas makes such things as critical fertilizers and seemingly indispensable plastic bags. One does not get chemicals for agriculture out of solar panels, or asphalt-oil out of windmills, or tires (synthetic rubber) out of fuel cells. What's more, the "technofix" energy forms never have imbedded energy taken into account, i.e., how much fossil fuel goes into making the renewable-energy system components. Net energy is therefore crucial, at a time when new U.S. oil wells today on average "produce" at zero net energy.
Instead of going after Iraq militarily and thinking only in terms of oil, the U.S. government and its corporate-establishment alter ego would serve everyone better by allowing segments of the economy to be weaned off fossil fuels. Conservation, and secondly renewable energy, would avoid some of the disruption and chaos ahead, and spare the atmosphere from global warming gases. Low oil prices are even worse than super high oil prices, because demand has been maximized by subsidizing petroleum. Conservationists differ with the establishment view on oil prices: "A proposed attack on Iraq is an extraordinarily high-risk economic adventure that could either destabilize the governments of one or more oil exporting countries by creating a prolonged period of low prices, or, if things went wrong..." said Philip K. Verleger Jr., an oil consultant with the Council on Foreign Relations (emphasis added), in the New York Times July 31.
The biggest oil spill in the history of the world was the first Gulf War. Besides precious waters damaged, the toll on the atmosphere and climate was immeasurable. The Earth is a closed system, but we just keep hacking away at it even as it shows clear signs of dying. Is that road the only way to go, when our living within the ecosystem's carrying capacity and enhancing local economics are proven, key elements of a sustainable society?
For ideas on living and taking action, see our website and links at http://www.culturechange.org. Then turn off all your machines and talk to people face to face. Solving Saddam Hussein and other aggressors may become simpler than the corporate media and the government would have us think.
- Jan Lundberg
©2002 Sustainable Energy Institute
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