Peak Oil News: 01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006

Friday, January 27, 2006

Osama's Secret Weapon

By Neal Brandvik

Several times a year Osama Bin Laden emerges from seclusion to taunt America. There is always a quiet confidence about him as he proclaims that victory for Islam and God over America is inevitable. In addition to promising more attacks on us, Osama says he is patient and willing to wait for our demise as long as it takes. Is he crazy? Where does he get the idea that a group of rag tag thugs who live in caves is going to defeat the greatest superpower nation in history? After all, as horrendous as the 9-11attacks were, our economy rebounded quickly.

To find out where Osama gets his mojo, go to your computer and Google “Peak Oil.” One of the websites that will come up is . This meticulously documented site is authored by Matt Savinar, a recent law school graduate. It begins with the statement: “Dear Reader, civilization as we know it is about to come to an end.” Mr. Savinar is not referring to Osama’s vision of civilization but our modern, petroleum based civilization that Dick Cheney refers to as “The American Way of Life” that is not negotiable according to Mr. Cheney.

I’m betting Osama has visited this site and read it thoroughly. He’s smug and confident about the demise of America because he knows you will dismiss Mr. Savinar as a “chicken little” or “environmentalist wacko.” If you decide to defy Osama and read Mr. Savinar’s website carefully, you’ll find out many of the folks warning us about Peak Oil are very rational and conservative. One is Republican Congressman Roscoe Bartlett who has quoted the ominous warnings from and read them into the congressional record during several Peak Oil speeches in Congress. Another is Mathew Simmons, an energy investment banker and member of Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force. Need more reason to take Peak Oil seriously? How about the CEO of Chevron Texaco who started a marketing campaign to address the challenges of Peak Oil with their website .

Bin Laden’s strategy is clear. He learned from another Muslim – Muhammed Ali – in his fight with George Foreman. Remember the rope-a-dope? While we exhaust our resources “taking the fight to the terrorists” instead of massively investing in alternative energy, Osama’s army will grow because Arabs know our military presence in the Middle East is all about the oil. The world knows this except for Americans, especially Iraqis who chased the British out of Iraq during the 1920s for doing the same thing. As global oil depletion squeezes the American economy, Osama’s troops will continue to assault our “Way of Life” by bombing pipelines and killing oil workers. Unfortunately, in the long run there aren’t enough tax dollars and willing young Americans to protect the Middle East’s vast oil infrastructure. Since 60% of the oil remaining on the planet is in Muslim countries, Osama’s minions never have to go far to make increasingly scarce, expensive oil more scarce and more expensive.

Geography, geology and time are on Osama’s side not ours. The Peak Oil wolf is at our door and he knows it. Osama also knows we won’t confront our petroleum demon any time soon. No politician who is interested in keeping his or her job will stop the continual building, maintaining and accessorizing of suburban sprawl that makes us utterly dependent on cheap oil. The Bush Administration can’t talk about Peak Oil because acknowledging it makes America’s oil grab in Iraq look obvious to all. They know killing for a resource that will run out some day is not palatable to a Christian nation. So Bush and Bin Laden have one thing in common. They don’t want you to know about Osama’s secret weapon -- Peak Oil.

How can you wipe the smirk off Osama’s face? Send this link to every politician and community leader you can think of: . The Hirsch Report was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy. Its conclusion challenges the notion that the free market will solve Peak Oil.

“The world has never faced a problem like Peak Oil. Without massive mitigation more than a decade before the fact, the problem will be pervasive and will not be temporary. Previous energy transitions (wood to coal and coal to oil) were gradual and evolutionary; oil peaking will be abrupt and revolutionary”

Make sure you DEMAND action other than continual war in the Middle East!

Public health in a post-petroleum world

By G. Daniel Bednarz, PhD

It is better to be healthy than ill or dead. That is the beginning and end of the only real argument for [public health].
- Geoffrey Rose, The Strategy of Preventive Medicine.

The world is near the point where half of all its readily usable petroleum has been consumed. Beyond this plateau looms a bellcurve-shaped decline into the middle decades of this century to the end of the petroleum era. Some of you may recognize this phenomenon by the idiom “Peak Oil.” However, as far as I know, the profound implications of Peak Oil remain unaddressed by public health, as they are throughout most of our society.

At this point you might be thinking, “Oil is the concern of geologists, economists, and industrialists -- and maybe politicians. What does it have to do with public health?”

Public health textbooks –- excellent indicators of how the discipline thinks of itself and conceives of its mission -- devote modest space to energy, let alone to the uniqueness of oil as a resource. Most have a paragraph or two on the importance of energy and note that oil will be available for at least another fifty years. Given this perilous misunderstanding by the discipline let me reply, “fair enough” to your question and set as my main goal today making the relationship between Peak Oil and public health an “interesting” call to reflection, as opposed to “absurd” and none of your concern (Strauss, 1971).

The Ubiquity of Oil

Petroleum –- and natural gas -- plays a crucial role in industrial society. It provides fuel for transportation and machines, as well as in pesticides and fertilizers for food production, heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer, pharmaceuticals and medicines, and an extensive array of manufactured goods -- from toothbrushes to DVDs to the elastic in our underwear.

In sum, oil is the indispensable multipurpose resource of industrial society, both in terms of the energy it provides and the products we manufacture from it. Accordingly, absent alternatives to oil public health will face a situation that will eventually become worse than the one many thought was eliminated once and for all one hundred years ago when the profession incorporated itself around the germ theory of disease prevention and intervention. Because of its impending scarcity, we face the possibility of “Overshoot.” I say more on overshoot in the final section of this report.

Alternatives to Petroleum and Natural Gas

A review of where we are regarding alternative sources of energy is needed because I speculate that most of you are wary of my premise that the world is running out of cheap oil or replacements for it. Therefore, what follows is a cautious review. My wish is to sober you by distinguishing between what is widely acknowledged: oil recovery will peak and then decline and at present there are no scalable or equally versatile alternatives to it; and what is speculation: from the dystopian vision of being catapulted back to the Stone Age after an intermezzo of several billions souls dying from war, famine and disease; to the utopian where there’s absolutely nothing to worry about because the Market and technology will save us, perhaps –- far-fetched as it seems -- by integrating human existence with computers and thereby revolutionizing our relationship to the bio-physical environment (Kurzweil, 2005).

While there are a few maverick geologists who claim that the earth produces petroleum a-biotically in its core, making it in essence a renewable resource, the evidence seems incontrovertible that oil has a primordial biotic origin. This means oil –- and also natural gas -- is finite, a one-shot affair for civilization –- in any scope of human time -- that must be replaced by alternative energy sources if our level of technological and material existence is to continue, let alone be universalized through what we call “Globalization.”

Jimmy Carter made tentative efforts to talk to the nation about fossil fuel alternatives –remember he was trained in physics—and was ridiculed as a wimpy defeatist for his efforts. That was three decades ago and, given the enormous amount of energy required to run industrial society, especially America, it is now late in the alternatives game. There is little dispute that we have not developed genuine, scalable energy substitutes since the 1970s and even if we had them in development it would be years, probably decades, before they could be incorporated fully into the infrastructure of the nation. The economic --in dollars -- and social costs --in hardships of various kinds -- of the conversion will be stupendous.

At this point, some may question my insinuation that the free market and technology will not produce a relatively painless fix, a Star Trek “Dilithium Crystals” solution, to our nascent energy problems. While space constraints prevent elaboration, I offer the following comments. The “Hydrogen Economy” sounds catchy but at present is unworkable due to a number of unresolved technological issues, plus the fact that hydrogen is no more a fuel than is electricity –you need to spend energy to produce the hydrogen that carries energy . Some advocate synthetic (liquefying) coal while pooh-poohing the cost to the consumer ($5.00 a gallon gas), the additional pollution and climate change (“global warming”) it will generate, and the ecological destructiveness of massive coal extraction; furthermore, there is no guarantee we have more than several decades of relatively low-energy coal left in the earth.

Similarly, wind, solar, biomass, nuclear, and hydroelectric at present can provide only a small fraction of the energy we now get from oil and natural gas; moreover, they are reliant, either in construction or maintenance, on oil and gas. Finally they are not, repeat, not wholly “clean” technologies that avoid worsening the already perilous situation of climate change underway. As things stand, nothing rivals oil and natural gas for their convertibility, energy density and other features, such as their role in increasing agricultural yield to phenomenal levels (“The Green Revolution”) –levels that cannot be maintained without them, and --according to recent figures -- per capita agricultural yield probably went into decline in the late 1980s.

The questions to put to those who are now coming along with “too good to be true” energy solutions stem from the laws of thermodynamics; these laws are immutable, they do not respond to wishes, fantasies, rhetoric, public relations or propaganda. When appreciated, these physical laws temper us to the real task of finding scalable and ecologically safe energy alternatives. To reiterate, the challenges of such an energy source conversion are manifold and currently are barely being addressed, relative to the enormity of the tasks of discovery, development, and subsequent conversion.

Peak Oil and the Limits to Growth

Twenty years ago some spoke of the limits to growth. But today we now know that growth is the engine of change. Growth is the friend of the environment.
- President George H. W. Bush, 1992.

As a transition into discussing public health in a post-petroleum world, I want to review an important assessment by Matthew Simmons, an oil industry consultant and investment analyst. As some of you may know Simmons claims to have explained Peak Oil to the G. W. Bush administration , which itself has several former oil executives as members. Simmons’ (2000) analysis in “Revisiting the Limits to Growth Could the Club of Rome Have Been Correct, After All?” runs counter to his vested interests. He is, after all, in the business of making money with money, for which you need a constantly growing –- that is, limitless -- economy. Also keep in mind that the financial and oil industries tip toe around Peak Oil, referring to “interruptions” in supply but rarely, if ever, to the fact that oil and natural gas are finite resources .

He notes that in the mid 1990s when he began to discuss Peak Oil he would receive criticism –- from his community of economists, financiers and oil industry executives -- that he was a “Malthusian” or a “Club of Rome” doomsdayer. Simmons began to wonder why The Limits to Growth, published in 1972, could still years later draw such acrimonious criticism. He decided to read the book and then realized the disparagement he’d been hearing about Limits was either distorted or wholly untrue. He writes, “Nowhere in the book was there any mention about running out of anything [emphasis in origina;] by 2000…the book was focused on how the world might look” in 2070. “There was not one sentence or even a single word ...about an oil the year 2000.” (Simmons, 2000: 4). To his surprise, he learned that the book was an academic exercise in computer simulation –quite cutting edge for its time -- of the overshoot consequences of population and economic growth. A main conclusion was that –- surprise -- there are ecological limits to population and economic growth and therefore to the “Carrying Capacity” of the earth, that is, how many people it can support at a sustainable level. Limits to Growth projected that the earth’s ultimate carrying capacity was not sustainable under virtually any continual growth scenario beyond the year 2070.

Simmons offers this observation, which is relevant to public health and, overall, to those concerned with eliminating poverty and promoting economic development in the world:

The world is now 30 years into this 100-year view. It did grow as fast as the book warned. The gap between the rich and the poor never narrowed. Instead, the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” grew by a significant measure [from 35/65 in 1970 to 20/80 in 2000] …The current strain on many of our precious resources … would have been far worse by 2000 … had these [poor] people also begun to significantly improve their standard of living at the same time. An accidental safety valve for many potential scarce resources turned out to be the widening of the rich/poor gap." (2000: 5).

Simmons stresses that the Soviet Union’s collapse triggered sharp declines in public health and concomitant resource consumption in Russia; in essence he argues that the collapse delayed Peak Oil. He stresses that if the gap between rich and poor had narrowed and the Soviet Union not ended, “…the world could have easily reached an energy consumption rate of between 220 and 240 million BOE [barrels of equivalent oil energy] per day by 2000, assuming such vast energy additions could have been supplied” [emphasis added] (2000: 9).

If we concede that as a rule as poverty declines public health improves we must also acknowledge that energy consumption increases as living standards improve. Simmons observes, “A casual reading of the possible future limits to water, arable land, fish stocks, etc. causes one to question how the world could even cope with continued population growth and a narrowing of the rich/poor gap” (2000: 13). He also lists the infrequently mentioned fact that economic growth translates into increases in pollution. Then he observes with irony, “These are the issues that should now [in 2000] be dominating ... discussions of the world’s public policy planners” (2000: 13).

Finally, Simmons discusses the status of OPEC to counter the widespread notion that they are both prosperous and floating on a sea of virtually limitless oil. For example, he informs us that Saudi Arabia, a nation we think of as being composed entirely of rich jet-setters, had 6 million citizens in 1970 and 22 million by 2000; by 2030, at the current fertility rate, the population will be 45 to 50 million people . “Most people still think Saudi Arabia is a very rich country. To the contrary, its economy is now in shambles as a result of the population explosion which has … occurred” (Simmons, 2005: 14). Simmons calculates that if all OPEC, most of whom have poverty rates between 25% to 50% and burgeoning populations, were to attempt to narrow the rich/poor gap they would likely be unable to remain oil exporting nations --they would consume all their oil domestically.

Furthermore, as Peak Oil passes world-wide and OPEC too descend down the bell curve, they face a grim future because most of them have no other viable economic exports and their populations are growing exponentially.

Although time prevents us from delving into this, the little known conditions of OPEC are startling, especially in light of our massive military presence in the region to “protect our vital strategic interests.”

Peak Oil and Public Health

So what is the future of public health in a post-petroleum world? Let’s go through several wide-ranging scenarios organized around the concept of overshoot to get a feel for how they would affect public health.

I say “get a feel” advisedly. It is my opinion that the distress of this topic has opened the door to all manner of prophets and prognosticators. From left to right, from anti-modernist survivalists to computer science utopians, to permaculturalists to Marxists to fascists, and so on, many are foretelling the future. But we all know that experts are typically wrong about the future; they too suffer from confirmation bias, overlooking or misconstruing their past mistakes, and from misunderstanding statistics and misapplying probability theory. And some will dissemble for a bit of fame and fortune. Also, bright and gifted people are wont to ignore a great deal of disagreeable information, thinking their intelligence is sufficient.

Further, we are not rational creatures; we possess rationality, but we are –especially when under collective social stress—subject to the spell of mythic “quick fixes” and explanations (Morrison, 2002). Relatedly, I mention Isaiah Berlin’s famous Hedgehog/Fox dichotomy, where the hedgehog knows a great –“optimal” -- deal about one area and the fox knows a sufficient –“satisfycing” -- amount about many things. Since peak oil cuts across so many fields and is of such potential magnitude, there will be many highly intelligent hedgehogs who think what they know (in depth) is most important to peak oil. I’m a fox, myself.

Given what we know about ourselves I believe that we should, on the one hand, look skeptically at those who have totalizing analyses, answers, and predictions. On the other hand, we should not mistake motive debunking –“you make this argument because you’re misanthropic”—as refutation. To inject some sixties pop culture triteness, “Something’s happenin’ here…”

So I begin with this question: what do we know with some degrees of empirical and logical certainty?

1. Oil is a resource modern society relies upon to operate.
2. Populations and economies are growing as oil production is about to plateau and then decline.
3. We presently have no scalable substitutes for oil (and don’t forget that it has multiple uses beyond transportation).
4. When critical resources, or one critical resource, become scarce, if no substitute is available, something will have to change in the population-economic activity-ecology equation.
5. If society does not make changes, nature will do it, typically through the biological mechanism of a population Die-Off that reestablishes the balance.

This is, I suggest, a bare-bones a scientific grounding from which to assess Peak Oil.

The following scenarios are minimalist; the more detail given the less credible the scenario because things virtually never work out just as predicted. And, most important, human actions can, if taken in time, alter the future –this is my primary reason for engaging in this project.

• No Overshoot

Most classically trained, or “free market”, economists argue that Peak Oil is a temporary setback or literally of no consequence –it’s a meretricious concoction of tree huggers who cannot admit that the Market solves all problems. “Yes, we’re running out of oil, but so what?” they retort. All that’s needed is a substitute(s) for fossil fuels. Once our intellectual talent is focused on the task, we’ll find scalable and suitable energy alternatives and we’ll carry on with progress and growth for a long time, even into outer space and to other planets. We are, after all, an exceptional species capable of great ingenuity and, as we realized from the fall of communism, we have reached “The End of History” (Fukuyama, 1992), meaning that all human social problems are resolvable in the capitalist framework. As well-known free-market enthusiast Julian Simon said, “The material conditions of life will continue to get better for most people, in most countries, most of the time, indefinitely.” Accordingly, all environmental issues in addition to or associated with Peak Oil will be solved in due time. There will be no overshoot -- it is an impossibility.

This definition of the situation assumes 1) that the Market and technology are receiving signals from the earth that are timely and decipherable; 2) that the economy does not rest on the foundation of the earth’s ecology; and 3) that humans are detached from and managers of nature, not a part of it. Moreover, it assumes 4) that technological fixes carry no serious unintended negative side-effects, that they are relatively costless to society, and that they can be implemented “just in time.”

I find this formulation na�ve and myth-inspired in extremis. But if I am wrong and it is correct the challenge to public health is nil, therefore, I have spent the last few minutes building a spurious argument.

As for public health under this no overshoot scenario, it will continue on as it is: under funded relative to its preventive mandate, which is broad and hard to define, and relative to the resources allocated to treatment medicine. No one in this audience needs to be reminded of the vast funding disparities between treatment-style medicine and public health. It is no exaggeration to say that in America one hundred pounds of cure at whatever cost is preferable to an ounce of prevention. Indeed, public health funding is reminiscent of Solzhenitsyn’s description of his years in the Soviet Gulag: just enough nourishment is provided to keep you alive and working as more tasks are tacked onto your work routine.

In this era of extreme emphasis on individualism –the “Ownership Society”—we have off in the corner the embarrassing spectacle of public health emphasizing collective, community-wide solutions for the common good. Accordingly, government views public health with ambivalence. On the one hand, public health works; even the Pat Robertsons of this world have no argument with germ theory and the fact that life-threatening microbes evolve and need to be interdicted, the truism that commercially served food must be inspected, and so on. In addition, citizens trust public health to protect all of us –rich to poor. It is too risky for any politician to attack public health head on to dismantle it, but public health is so misunderstood by the public and by many in government that it is not important enough to properly fund. So it limps along.

• Short-Term Overshoot

As previously noted, my view is that at the least we are in for a period of transition to new energy source(s). Accordingly, systems such as transportation, food production and distribution, government services, health and medical care, living arrangements, and so on, will have to either adjust to a temporary condition of scarce and expensive energy, or they will stop functioning. In this picture there will be a recession, the overshoot will be corrected, followed by a recovery.

Obviously, the longer the transition lasts the more serious harm it will bring to society. As with the previous scenario, there is no assumption here that there are limits to growth, or that the overshoot is anything more than a temporary phenomenon that the market will correct; we just have to solve the energy problem, and this may require massive government investments and policy adaptations and “interference” in market forces to complete the transition successfully. This is reminiscent of the traditional “Keynesian” role of government in the market. Nonetheless, this slight overshoot may impel many citizens and public health professionals, practitioners and academics, to question pure free market capitalism and give serious consideration to limits to growth ideas, lest another overshoot come along. (I say more on this in the next two scenarios.)

Under this scenario the public health system will be distressed even more than it is now, but it will survive and whatever damage is done to the economy and other social institutions will be repaired.

Ironically, from a utilitarian public policy perspective, we could expect support for public health to increase as the most cost-effective, democratic, national security oriented, and humane approach to protecting the health of the nation. This is both ethical and logical. However, we must keep in mind that the United States is the only Western nation that still officially denies climate change and, along with Australia, treats evolution as a “theory” alongside Creationism. Also, the great hopes raised for building the public health infrastructure after September 11 are now largely dashed as, overall, public health systems continue to decline throughout much of the nation.

There is a great chance here for a “false dawn” subplot. Using coal or other bio-fuels aggravates climate change, and after decades of governmental denial I think we can agree that even if there were no impending petroleum scarcity crisis, climate change in itself could set off the same chain of events discussed here.

Finally, if the overshoot continues and no viable long-term solution is in sight, then the natural progression is to the next scenario, an economic depression.

• Long-Term Overshoot

If Peak Oil passes with no viable energy alternatives in place or in development the outlook for industrial society is dire overshoot on the downside of the curve to the end of the petroleum era . The increasing shortages and then widespread scarcity will create waves of economic, political and social crises, including widespread violence created by resource scarcity (Homer-Dixon, 1999).

Some of you may have read the book, The Long Emergency (Kunstler, 2004), a title that connotes an extended period of hardship and in all probability a society-wide realization that there are limits to growth . This means that standards of living in Western countries, especially the United States, will decline permanently as industrial society tries to reorganize and find a new balance –at a lower level of material comfort and consumption -- with the natural environment, one that ends the overshoot and avoids future ones. Kunstler seems fond of mid-nineteenth century rural life and sees this as a stabilization point for the overshoot. I have no way of assessing if this return to past ways of the mid-nineteenth century is viable, or if this is simply where his heart has led him.

As the crisis continues, it is likely that academic public health will lose its support from government, as will much of the government funded research now conducted in universities. Simply put, academic public health may go out of existence along with many other “Big Science” academic fields that rely on state and federal government support because it is, as much as those in the audience are distressed to hear it, a luxury of the petroleum era.

Public health in the community is another matter, as is the knowledge base the field has produced over the past century; these will survive in some form and perhaps even “prosper”. Since public health is a local matter, the support for public health departments should vary from state to sate, and even locale to locale, being strongly supported in some areas and eliminated in others, probably depending on the strength of communitarian versus individualistic values.

The major questions then become, When --how long will it take? -- and at what economic levels and social sacrifices will society stabilize? Put differently, will industrial society be able to find an alternative energy source that will allow it to survive in any semblance of its pre-peak oil activity and organization?

The amount of widespread suffering within this scenario will be enormous and distressing. People will search for a source of hope –to persevere -- as society’s collective mental health –the threat of massive depression seems obvious -- is placed at extreme risk. Although religion can help to fill this need, still we live in a secular society and a scientifically based explanation –that has as a subtext a narrative of optimism—will be needed, not as competition to religion but as a complement to faith-based exegesis.

This narrative will in all likelihood be based upon the insights and knowledge generated by various scientific fields: evolutionary biology, human ecology, demography, geography, human genetics and evolution, anthropology, among others. The core messages:

* There are ecological and geological limits to growth.
* Perpetual technological progress cannot be sustained by the planet.
* The earth is LIKE a living system, and humans have a place in it, but are not masters of this system that is the earth.

Not incidentally, public health is likely to transform itself to conceive of the earth as its central concern because this is the next logical step for it to take. And just what does this mean? One tiny example: public health would encourage citizens to do an “ecological footprint” inventory in the same way it now advocates body mass indexes. In more familiar terms, one can hear “Systems Theory” every day in the hallways of schools of public health. Unfortunately, it is social systems, not ecological systems of the earth that public health academics discuss at great length; but the idea is the same: things are interconnected –everybody in public health acknowledges this simple insight.

Indeed, the Institute of Medicine’s Future of Public Health (2002) gives slight attention to the ecology either for the future of public health or for academic public health education. For example, the Institute’s Power Point diagrammatic slide on “Assuring Conditions for Population Health” makes no reference to the earth’s ecology. The factors listed are socio-cultural:

* The Community
* Health Care Delivery System
* Government & Public Health Infrastructure
* Academia
* The Media
* Employers & Business

The gorilla in the parlor is not acknowledged. By the way, I like gorillas; like all primates, they are social and have significant empathy, but you do have to be aware of their presence.

If the overshoot cannot be resolved by humans, nature will enforce its solution, at which point human actions will be stochastic and irrelevant to the collective outcome.

• Unrecoverable Overshoot

Die-off is a natural conservation process that is actuated when rising demand for the earth’s resources intersects the declining availability of those resources. As Tainter, (1988) notes, collapse is nature’s way of economizing, and the one thing we know about all civilizations, which are above all else economically complex, is that every one that has ever existed has collapsed. Greer (2005: 1) writes that the 1992 update of the Limit to Growth concluded that to avoid industrial collapse and a subsequent die-off “would have required the citizens of the United States to accept Third World living standards.” In other words, we would have to engage in voluntary de-consumption, which the vast majority of Americans would find an absurd violation of all that they believe about their national identity.

Even if this is the long-term consequence of Peak Oil, it will not arrive according to a Hollywood action script; most likely it will take decades to unfold as a series of rolling and interconnected crises, each one more difficult to cope with than the previous one because resources become scarcer and scarcer as more and more systems break and infrastructure decays as population rises as a demographic certainty for at least the next several decades. However, new forms of socio-cultural organization emerge as it becomes clear to the members of the collapsing society that the old ways no longer work and new ways begin to “make sense.” But let us be clear: overshoot created by a lack of energy means the human population of the earth will shrink to a sustainable number.

Although anthropologists tell us that humans are capable of appraising their circumstances and acting prudently to save their society, the signs that such foresight is occurring on anywhere near the scale it needs to occur are not apparent. On the other hand, evolutionary biologists (Morrison, 2002) appear certain that our genes have led us into plague species status, which means that we are overrunning the planet with people and pollution. This genetic explanation implies that there is little we can do to save ourselves as a species.

Abiding by the criteria I laid out at the beginning of this section of overshoot, I think a die-off of human life --as well as great destruction to the earth’s biosphere -- possible within this century . Oil is the initial resource to become critically scarce. But as most of you know we face a plethora of interrelated environmental crises, what E.O. Wilson terms the “Bottleneck” humanity must pass through to survive what it has wrought.

What should we in public health do? At the least, acknowledge what petroleum means to contemporary society and, especially, to the foundation and future of public health. And then talk but not fall into the trap or “mortis-through-rigor”. From there, we begin the processes of genuine strategic planning. Much is written and said about bridging the gap between practitioners and academics; this is the pressing issue to do so.


Catton, Wm. R. Overshoot. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 1982.

Davis, Murray S. “That’s Interesting!” Towards a Phenomenology of Sociology and Sociology of Phenomenology. Phil. Social Science 1 (1971), 309-344.

Diamond, Jared. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking Press, 2005.

Douglas, Mary. How Institutions Think. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press.

Francis Fuykuyama. The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Free Press, 1992.

Gever, John, et al. Beyond Oil: The Threat to Food and Fuel in the Coming Decades. Niwot, Colo: University Press of Colorado, 1991.

Greer, John Michael, “How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse.” 2005.

Greer, John Michael. “Facing the New Dark age: A Grassroots Approach.” 2005.

Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas, The Entropy Law and the Economic Problem. 1971. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas, “Energy and Economic Myths.” Southern Economic Journal 41 (1975).

Godesky, Jason. “Theses Series.” The Anthorpik Network @, 2005.

Homer-Dixon, Thomas F.. Environment, Scarcity, and Violence. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999.

The Institute of Medicine. The Future of Public Health. Washington. D.C.: National Academy Press. 2002

Kurzweil, Ray. Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. New York: Viking Press. 2005.

Kunstler, James. The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the 21st Century. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005.

Levitt, Steven D. and Stephen J. Dubner. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. New York: William Morrow, 2005.

Meadows, Donella, Jorgen Randers, Dennis Meadows. The Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004.

Morrison, Reg. The Spirit in the Gene: Humanity's Proud Illusion and the Laws of Nature. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999.

Rose, Geoffrey. The Strategy of Preventive Medicine. New York : Oxford University Press, 1992.

Simmons, Matthew. Revisiting the Limits to Growth: Could the Club of Rome Have Been Correct, After All? 2000. Part 1: Part 2:

Tainter, Joseph, The Collapse of Complex Societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1988.

Wilson, E. O... The Bottleneck. Scientific American Feb 2002.

Wilson, E. O. The Future of Life. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002

The World Bank. Saudi Arabia at a Glance, 2004.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Things Just Got Worse

By Byron W. King

NO, MAKE IT A LOT WORSE. Word just came out that Kuwait, long regarded as home to some of the world's largest reserves of petroleum, may possess only half the amount of oil reserves that it officially has been stating for many years.

According to a restricted report issued by the authoritative industry newsletter Petroleum Intelligence Weekly (PIW), internal Kuwaiti records reveal that the nation's oil reserves are far below the officially stated amount of about 99 billion barrels. Kuwait's reported 99 billion barrels, if they were really there in the ground, would make up about 10% of world's reported oil reserves.

The PIW report is based upon data circulating within the top echelons of the Kuwait Oil Co. (KOC). KOC is the upstream arm of state-owned Kuwait Petroleum Corp. KOC has primary responsibility for conducting exploration, drilling and production from Kuwait's oil fields. The PIW report claims that Kuwait's remaining proven and nonproven oil reserves total about 48 billion barrels, or 51 billion fewer barrels than previously advertised.

By way of comparison, the estimated remaining proven oil reserves for the United States total about 22 billion barrels. Estimates for the North Sea are about 17 billion barrels. So a downward adjustment of 51 billion barrels by the Kuwaitis leaves a good deal more than twice what remains in the United States, and three times what is in the North Sea.

Yet another way of stating the matter, and in a macro sense, the amount of estimated world oil reserves just fell by 5%. This 5% drop in reserves is the equivalent of almost 20 months worth of total cumulative worldwide oil production and consumption, based on the current world oil use of about 84 million barrels per day. From the standpoint of the world reaching the absolute Peak Oil point, we now live in August 2007, not January 2006. And as the Mogambo Guru would say, "Thanks a hell of a lot, guys."

According to the PIW report, the official public Kuwaiti figures do not distinguish between what are known as "proven," "probable" and "possible" reserves. The PIW report stated that the Kuwaiti data indicate that, of the current remaining 48 billion barrels of proven and nonproven reserves, only about 24 billion barrels are so far fully proven (That is, slightly more reserves than in the States).

The rest of the Kuwaiti reserves are probably out there, but we will know only after someone drills and completes a series of wells. And if the wells are dry, whoops, there goes another 2.5% of the world's oil reserves. And in that case, it may as well be 2008, from the standpoint of achieving the milestone for mankind known as Peak Oil. The future is here.

Follow the Oil

Most of the proven Kuwaiti reserves, about 15 billion barrels, are the well-known volumes in Kuwait's largest oil field, at Burgan, in the southeast of the country and just north of the border with Saudi Arabia. Burgan is an extension of a geologic trend that includes the massive Ghawar oil field to the south, in Saudi Arabia.

Burgan is known in the trade as a "super giant" oil field and has been pumping oil for almost 60 years. Burgan accounts for most of Kuwait's oil production and exports. You may remember the images of burning oil wells that came out of the Gulf War of 1991. Almost all of these were wells in Burgan, blown up and set afire by retreating Iraqi troops. (Under international law, oh, by the way, this type of intentional destruction of Kuwait's national patrimony and natural resource base was a war crime of the first magnitude.) The oil was just roaring straight up out of the holes in the ground, propelled by its own underground reservoirs, and feeding the conflagrations. It took many months of truly heroic effort to control the fires. And many of the Burgan wells, and portions of the producing rock formations, were irreparably damaged.

For a number of years, KOC has been adding upward of 500 million barrels of oil reserves per year at Burgan, by means of offset drilling into adjacent geological strata. Statistically, the remaining nonproven reserves of some 5.3 billion barrels will likely be upgraded to proven, according to PIW.

In the fall of 2005, KOC chairman Farouk Al-Zanki admitted that, in the future, the sustained output of the Burgan oil field will be around 1.7 million barrels of oil per day. This amount is significantly less than the 2 million barrels per day of production for the rest of the field's estimated 30-40 remaining years of life that were forecast as recently as mid-2005. In a recent experiment, Kuwaiti oil engineers tried to obtain 1.9 million barrels of oil production per day from Burgan, but the level was not sustainable. The engineers determined that the higher rate of production was causing pressure drops, water intrusion, and other formation damage to the underground reservoirs. Thus, according to KOC, 1.7 million barrels per day is considered to be the optimum rate.

Kuwait has announced plans to spend upward of $3 billion per year into the future to boost output and exports from other fields. There are three consortia, led by BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil, presently pursuing a contract to win something called Project Kuwait. Project Kuwait is intended to be a 20-year operating service agreement with the government of Kuwait to raise crude capacity at four relatively unexplored oil fields in the north of the country, near the border with Iraq. (That is another problem, but we will not go there just now.)

The competition for Project Kuwait is still open. However, I should note that one of the competitors, Chevron, has a long history in that relatively small nation. Gulf Oil Corp., which became part of Chevron in 1984, discovered the super giant Burgan oil field in Kuwait in 1938. In what was perhaps an omen of things to come, the first oil well drilled into Burgan hit pressures that were so high as to blow out the wellhead valves and turn the first Kuwaiti oil well into an uncontrolled gusher. Additional drilling and large-scale development, however, was interrupted by World War II.

The long-term impact of the Burgan discovery went beyond simply drilling wells into high-pressure zones and helped to change the geopolitics of the Middle East. In 1946, Kuwait began exporting oil, and has remained a net oil exporter ever since, except during the time of its military occupation by Iraq, in 1990-1991. After the first tankers started sailing from its ports, Kuwait rapidly became a wealthy nation. To its credit, and through its comparatively prudent stewardship of its oil revenues over the years, Kuwait has become a world-class financial power.

Burgan gusher or not, however, for many oil analysts, the reports that Kuwaiti reserves are significantly less than claimed are not news. For many years, there have been analyses along the lines that the Kuwaitis, and many other oil-producing countries whose reserves are state controlled, have been misstating the size of their reserves. In essence, the officially stated oil reserves of Kuwait have for many years been little more than an illusion, based on nothing more than wishful thinking and economic fiddling. The attitude seemed to be, "Oh, yes. Burgan is a big field. Lots of oil there. No problem."

No problem? Using a method called "Hubbert linearization," some analysts have previously estimated that Kuwait's ultimate recoverable reserves would be far less than what the government statistics forecast. One authoritative estimate has placed Kuwaiti reserves ultimately at 76 billion barrels, of which about 36 billion have already been produced. This would leave remaining Kuwaiti reserves at about 40 billion barrels, and that is assuming that there is massive effort at additional drilling, new discovery, and production in the years to come. This linearized estimate is in general agreement with the range of oil reserves, 48 billion barrels, based on the internal KOC information that PIW recently reported.

The numbers suggest that Kuwait is at about 47% of its ultimate oil recovery, or, for all intent and purpose, at the halfway point of ultimate oil recovery. Future depletion rates are cheerfully, if not hopefully, estimated to be in the magnitude of about 4% per year. However, the Kuwaitis have in recent years adopted the latest approaches to using new technology to maximize short-term oil production and recovery. That is, they are drilling horizontal wells and using what are called multiple lateral completion techniques. This does not really find "new" oil; it just drains the existing oil faster.

Thus, in this case, it is not possible to rule out the possibility that Kuwaiti oil production will suddenly go into steep decline. This would be similar to what we have seen in other oil provinces that have benefited from application of "new technology," like in the North Sea or Mexico's Cantarell. Instead of the estimated annual 4% depletion rate, we might see a North Sea-like depletion rate of 10% or more per year. Thus, until the decline rate becomes apparent, and given the age of and production history of Burgan, it will not be possible to make a refined estimate of future production trends.

Are the Other Books Being Cooked?

The news out of Kuwait highlights the point that most, if not all, of the estimates published by member nations of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are similarly without merit. In all likelihood, all of the OPEC member nations have chronically overstated their reserves. The ominous implication is that we are confronting the reality that the world has a lot less oil than we thought and that a peak in global oil output must occur sooner than even some of the most pessimistic predictions.

The news about the Burgan oil field lends credence to the opinions of investment banker Matthew Simmons, who has made a career working with the companies that form the industrial backbone of the oil industry. For the specific arguments of Simmons, you should read his exceptionally well-written book Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy, published in June 2005. In preparing and writing his book, Simmons reviewed hundreds of technical papers written about the Saudi oil fields, interviewed many people with firsthand knowledge of Saudi oil production, and visited a number of important oil sites in Saudi Arabia. Based on this, Simmons makes a solid case that Saudi Arabia faces an imminent downturn in oil production. And because Saudi Arabia has always been considered the "swing producer" to the world, and thus the price-setting supplier to the world's oil-based economy, any production shortfalls would have severe and immediate economic, political, and military impacts.

Using the "Hubbert linearization" method on publicly available reserve data and production figures for Saudi Arabia, it appears that the Saudis have produced 105 billion barrels of oil out of an ultimately recoverable reserve base of about 180 billion barrels. Much of this production came out of the ground in the past 25 years. Thus, the Saudis are now at about 55-60% of their ultimate recovery and a state of irreversible decline cannot be very far behind.

The implications for the global economy of a decline in Kuwaiti oil exports, let alone Saudi production, are indeed serious. If the world oil supply fails to expand proportionally to the increasing demands of China and India, as well as to growing demand from the West and Japan, then the upward pressure on oil prices will be inexorable. As we have said so many times before in Whiskey & Gunpowder, and in other Agora Financial publications, we can expect to see the price of oil climb.

For the oil producers, an upward price trend will be good news in some respects and come as compensation, for at least a few years, for declining output. Swelling coffers of revenue from oil sales may even cushion some nations against economic collapse, which will be likely when oil prices begin their long-term increase to stratospheric levels.

Oil-consuming nations and societies will face major energy and financial crises. Governments and central banks will try to "inflate" their way out of it, as has been the case in America over the past few years. Eventually, however, the combination of high prices, depreciating currency, and absolute shortages of oil will lead to profound dislocations in society. Things may approach a state of what author James Kunstler calls The Long Emergency, the title of his book published last year.

And what are the political, economic, and cultural leaders of most nations doing about this profound and precarious situation? Very little, sad to say. At the recent Detroit Auto Show, the biggest press coverage was reserved for new versions of 1960s muscle cars, recreations of such famous old names as the Chevy Camaro and the Dodge Challenger. The U.S. economy is still utterly dependent, and growing more and more so, on over-the-road trucking for most freight hauling, at an average fuel burn of about 4 miles per gallon. And every U.S. politician of any significance has a well-honed "position" on the virtues, or not, of Roe v. Wade. But ask that politician about Peak Oil and, with a few notable exceptions, you will get a blank stare, or at best a silly answer, that betrays little understanding.

So let's review. Kuwait's oil reserves are being downgraded by 51 billion barrels. Detroit is building muscle cars. Few U.S. politicians even have a clue about the problem, and apparently Peak Oil simply does not fit into any of their standard political paradigms. It is just crazy.

Which reminds me of a comment about Peak Oil from the above-noted Kunstler, who has written a sentence that, for a lot of people at least, truly sums it all up:

"Peak is making us insane and passing Peak will make us more insane. There may be no moment of clarity, only new kinds of delusion and disorder. We'll keep behaving the way we do until we can't, and then we won't."

And what are you doing about all of this, dear readers? Do you really believe that, as the notion goes, "technology will save us"? (OK, technology will help, but you had better get out in front of it.) Or do you believe that "the politicians will do something"? (Wow. Call your doctor. Get that closed-head injury examined.) Or do you subscribe to the "abiotic theory" of oil formation? (I call it "abiotic snake oil." It offers nothing but utterly false hope.)

Are your kids studying something in school that will prepare them to compete with 6 billion other people in an energy-short world? ("Marxist Themes in Feminist Literature"? Oh, really? How interesting.) Are you at least investing in the "right kinds" of things, so that you can secure your financial future?

Well, dear readers, if you have gotten this far, you are making a start. We thank you corporately. I thank you personally.

Until we meet again…
Byron W. King

With oil prices staying high, talk turns to change

Ashland Daily Tidings

Ashland resident who used to work for Chevron warns that the future will be totally different

By Robert Plain

As oil becomes more expensive, some Ashlanders are envisioning a world less reliant on cars.

Imagine an Ashland, and an America, much different from the ones we know today.

Instead of roads lined with cars, people may transport themselves by bikes, bus or light rail. Instead of green lawns fed by commercial fertilizers people may fill their yards with vegetable gardens and other forms of home-grown food. Instead of commuting long distances to work and to the grocery store, people may be forced to live more centralized lives, more reliant on their neighbors.

Whether this possible lifestyle seems pleasant or difficult, more and more Ashlanders are beginning to believe this is the reality to our future as the viability of our most widely used form of energy — oil — is increasingly being called into question.

It’s been termed Peak Oil, and it’s the notion that as more of the world’s population depends on oil to run their daily lives and fewer new reserves are being discovered that it will become increasingly expensive to the point where the world’s population is forced to find another fuel to run the world.

“Eventually, oil production won’t keep pace with demand,” said Len Eisenburg, an Ashland resident and petroleum geologist who used to work for Chevron, searching for new supplies of oil around the globe.

Eisenburg is hosting a lecture at the North Mountain Nature Center on Wednesday night at 7 entitled “Oil and Gas in Our Natural World.” He said his talk is about where oil reserves come from and how it gets from there to our gas tanks. Because the discussion is expected to be well attended, the North Mountain Nature Center is asking people to register in advance, either online at or by phone at 488-6606.

“It’s an impending car crash of decreasing discovery and increasing demand,” he said. “It’s a trade-off. We can have as much oil as we want, we’re just going to have to pay for it and accept the political and economic costs that go along with it.”

Eisenburg said there is plenty of oil left in the Earth, but as it gets more expensive to pull from the ground, Americans and others will be increasingly motivated to find other forms of fuel.

“Eventually, the price will really start to prod people to conserve and make other technologies competitive,” he said.

In Ashland, this has already begun to happen.

“The escalating cost of energy is something that we do factor in,” Mayor John Morrison said. “The politics and economics of oil impact every American every day. Even though we are just a little corner of the Northwest, we need to do what we can to help out. Ashland is committed to a course of building conservation into our daily lives and will continue to do that. If a new technological advance comes up that allows us to conserve more, I think we would do it.”

Councilor David Chapman, who said many of his political objectives concern conservation of resources and local sustainibility, thinks developing different forms of mass transit is the best path toward freeing Ashland from the addiction of an oil-based economy.

“I’m hot on mass transportation,” he said. “If we can get people out of their cars more, we’ll save more fuel.”

He said Ashland’s financial support of the Rogue Valley Transportation Districts bus routes in town is a good start, but added that more can be done.

“We have a free bus service, but it doesn’t get you to where you want to go,” he said, noting that it is inconvenient to commute between Ashland and other area towns and that the bus only runs along the main transportation lines.

Most mass transit is based on high-density use, he said. But what Ashland really needs is low density use, he added. He said a system of vans that operate like airport shuttle buses could be the answer.

“Imagine a bunch of little vans zipping around town taking you where you want to go door to door,” he said. “It would be great in our town. The whole key would be a computerized dispatch system” that would alert drivers as to where someone needed to be picked up.

For the future, he envisions a light rail system running on the existing train tracks that could not only link the Rogue Valley together, but maybe even the entire West Coast.

“Imagine if people could take the train from San Francisco to go to a play,” he said. “Or if we could take a train to San Francisco.”

He said such a project would cost millions, but could be done if it is coupled with the railroad’s need to improve the tracks for cargo transport.

There are also efforts afoot on the grass-roots level. A group called the Jackson County Sustainibility Network, which meets weekly in Ashland and Talent, formed earlier this year with the expressed purpose of readying Ashland for a changing economy due to the fear that oil will not continue to be a viable natural resource to use.

“We’re starting to realize we should be relocalizing our economy,” said Michael Dawkins, organizer of the group. “We’ll be forced to get closer to the food we eat and produce more of it locally. There will be so many little paradigms that we will have to change.”

One way the group is preparing for this is by advocating for a sustainability center at the proposed Vogel Park being created by the Ashland Parks Department. At such a park, some residents would be able to grow their own food in community garden plots. There would also be demonstration models for how people could grow their own food, indigenous and otherwise, in their own yards.

“It would be something like North Mountain Park, where you could go to learn things,” Dawkins said. “You could learn permaculture techniques and how to utilize small spaces like yards to grow your own food.”

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Dawkins said JCSN is also supportive of more multi-modal transportation options and, most importantly he said, forming a tighter knit community where Ashlanders rely more on their neighbors than on the globalized economy.

Although other small western towns, such as Willits and Sebastapol, Calif., have begun to incorporate relocalization practices into their municipal affairs, Dawkins believes Ashland to be a perfect location to spearhead such efforts.

“A lot of communities just go with the flow, but Ashland doesn’t do that,” he said. “We’ve got a great climate and a good source of water. We’ve got all kinds of things going for us in Ashland. The idea of Peak Oil will resonate more [here] than it will” in other places.

Two Peckerheads

By James Howard Kunstler

I'm fond of saying that I'm allergic to conspiracy theories. Behind our country's dismaying governance, cluelessness really rules, not plotting or scheming. Take, for example, these astounding remarks made Friday by former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich on NPR's "Marketplace" show:

"As China grows -- at the current rate it's growing, in twenty or thirty years -- and becomes the number one largest economy in the world, I think China may become our nemesis."

One would think that Mr. Reich is a pretty smart guy -- former Rhodes Scholar (same class as Bill Clinton), Harvard faculty, cabinet secretary. Now, why on earth would Mr. Reich believe that China can possibly keep behaving the way it does for another two or three decades? China faces energy starvation along with the rest of the world. China has less oil left than the United States (and the US would have roughly four years worth of oil if we were deprived of imports -- 26 billion barrels used at the rate of 7 billion a year).

There is no way that China can put another one half percent of its population behind the wheel of a car without sending its army and navy out to seize foreign oil fields -- let alone continue manufacturing toasters and Christmas tree ornaments for Americans. And Americans are not going to have the the cash to buy those things, whether or not we are actively engaged in a war for the world's remaining oil. And all this trouble is going to play out in the next decade, not in "twenty or thirty years." Near the end of the segment, Reich repeated this inanity:

"As China, over the next twenty, thirty years, grows and prospers, a lot of Americans are gonna say, now, wait a minute. . . ! The endgame, we hope, is more and more economic integration, a Chinese middle class that is more and more prosperous, that is able to buy things from the United States, that looks a little bit more like middle-class Americans live, and therefore is not so different from us."

An arresting fantasy, isn't it? A Beijing that resembles Atlanta, full of strip malls dishing out cheeseburgers and other interesting foreign foods to Chinese soccer moms hurrying back to Toll Brother's starter homes in Chinese knockoffs of the Ford Explorer.

Note to Mr. Reich and the rest of the people he is smoking opiated hashish with: you've got it backwards. Over the next twenty, thirty years America gets to be more and more like Chinese peasant life in 1949. Why? Because neither America nor China (nor anybody else) can continue running industrial economies the way we have been, or even a substantial fraction of that way, in an energy-starved world. Nor will anybody come up with a miracle technological rescue remedy to keep all the motors humming.

Our second peckerhead of the day is David Brooks of The New York Times. Actually, Brooks could qualify for peckerhead of the decade among mainstream news pundits, since his fantasies about America diverge so extravagantly from the realities our nation faces. In his most recent column, Mr. Brooks asserted that the desert wastelands beyond the last ring of Phoenix's current suburban asteroid belts would become the next suburban utopia, adding an additional million people to that hopeless mega-metroplex. Note to Mr. Brooks: Arizona's groundwater basins are overdrawn. Most of the rivers are tapped nearly to their limits. The southwest is suffering its worst drought since the 1950s, and climate change signs suggest that the drought will persist. This is happening, of course, as the nation (and the rest of the world) enters an epochal depletion of fossil fuel resources that will, how shall we say, put the fucking shnitz on further suburban development of any kind. Mr. Brooks writes:

". . . half of the buildings in which Americans will live, play and work in the year 2030 don't even exist yet. We are in the middle of a $25 trillion building boom that is changing the face of the country, and most of it is happening in desert places like this one."

Another note to Mr. Brooks. An economy based on land development and housing bubbles is finished. We are going to have to make other arrangements for running a civilization, and return to traditional methods for occupying the terrain of North America, without the prosthetic enhancements of Ford Explorers.

This is the quality of thinking that we are getting from leaders in politics and opinion in our country now. It could not be more inconsistent with reality. No evil cabal of corporate CEOs is paying off either of this idiots. They arrive at their opinions by a simple failure to pay attention to what is really happening in the world. Their failure will contribute to a greater failure of authority in this country when we hit the wall of economic pain in the months ahead, and the public wonders why it wasn't informed. That failure of authority, and the angry response to it, will lead to a very dangerous politics of grievance and recrimination.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Can countries be energy independent or should they plan for interdependency as the way of the future?

Chevron - Will You Join Us - Discussion

Chevron’s ongoing discussion web has a new topic open for comment and discussion.

The U.S. Should Promote New Capital Investment in the United States, Canada, and Other Oil-Producing Countries

Chevron - Will You Join Us

By Peter Huber

So what if Canada—our biggest foreign supplier—sells us oil? We sell Canadians Pentiums, which they need just as much. Energy isn’t a problem because it’s traded. Oil is a problem because some huge reserves of very cheap crude happen to be controlled by regimes hostile to the United States.

Happily for the U.S., oil supplies only 40% of our energy, and Persian Gulf oil only about 6%. The corresponding numbers for Europe and Japan, however, are a lot worse. And we all pay the same global price for oil, whether it’s pumped in Anchorage or Abu Dhabi. Producing all our liquid fuel domestically won’t separate us from oil’s economic, political, diplomatic, and military implications. To do that, we’d also have to forbid exports, regulate domestic prices, and separate ourselves from the economic, political, diplomatic, and security interests of Europe and Asia.

Advocates of “energy independence” talk a lot about wind and solar. But those technologies generate electricity. And the U.S. already generates almost all its own electricity, much more cheaply with conventional coal, uranium, natural gas, and hydro. The independence crowd also advocates domestic production of ethanol and bio-diesel. But the price of these fuels will inevitably track the global price of crude. And if they’re ever produced in significant quantities, they’ll be imported and exported too, right alongside oil.

Expanding production of liquid fuel is a good thing not because it will make any one nation “energy independent,” but because it will lower the price of oil and cut the oil-based wealth of governments that fund our enemies. If we’re serious about that objective, however, we’ll start by expanding domestic production of oil itself.

We certainly could. When Persian Gulf fields ramped up production by 12 billion barrels of oil (BBO) a year in the 1960s, global prices collapsed. This made it politically painless for the U.S. to ban almost all new drilling off the Florida and California coasts, and then in much of Alaska. Today, Alaska contains at least 18 BBO of off-limits crude. And we could fuel many of our heavy trucks and delivery vehicles for a decade with the 20 BBO’s worth of natural gas we’ve placed off limits in Rocky Mountain federal lands. To put those numbers in perspective, America currently consumes about 7 BBO a year.

Beyond oil, the most logical place to look for alternative fuels is in the 60 percent of our energy economy that’s already lit by other fuels. The electric sector of our economy shifted decisively away from oil (to coal and uranium) following oil shocks in the early 1980s. Today, a lot more energy moves through the U.S. electrical grid than through the drive shafts of our cars. The most important economic opportunity for curtailing the power of the petrodollar is centered on technologies that bridge the electric and transportation sectors of energy economies worldwide. Hybrid cars with battery packs that can be recharged from the grid hold the most immediate promise. More rational regulation of the price of electricity, and flatter energy taxes across the board, would accelerate development of grid-to-car technologies.

The one place we won’t find energy independence is in new government regulation and tax jiggering, rhetorically packaged as “efficiency” or “conservation.” Efficiency standards always fail not because consumers hate efficiency, but because they like it so much. The faster we build more efficient engines, the more we build and the more we use them, and the faster energy consumption rises. This too is global process. Energy-consuming technology developed as an expensive curiosity in San Francisco ends up as a ubiquitous staple in Shanghai.

Over 80% of total U.S. energy consumption already comes from North America. Electrification is steadily shifting demand to the not-oil side of the ledger, where coal and uranium supplies are essentially unlimited. Oil, however, does present serious problems, and will continue to, because unstable governments own so much of it. Short of a quarantine or an invasion, the only way to make current owners of oil poorer is to lower the global price of oil. To that end, the U.S. should promote new capital investment in the United States, Canada, and other oil-producing countries that are politically stable, and promote stable government in those that aren’t.

The Energy Independence Debate is Simplistic, Distracting and, Ultimately, False

Chevron - Will You Join Us

By Paul Roberts

Like clockwork, high oil prices have reignited a well-rehearsed debate over American “energy independence.” On the one side, self-styled energy patriots tell us that America must end its addiction to “foreign” oil—usually by raising domestic production. On the other, energy “realists” insist that U.S. demand can’t be satisfied at home, and that America has no choice but to rely more and more on an unfettered international oil market.

In fact, while both sides have some merit, the energy independence debate is simplistic, distracting and, ultimately, false. In the long term, U.S. energy security depends not on whether we get our oil at home or abroad, but whether we continue to use oil at all.

Look at the facts. First, America simply cannot produce enough oil domestically to meet current demand of 21 million barrels a day—much less our anticipated future demand. U.S. oil production peaked in the early 1970s, and has declined ever since—which is one reason imports have grown steadily. Yes, America has untapped oil reserves, but nothing like the massive oil fields we once had. Thus, even if oil companies were allowed to drill in off-limits places, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, our production decline would only be delayed temporarily. In this, the energy realists are right.

On the other hand, the belief that America should trust international oil markets is absurd. Oil is the most politicized of all commodities, completely captive to the vagaries of geopolitics, especially in the unstable Middle East. True, new oil production in Africa, Russia, and South America has provided an alternative to the Middle East—but not forever. These countries simply can’t match the giant reserves of the Middle East, which means that, if American oil demand continues to rise, we will grow more dependent each year on the Middle East, a region whose future political stability is hardly assured. And at some point, even the bountiful Middle Eastern oil will deplete.

In other words, the key to U.S. energy security isn’t drilling more at home, or gaining greater access to foreign supplies, but reducing our use of oil altogether.

But how? An obvious first step is greater efficiency. Even modest improvements in, say, our miles-per-gallon performance would save more oil than we could ever hope to pump out of the Arctic. And because America is the biggest oil consumer, burning one of every four barrels produced worldwide, better efficiency here would have major impacts on world oil markets—and could go a long way to fighting terrorism, which is often funded by oil revenues.

Efficiency, however, gets you only so far. At some point, we need to replace oil altogether—and this won’t be easy. Many new energy technologies have potential, but none is ready for wide-scale deployment, especially in the transportation sector, where oil retains a near monopoly. Thus, if we are serious about pushing alternatives, like hydrogen, or making fuels from crops (or even about determining if these technologies are feasible), America needs to shift its R&D focus away from traditional energy, like oil, and into finding oil’s successor.

And that’s only a start. Even in a best-case scenario, where America manages to improve efficiency and develop new energy technologies, we can’t simply walk away from the oil problem. New technologies take time to deploy—a fleet of hydrogen-powered cars, for example, would need decades to roll out. In the meantime, our economy will need oil—less and less each year, but a substantial volume nonetheless. Maintaining that supply—and, by extension, a viable oil industry—while pursuing technologies that will make that industry obsolete, will be extraordinarily challenging.

In short, future U.S. energy security will be a complex juggling act, as challenging politically as it is technologically. It will require us to simultaneously become more efficient, develop new energy technologies, and maintain access to a declining but substantial volume of oil—goals that existing energy players, including oil companies and oil states, may not entirely share.

But as a nation, we have no choice. It’s already clear that an energy economy dominated by oil is no longer sustainable. We need to find something new, and we need to begin today. Getting rid of the simplistic debate about “energy independence” is a good place to start.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Oil Sands Of Alberta

There’s an oil boom going on right now. Not in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or any of those places, but 600 miles north of Montana.

In Alberta, Canada, in a town called Fort McMurray where, this time of year, the temperature sometimes zooms up to zero.

The oilmen up there aren’t digging holes in the sand and hoping for a spout. They’re digging up dirt — dirt that is saturated with oil. They’re called oil sands, and if you’ve never heard of them then you’re in for a big surprise because the reserves are so vast in the province of Alberta that they will help solve America’s energy needs for the next century.

Within a few years, the oil sands are likely to become more important to the United States than all the oil that comes to us from Saudi Arabia.

Correspondent Bob Simon reports.

Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, vehicles that look like prehistoric beasts move across an arctic wasteland, extracting the oil sands. There is so much to scoop, so much money to be made.

There are 175 billion barrels of proven oil reserves here. That’s second to Saudi Arabia’s 260 billion but it’s only what companies can get with today’s technology. The estimate of how many more barrels of oil are buried deeper underground is staggering.

"We know there’s much, much more there. The total estimates could be two trillion or even higher," says Clive Mather, Shell's Canada chief. "This is a very, very big resource."

Very big? That’s eight times the amount of reserves in Saudi Arabia. The oil sands are buried under forests in Alberta that are the size of Florida. The oil here doesn’t come gushing out of the sand the way it does in the Middle East. The oil is in the sand. It has to be dug up and processed.

Rick George, the Colorado-born CEO of Suncor Energy, took 60 Minutes into his strip mine for a tour. He says the mine will be in operation for about 25 years.

The oil sands look like a very rich, pliable kind of topsoil. Why doesn’t oil come out when squeezed?

"Well, because it’s not warm enough. If you add this to hot water you’ll start the separation process and you’ll see the oil come to the top of the water and you’ll see sand drop to the bottom," George says.

It may look like topsoil but all it grows is money.

It didn’t always. The oil sands have been in the ground for millions of years, but for decades, prospectors lost millions of dollars trying to squeeze the oil out of the sand. It simply cost too much.

T. Boone Pickens, a legendary Texas oil tycoon, was working Alberta’s traditional oil rigs back in the '60s and remembers how he and his colleagues thought mining for oil sands was a joke.

"Here we are sitting there having a drink after work and somebody said this isn’t going to, it isn’t possible. It’ll all have to be subsidized to a level, said, before they’d make money you’d have to have $5 oil," Pickens says laughing. "We never thought it would happen."

But then $40 a barrel happened and the oil sands not only made sense, they made billions for the people digging them. But it wasn’t just the price of oil that changed the landscape, it was the toys. That’s what they call the giant trucks and shovels that roam the mines.

Everything about the oil industry has always been big. It’s characterized by bigness, from the pumps to the personalities. But up here in Alberta, it’s frankly ridiculous. The mine operates the world's biggest truck. It’s three stories high and costs $5 million. It carries a load of 400 tons of oil sands, which means, at today’s oil prices, each load is worth $10,000 dollars.

What it’s like to drive one of these monsters? At the foot of a tire, we asked the driver, Jim Locke.

"You have 14 steps going up, and at my house you have 14 steps to the bedroom. So it’s like going upstairs in my house, sitting on my bed and driving the house downtown," says Locke.

But getting downtown is just the beginning. The oil sands then go into a plant. They’re heated in a cell, which separates the oil from the sand. The result looks like something out of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. This oil froth is then sent to an upgrader and eventually to a refinery.

Asked if the processed oil is as good as that pumped in Saudi Arabia, Mather says, "Absolutely as good as. In fact, it even trades as a, at a premium because it’s high quality crude oil."

The capital of the oil sands frenzy is a frontier town called Fort McMurray, which isn’t in the middle of nowhere. It’s north of nowhere and colder than the Klondike, but a boomtown just the same. The local hockey team is called the "Oil Barons." They’re on a winning streak.

Is this comparable to a gold rush?

"I think it’s bigger than a gold rush. We’re expecting $100 billion over the next 10 years to be invested in this area — $100 billion in a population that, currently, is 70,000 people," says Brian Jean, who represents the region in Canada’s parliament.

Pickens is one of those investors. He runs a hedge fund in Dallas and is now a true believer.

"We’re managing $5 billion here. And, about 10 percent of it is in the oil sands. So, it’s the largest single investment we have," Pickens says.

And if oil sands are the answer for investors, does Pickens think the oil sands are the answer for the United States?

"Oh, I think so," he says.

Most of those lumbering trucks are on their way to the gas tanks of America. A million barrels a day are now coming out of the oil sands and oil production is expected to triple within a decade. It won’t replace Middle Eastern oil but at that point it will be the single largest source of foreign oil for the United States, even bigger than Saudi Arabia, which sends a million and a half barrels a day to America.

Greg Stringham, who works for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, says surprisingly, that Washington has only been paying attention for the "last couple of years."

Stringham often lobbies for the oil sands in Washington. He says that in Alberta you don’t have to look for the oil sands — the earth moves.

"When it comes to exploration in the oil sands, you can’t drill a dry hole. It’s there," he says. "We know where it is. They’ve outlined it. You don’t have any risk. But other conventional sectors around the world, there’s a huge exploration risk."

The exploration risks are the least of it. Much of the world’s crude is in the Middle East where the instability is deeper than the oil. When Alberta’s blue-eyed sheiks took to Wall Street last summer in their Stetsons to drum up support for the oil sands, their message seemed to be, "If you can’t trust Alberta, who can you trust?"

"Alberta is a very good place to do business. It’s a very stable environment," says Mather.

The bonus for Canadians, aside from the treasure, is the notion that Americans might have to start treating them with a little less condescension.

"With their oil, I think we’re going to need them a lot more than they need us," says Pickens.

"We may appear in Canada to be a mouse compared to the elephant down south in terms of diplomacy or politics. But in terms of resources, we are mighty equals," says Mather.

There have been grumblings out of Ottawa that Canada should consider using the oil sands as leverage in its serious trade disputes with the United States.

Does Brian Jean think America is taking Canada for granted on the oil sands?

"Absolutely. And I think most people, most Canadians believe that," he says.

And the Canadians have alternatives. The Chinese, for example, are just dying to get a piece of the sandbox.

"I’ve been contacted personally by Chinese delegates that want to get into the plant sites here and want to see and want to invest," says Jean.

Asked what he thinks about the Chinese interest in the oil sands up in Alberta, Pickens says, "At first I thought they were tire kickers. But I think they’re serious buyers."

And the millions of Chinese who have moved from their bicycles to traffic jams are driving up the demand for oil. It’s virtually insatiable and the Canadians want to step up production quickly. What’s holding them back is labor — the shortage of it.

Brian Jean says another 100,000 people are needed in Fort McMurray.

That’s why one oil company has built a runway to fly workers daily from civilization to Fort McMurray. But why would anyone want to come work in a place where temperatures plummet to 40 below and the sun sets shortly after it rises in the long winter? Well, perhaps because the oil companies pay some of the highest salaries in North America.

Take Josh Lichti, who says he could be making $120,000 by the time he is 22.

"It’s amazing," he says.

But even if workers come flocking, the oil companies still have other problems. Creating energy from oil sands requires so much energy that the oil companies wind up spiking greenhouse gas emissions.

"And they do it in volumes that exceed any other production of oil crude anywhere on the planet," says Elizabeth May, the director of the Sierra Club of Canada.

She takes issue not only with what the oil sands are doing to the atmosphere, but to the land. The oil companies, environmentalists say, are digging up an entire province. Take a helicopter ride over the mines and you’ll think you’re flying over the moon after a moonquake.

"One of the reasons they can be mined the way they’ve been mined is the out of sight, out of mind aspect of it. And your film crew is one of the few that’s gone in there to look at how devastating this is," May says.

Even money men like Pickens have noticed. "Can’t argue with it. I mean, there’s no question that, that they’ve got a mess up there. But I do think they’ll take care of it over time," he says.

The oil companies say they will reduce greenhouse gasses and they point out they are required by Canadian law to refill old mines and plant new trees, and that is happening — slowly. One company, Syncrude, has even introduced bison to land that once was a barren pit.

Rick George of Suncor Energy insists in the future people won’t recognize the mines. "So what you see today is a mine. What you’ll see 10 years from now is a replanted forest," he says.

"You’re telling me that if I come here, it’s gonna be pretty?" Simon asks.

"Absolutely," George says. "These sites will all be going back. Now we’ll be minin’ at a different location at that point.

"This will look forested when we get done with it in 20 years time."

But there is a larger question that not only environmentalists are asking: will the availability of an enormous supply of secure oil right next door mean America will have little incentive to reduce its dependence on oil?

"What Canada’s doing," says May, "is continuing to feed the U.S. addiction to fossil fuels, instead of being the kinda friend who says, 'Let’s make a helpful intervention here.' We're acting as the supplier of a drug fix to the U.S., while all the time saying, 'Just say no.' But we keep selling it."

But unless the Chinese go back to bicycles and Americans trash their SUVs, there will be buyers — for oil anywhere, no matter how it’s found or mined. Right now, Canada has become the land of opportunity for oilmen. They will tell you there is little else on the horizon.

"Bob, if you take a tablet and put on it where is supply gonna come from that we don’t know about today. And you put down all the optimistic points, that tablet will basically be blank," says Pickens.

As blank as the landscape around Fort McMurray, where the world of oil exploration ends.

Does Pickens think the days of cheap oil are gone?

"They’re gone," he says. "From what we knew as cheap oil, when I pumped gasoline in Ray Smith’s Sinclair station on Hinkley Street in Holdenvale, Oklahoma, 11 cents a gallon, that’s gone."

Will we ever again see $1.50 a gallon? "We won’t ever see $1.50 a gallon. No, that’s gone," says Pickens.

Right around the corner from Fort McMurray you can still see oil being produced the traditional way. It’s picturesque now. The wells are still pumping but they belong to the past, like the iron horse that once rode across these prairies.

The future? Up here in Alberta they’re convinced it’s in the dirt.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Oil, conflict and the future of global energy supplies

Global Research

By Courtenay Barnett

“…I knew that I could not ever again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greater purveyor of violence in the world: my own government.” Martin Luther King in his “Beyond Vietnam” April 4, 1967 speech.

The Bush administration has chosen the path of unending war (not so much against terrorism) but by pursuing a path of energy acquisition reliant on aggression that stirs global reactions that lead to terrorism.

Simple fact about oil:

Fossil-based fuel is the world’s main source of energy, but an increasing source of global conflict.

This article posits two main assumptions: (i) that global “peak oil” is fast approaching its optimum level, and (ii) that the Bush administration’s jingoism is directly correlated to US efforts at dominance over strategic oil supplies.

The foregoing observations, if they are to be credibly substantiated, require us taking into account the following considerations:

1. An understanding of the geographical locations of the world’s largest oil and gas deposits, that is, knowledge of “the geography and politics of oil”.
2. An analysis of the concept of “peak oil” and how this concept relates to the problem of global conflict
3. An awareness that the war in Iraq is part of a broader US policy of aggressively pursuing global oil and natural gas reserves to maintain the US economic and strategic dominance over the world.

Therefore, the Iraq war is only a part of an on-going oil war mechanism in order for the US to maintain its economic and other types of hegemonic controls

Whatever doubts or reservations the reader may have at the commencement of reading this article, after a careful grasp of the article’s arguments, one should be left in no doubt that oil considerations dominate and guide US foreign policy decisions. Therefore, as a result of this realisation, if one were to entertain some lurking doubts about stated US public policy – democracy, freedom, etc – that could be understandable, after reconsidering US military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. For in contrast and in contradiction to an apparent benign and enlightened Bush administration’s foreign policy rhetoric, its militaristic adventures are simply neo-colonial wars. These wars are imbedded in considerations (1) (2) and (3) above.


This numerical phrase, 9/11 and the catch-all phrase “war on terror” have repeatedly been recited and relied on by the Bush administration to justify military action in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the imposition of other draconian measures on some of its own citizens, e.g. the Patriot Act, and other homeland security measures. However, it has now been clearly demonstrated in all manner of ways, and even by Bush’s belated grudging acknowledgement – the euphemistic term faulty intelligence is used - that before the US invasion of Iraq there was no training of, or support for terrorists in Iraq; that Iraq was not intent on attacking the US. WMDs non-existence speaks volumes about a lying and deceptive US administration. The term “terrorism” has now become a fashionable tool or a tactic that some unscrupulous countries are now using, taking their cue from the US, to crush or suppress any legitimate dissent or opposition within or outside their borders. Viewed in this light, a reconsideration of the concept of “war on terror” is warranted.

In the absence of a symmetrically positioned or clearly identifiable enemy what is the precise target warranting billions of war dollars spent in war against countries that lack military power to pose a military threat to the United States? How does one defeat with tanks, missiles, bombs and guns an idea that may surface in any sufficiently disaffected person’s mind? Some terrorist attacks tend to be reactive and/or retaliatory. Thus 9/11 could be considered as horrific blowback from the CIA having funded, armed and encouraged Muslim fundamentalist militant actions cum Taliban regime. However, with about 15 Saudis directly involved in the 9/11 attack the nexus of the attack raises even more questions (visit beyond the assumption that one man stationed in remote Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, almost unilaterally orchestrated an attack which US intelligence remained ineffective to stop. This article maintains that Afghanistan and Iraq are essentially oil related military operations pursued by the US in an on-going oil-war, (3) above.

The problem of globally diminishing supplies of fossil fuel supplies now brings us to examine (1) The geography and politics of oil
There is a massive triangle within which the world’s largest supplies of oil and natural gas are to be found. Within the area of this triangle are to be found regions and countries such as:

• The Caspian Sea (with surrounding countries Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan)
• Central Asia (including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and into China and India)
• The Persian and Arabian Gulf states (Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran)

These areas - this triangle of oil and natural gas - hold the world’s greatest reserves of oil and natural gas, which are mirrored, in the global politics of oil.

The US bombed, and has occupied Afghanistan pursuant to a declared policy of pursuing Osama bin Laden. This is an aspect of the US “war on terror(ism)”. There is a complementary logic of US military occupation of Afghanistan. If the US is to become less dependent on Arab oil, its focus will be the oil and natural gas resources of Central Asia and the Caspian Sea regions. However, access to these alternative supplies of oil requires pipeline routes. Afghanistan’s geographical position serves well, the oil and natural gas pipeline transit requirements for a route from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. For the US to establish and keep the pipeline functional, Afghanistan will have to be politically tamed. This political taming of Afghanistan, translates in military terms to having an occupational force in Afghanistan, effectively for the policing of the pipeline against sabotage and controlling the regime in Kabul to be within a sphere accommodative to US oil interests. Viewed in this light, one can more realistically understand sustained US military action in Afghanistan. If Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are to transit natural gas and oil independently of Russia, then stability in Afghanistan (read: protection of an oil pipeline) is vital from an oil geostrategic perspective. Although Afghanistan has very little oil, its strategic importance resides in being a country central for transit to port. US acceptance of Pakistan’s dictatorship under Musharraf is better understood when one views Pakistan’s location next to the Arabian Sea and Afghanistan’s proximity next to Pakistan – how is the oil to reach port if not through Pakistan? In 2005 Russia briefly disrupted gas supplies via a pipeline transiting gas through Ukraine. This action demonstrates the kind of strategic calculations one would then encounter if significant supplies destined for the US had a reliance on lines that traversed geographical territory that was under Russian or other potentially threatening control.

There is a correlated US domestic politics of oil that operates quite personally and directly within the White House. For a moment we might cast aside the fact that the US uses 26% of the world’s oil supplies vis-�-vis all other countries. The personal political oil components are in the personages of President George Bush and Vice-President Richard ‘Dick’ Cheney. Both persons are ‘oil men’. Both men are also aware of the implications for oil supplies in an unstable Middle East. There is an occupied but resistant Iraq as well as an uncertain and non-submissive Iran. Bush’s connections to the oil and gas industries appear to be manipulated by Cheney’s more experienced guiding hand. It has to be noted that in the 2000 Bush/Cheney Presidential campaign Enron was the largest financial contributor.

An early post-inauguration act of Cheney’s was to invite contributions for a national energy policy. Cheney, it might be recalled, had been the CEO of Halliburton, a substantially large oil and gas services company. Bush once owned an oil company. The input to a national energy policy for the US, would, one might believe, be a reflection of a wide spread of concerned and affected interests across the national spectrum - oil industry interests, community and environmental interests, independent academic and scientific interests, alternative energy supplier interests, the military and oversight Congressional interests. Not so – what has come to be known as the “Cheney Energy Policy” (because he orchestrated it) is a policy devised as US national energy policy subservient to oil industry interests [1].

The end result is the billions into military occupation of a country that the US wanted initially to punish when bin Laden had lived in that country and the US now earnestly and compassionately wants to make Afghanistan free for democracy – so the US remains as a truly concerned and militarily committed Uncle Sam. More realistically one might consider that Turkmenistan has the fourth largest natural gas reserves in the world estimated at 100 trillion cubic feet and an Afghan pipeline is a direct route for exporting oil and gas from the Caspian and Central Asian region. Again, there has been militarisation of America’s energy policy. In its intentions as conceptually articulated (PNAC [2]) and its actions as perceived (Afghanistan and Iraq) American power projected into the world seeks dominance with “shock and awe” for dominance not least of all – over the world’s oil supplies.

There are other global considerations at work in the politics of oil – US interests vis-a- vis Russia and China; the world community’s concerns about human rights abuses in countries having large supplies of or being routes of access to such supplies of oil and natural gas; the political intentions of the leaders within countries having large reserves of oil and natural gas; the currencies with which oil is traded are some of the factors at play in bringing countries into line for US access to the world’s oil.

The Bush administration provided a rationale - the relentless pursuit of Osama bin Laden - for carpet bombing of an already devastated post-Soviet occupation Afghanistan. Terrorism is a reactive tactic which can be employed by anyone anywhere in any country. Rational, even if not humane people, are expected to accept that the US is pouring billions into the Afghan war for defence of “freedom”. Again, consider Turkmenistan with the fourth largest natural gas reserves in the world estimated at 100 trillion cubic feet and the need for an Afghan pipeline. Russia’s temporary turning off in 2005 of the gas pipelines shipping gas through Ukraine (to Ukraine and some European countries) is an indication of the kinds of interplay between oil/gas pricing – supply routes and global political strategies. Political tolerance of or resistance to suppliers’ domestic political circumstances works equally for Russia’s strategic pressure on Ukraine as it does with US political responses of tolerance for human rights abuses in Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan.

If one is to be quite cold-blooded about the geo-politics of oil then the following appears to be the immediate probabilities. There will be an increase in American and Russian competition for oil. The fight will not necessarily be direct military confrontation, but proxy political wars will be fought intermittently. Russia is likely to cooperate with China on oil issues in Central Asia. Russia’s reactions on oil issues vis-�-vis Europe’s (read EU) strategy in satisfying its oil needs will be largely a preference for diplomacy over military action. With regard to the US its global focus on oil supplies signals a policy of aggressive military interventions as and when the circumstances permit or are deemed necessary in US interest. In response to US energy policy, the EU and Russia will find themselves afforded political and diplomatic maneuvering room with oil rich countries. The current issue of whether or not Iran can be permitted to become a nuclear power is indicative of this process of the US military stick behind the diplomatic carrots of the Russians and Europeans (see: footnote [9] for further considerations).

Common sense and common humanity would dictate reliance on multilateral solutions and peaceful cooperation for resolving the global energy crisis, but rationality is not always man’s or for that matter the Bush administration’s greatest strength.

(2) Concept of “Peak Oil” and its related problem

The Iraq conflict was accurately predicted by W.C. Clark (“The real reasons for the upcoming war with Iraq: a macroeconomic and geostrategic analysis of the unspoken truth”) [3] and the concept of “peak oil” serves well to explain central sources of coming global conflicts. In a simple economic form “peak oil” means that the world’s demand for oil has outstripped supply.

More detail is required to grasp the concept of “peak oil” for it means the point when global ultimate recoverable reserves of oil begin to decline. Grasp of the concept as a dynamic process, requires thinking of the rate at which the world produces oil vis-�-vis the rate at which globally available oil is consumed. Next, consider the economic impact on oil prices once global reserves have passed the half way mark of all globally available reserves. The “peak oil” problem starts from the halfway point of declining global reserves, and when supply is not able to meet rising demand. This process pushes oil prices upwards.

Some people find it convenient to assume – e.g. Dick Cheney, that the global oil problem arises when the global supply has been exhausted. Cheney’s assumption implies that simply tapping into more oil from Alaska or wherever addresses the problem. However, if there is a glass half full and more is being taken from a fixed non-renewable supply – where does that leave the contents of the glass? Again, the difficulty is, the ensuing decline from the peak. That is to say at the point where half of all oil discoverable has been discovered, and half of the recoverable amount is recovered. At this point ‘peak oil’, the economic consequences of the absence of abundant and cheap fossil fuels, impacts countries in the form of rising oil prices. With rising oil prices, poor non-oil producing countries are severely impacted because balance of payments debts worsen for them in their attempts at maintaining domestic energy supplies.

Prescient analysts such as Hubbert (his 1956 work that predicted the peak for US domestic oil production and the 1970s oil crisis) [4], Clarke (his analysis of the then approaching Iraq oil war) [3] and Campbell (his prediction that 2007 is the global “peak oil” year) [5] are important intellectual assessments worthy of consideration if one wants to understand how the problem of short energy supplies operates.

We need only remind ourselves that fossil fuel is the primary source of energy for the world, is a depleting non-renewable resource, and will rise in price as supplies decline. As William Clark has quite cogently explained, there are correlations between available reserves, currencies, higher oil prices, economic downturns and war [3].

Why diminishing world supplies of oil give cause for increased global conflagrations over accessibility and/or control of oil and gas supplies is easily discernible.

By 2004 the annual compounded rate of global demand for oil was running at just in excess of 2%. Global demand rates for oil, not surprisingly, are highest in the industrialised world. However both China and India, with populations each of over 1 billion are countries rapidly industrialising and their economic development implies increasing demands for energy - oil. Africa has 0.8 billion people and will ultimately advance along the path of industrialisation (South Africa is but one African country launched on the path some 54 others hope to follow). In South America the population is 0.35 billion people and Brazil’s expanding industrialisation process is a further assurance of the world’s increasing demand for oil. While the industrialised North via the WTO is stubbornly refusing easy access for African agricultural produce, this does not imply that the global demand for oil will be stablised or placed in decline by reason of slowed advance towards industrialisation on one continent. Increasing use of the internal combustion engine in all countries will ensure that in both industrialised and non-industrialised countries the demand for oil will continue. Global oil supply is predicted to peak within this decade (i.e. by 2010). Colin Campbell has pinpointed 2007 as the global “peak oil” year [8]. Without changes in how the world’s energy is provided we can therefore expect increased conflicts over oil supplies, of which Iraq is the start of a more aggressive process by the US for control of the world’s large deposits.

(3) Iraq is part of an on-going oil war

“Freedom” and “democracy” are proffered as credible secondary or even tertiary reasons after the primary reason provided by George Bush for the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The primary reason given: to rid Saddam of WMDs. The US invasion was belatedly presented as a principled rescue mission to remove the yoke of Saddamist oppression from around the necks of the long-suffering Iraqis. There are however some considerable credibility factors of fabrication, inconsistency and lies plaguing the ‘principled’ rescue mission [6]. And be assured that one can readily discern consistency and credibility in this declared US foreign policy - or can we? (cf. Uzbekistan - natural gas and oil - terror dictatorship - freedom? - democracy? - US ally). In 1997 the US State Department issued a report that acknowledged Uzbek government “torture”, “repression” and widespread human rights abuses [7]. In 1995 the US had started joint military training of Uzbek forces and the US continues to give grants to Uzbekistan to buy military equipment. Human rights abuses - natural oil and gas - US friendship and military training - Washington’s certification for continued assistance - work well together in Uzbekistan. It is to this country’s prisons that captured foreigners are secretly taken under the US government’s ‘Rendition’ programme to a country where the State Department has documented that torture is widely practised [7]. To be fair, US/Uzbek relations have also been strained. In May 2005, the Uzbek government bloodily suppressed a rebellion in the eastern town of Andizhan and this drew US criticism. Uzbekistan did evict the US base about July 2005. However, when oil and US oil companies come into play, one is left with the impression of abiding tolerance of the human rights abuses that without resolute international pressure are unlikely to abate in the near future [8]. When NATO demanded in 2005 an international investigation into Islam Karimov’s abuses, the US vetoed that call.

With North Korea having openly stated its continued development of nuclear capabilities and at a time when Iraq under UN sanctions had been known to have disarmed, it is the country no longer possessing WMDs that the US decides to invade - makes sense - but only if the underlying reason for invading Iraq is clearly understood. The single clearest and most logical reason for the US invasion of Iraq remains an effort by the US to dominate Iraqi oil sales. The word “dominate” is chosen for it is the commanding influence over the currency in which Iraqi oil is sold that is primarily important. Opponents to this idea would observe that the US is capable of buying all the oil it needs as oil is traded globally in dollars.

This brings us to the point of understanding the real reason for US invasion of Iraq. Saddam’s selling of Iraq’s oil in the Euro (as of 2000) was more of an explosive threat to US interests than any WMDs so far found in Iraq by George Bush. If not by political persuasion for continued Iraqi oil sales in the US dollar, then by invasion to finally fix the problem. Consider the precipitous impact on the US economy when petrodollars rapidly cease to subsidise US living standards. The Bush administration perceived this threat as requiring the alternative to political resolution – military action - as Saddam was resolved and not playing according to US rules. There are subsidiary other reasons as well: (1) muscle flexing of the sole superpower (2) placating and enhancing regional cooperation with Israel (3) reshaping the Middle East into a sphere of US hegemony under the guise of promoting “democracy” (4) pursuing a personal agenda of revenge against Saddam’s misdeed of trying to kill Daddy Bush (5) muscle flexing by Jr. by finishing what Daddy Bush had commenced in Gulf War 1 and going all the way to dominating Iraq (6) following Project for the New American Century ( PNAC) recommendations and translating neo-conservative thoughts into action.

However, notwithstanding all of these other motivational factors oil remains the core factor for the US invasion of Iraq. There are several dictatorships in the world, and one does find it hard to visualise a US invasion into any non-oil producing country in Africa with the proclamations and degree of military commitment to establish “democracy” that George Bush has professed towards Iraq. In a certain ironic sense, one might consider that in 1954 it was the CIA that had effected the overthrow of Mossadeq, a democratically elected and Western leaning moderate Iranian nationalist. His was one of many in a series of CIA engineered coups and US destabilisation endeavors that placed numerous dictators in power around the world (Iran, Indonesia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq to mention some CIA successes and US humanitarian missions). Friendly US assistance in Iran’s case, with US support for the brutal and dictatorial Shah, directly correlated to the fact of Mossadeq having nationalised Iran’s oil. Invasion and US military resolve in Iraq bears a similar direct proportionate correlation to the large reserves of oil in Iraq, as does the Afghanistan military mission relate to US strategic interests in establishing a pipeline.

The pretexts of defence of “freedom” and “democracy” in Iraq came only after the crucial justification of invading to remove the threat of WMDs had been widely discredited. However in US domestic politics it would appear somewhat crass, if not politically disastrous, for President Bush to be professing the truth to the American people that he really did invade Iraq to ensure sale of Iraqi oil in the dollar [9] and for assurance that the world’s second largest supplies of oil in the world remains under US domination for petrodollars. In the corporate controlled media as well as in the political consciousness of the American people there is some measure of misplaced focus and significant measures of unawareness of the role that oil has played historically and continues to play in directing US foreign policy in the Middle East, Central Asia and counties bordering the Caspian Sea [10].

US foreign policy in the Middle East is best understood not so much in terms of spreading democracy in Iraq, or defending human rights, or any country’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities. These are the political terms in which the hard sell of protecting “vital interests” (oil) has to be presented to the populace. The primary US focus and motivational factor in the Middle East is the oil.

There is a geography of oil related global conflicts and there are complementary policies that aggressively support US strategic steps for domination (if not direct control over) the world’s oil reserves. The US has 5% of the world’s population, consumes 26% of the world’s oil, but has only 2% of the world’s oil reserves within its boundaries. US foreign policy therefore focuses both politically and militarily on dominating sources of supply (e.g. invasion of Iraq) and controlling via petrodollars the world’s trading of oil (e.g. opposition to the advancing Iranian oil bourse) [9]. There is an exhaustible global supply of fossil fuel and Iraq has the second largest supply of oil on the planet. It is with a focus on oil that consideration of primary US foreign policy motives in Iraq therefore has to begin and from there one can then better grasp the related problem of US aggression in pursuit of the world’s oil supplies.


The simple solution to the world’s oil supply problem is the development of alternative sustainable and affordable sources of energy.

Some globally necessary steps for consideration are: -

1. Development of affordable and sustainable alternative sources of energy.
2. Viewing the ‘peak oil” problem as essentially a global energy consumption problem requiring global multilateral action for fair resolution. In 1956 M. King Hubbert’s prediction that domestic US oil supplies would peak in the 1970s now implies more serious and urgent attention as global peak approaches (i.e. there is no oil on the moon to be tapped – the world’s supplies are declining on the bell-curve and will in consequence mean more expensive oil). Vice President Dick Cheney is fully aware of the peak oil problem as he expressed in a 1999 speech: - “By some estimates, there will be an average of two-percent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead, along with, conservatively, a three-percent natural decline in production from existing reserves. That means by 2010 we will need on the order of an additional 50 million barrels a day.” The Cheney Energy Report [1] does not recommend either domestic conservationism on fossil fuel use or development of alternative energy supplies, but implies militarism to secure oil supplies and therein is the problem of the Bush administration’s unilateralist or isolationist approach to this global problem. Accessing more of a limited supply implies more costly oil, and the core problem of a sustainable energy supply remains unaddressed.
3. Utilising international protocols to shift global energy usage from fossil fuel to alternative energy sources.
4. Communicating from the global to national and community levels and implementing policies at those national and community levels for energy conservation supported by incentives for more responsible energy usage.

Hydrogen, solar, ethanol, geothermal heat and wind or wave generated sources of energy are probable solutions if appropriate investments in research and development are made. The industrialised world would have to make significant adjustments in its pattern of energy consumption and the US would have to be involved as the world’s largest consumer of fossil fuel. More efficient engines, vehicles that took account of weight to energy consumption ratios, development of household energy storage cells, and industries reliance on alternatives for fossil fuel energy are some of the adjustment considerations. However the industrialised world’s monetary and oil interests are interwoven. The further difficulty is that vested oil interests see a threat to profits in an industry upon which the world is wooed by the internal combustion engine (cars and planes propelled by oil) and energy supplies (electricity) that are dependent on oil supplies that make lucrative profits for globally powerful and influential companies.

The Cheney Report (National Energy Policy) perceives military solutions and the US energy problem as integrated. The problem is that the Cheney report assumes that short supply is the real problem with no honest response to the peak oil pricing problem and the fundamentals that cry out for responsible attention – clean energy supply – affordable energy – non-militaristic access to energy sources – development of alternative energy technologies are the issues to be addressed. There is no intention within the Bush administration of making rational adjustments about US domestic energy units consumed and a decisive shift towards alternative, sustainable and less costly sources of energy as a part of US national energy policy [1].

The development of alternative energy sources nevertheless remains a global imperative and not a mere hair-brained political desire. In present US domestic political terms the “Project for the New American Century” is an influential think-tank for the Bush Administration. While “freedom” and “democracy” are terms used by the PNAC, as in Paul Wolfowitz’s reference to Iraq in terms of “a love of life and democracy”, a love of oil and gas would be closer the mark. The harsh and brutal reality is that for all the talk about liberating Iraq, the US military effort is in actuality about US interests - oil - regional domination of the Middle East’s oil supplies by the US - and a global strategy of inflicting on the world the US’s unipolar objectives. In this sense, the PNAC is accurate when it speaks of unending war, because a retreat from multilateralism (e.g. US violation of UN efforts for peacefully resolving the Iraq WMD issue via continuation to final inspections by the IAEA) does actually imply war [9]. But imperial empires have overreached themselves in the past and history will bear out that the current US foreign policy trajectory will ultimately arrive at the same end of over-extension and unsustainability.

Practical steps in the necessary rational and peaceful direction of alternative energy sources have been taken by Japan (hydrogen cell research), Brazil (ethanol for fuel power), Portugal (constructing the world’s largest solar powered plant and spending $307 million on the project), and Denmark (30% of its national energy supplies converted to wind generated supplies). The alternative technologies are not as developed, efficient or diverse in application as the ways in which oil has been used, however concerted effort through scientific research can change that fact.
Accepting that the oil companies will not willingly advance agendas of developing alternative supplies (why should they research their demise?), thoughts about effecting the necessary changes remain important for the quality of life of the world’s ordinary citizens and need to be placed in international fora as an important global problem requiring timely solutions.

The United Nations is a global forum where the world’s problems are deliberated. The consequences of the recent struggle over oil in Iraq remain current in global and therefore UN collective consciousness as evidence of the emerging intensified scramble for oil. The International Atomic Agency is an important energy related agency within the UN system that has specific mandates. Could the IAEA be a useful existing forum for expansion of a global agenda into addressing wider global energy issues?

If the interrelations between oil - nuclear power/political power - industrialised societies demand for global oil supplies - absence of sufficient technological innovations based on alternative energy supplies - and skewed global economic distributions between the industrialised nations and suppliers of oil vis-�-vis non-industrialised countries are noted - then the same anxieties that the IAEA has for non- nuclear proliferation could be merged into a comprehensive energy forum for finding globally sustainable energy alternatives.

I have suggested the UN comprehensively addressing the world’s energy problems because neither oil companies themselves, nor powerful individual industrialised countries are likely to be catalysts for fairness (witness the unfairness within the WTO and Doha round - Professor Robert Hunter Wade of the London School of Economics in a November 4,2005, letter to the London Financial Times observed: “Sixty per cent of the increase in world consumption over the 1990s accrued to people living in the upper half of the developed countries’ income distribution, less than 10 per cent of the world’s population; and most of the rest to the burgeoning middle class of China.”). There is an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAE) that has a market analysis perspective, but there remains a need for a properly funded global organization to assist nations’ transformation into alternative energy as the “peak oil” problem impacts all countries.

Notwithstanding, as the global energy crisis looms there is no more realistic response than recourse to a (the) globally empowered body – the UN. Levels of energy units consumed per country of a specific non-renewal resource have to be assessed by reference to more rational applications of substitute renewable energy sources. A shift towards globally affordable energy will also have to be assisted by some form of grass roots consciousness about the types of interrelationships between - oil - currency and exchange rates - global demand for energy - skewed global wealth distribution - war - poverty. The UN can function as an effective global intermediary between private greed and global public need, by attracting funding from governments as well as private corporations (a few billion more from Bill Gates maybe?) to advance along the path of stable supplies of affordable and sustainable energy supplies. And in reflecting on recent related events in Iraq, we can appreciate the attractiveness of “democracy”, yet we can also reject its cynical invocation as a last minute clutch at a straw of credibility in a US led oil war.

A US cynical disdain for “freedom” extends beyond Iraq (for there can be no genuine “freedom” as in Hamid Khazi’s Afghanistan where a “puppet” is manipulated into power to advance US oil interests. The need remains for a popular, democratic and indigenously supported movement pursuing national development by utilising the country’s natural resources for the greater benefit of its people. Afghanistan remains a country devastated first by Soviet occupation and then by the ‘liberating’ cluster bombs of the US setting out militarily to embed for development of the pipeline). The predictable pattern, as in Saudi Arabia, will be US complicity with wrongdoing in oil rich regimes under a corrupt oligarchy - with or without the label of “democracy” - being manipulated by foreign interests. Uzbekistan is a friendly and acceptable country, albeit an oil and natural gas rich regime practising widespread torture, while the democratically elected leader of Venezuela is not acceptable to the US.

The US extends its tolerance of “freedom” and “democracy” to the point where policies of true independence not submissive to US dictates start to emerge – i.e. autonomous policies of development for the people’s welfare. Venezuela in this regard is thus to be labeled a pariah state, notwithstanding its democratically elected leader, and Uzbekistan, with the dictatorial Karimov and US State Department documentation of widely practised torture is a tolerable friend to which the US secretly sends “Rendition prisoners”. Under current US foreign policy “freedom” does appear to be submission to US economic interests [8]. US support for the overthrow of a democratically elected leader in Venezuela is itself a quite revealing example of cynicism in action as democracy is to be defeated wherever independent action advances. Hugo Chavez in Venezuela was the target of a 2002 US supported coup and Iraq remains a country illegally invaded and occupied by the US - both having significant supplies of oil. What one discerns is this manipulative process of domination under US imperial rule. As a country submits to the dictates of US economic policies so its people suffer, and as any truly democratic or popular force resists US domination in pursuit of a people’s struggle for independence and development the US opposes, subverts or invades. Venezuela and Uzbekistan are current recent representative examples of this foreign policy at work.

Future global demands for oil will increase and therefore US (and probably other countries) aggression over access to oil can realistically be anticipated. In the breech between the world’s demand for oil and the shortage of global supply one therefore sees roles for global political consciousness as well as for the UN as broker between old interests in the industrialised world and new technological opportunities, as well as for other forces. Bodies of concerned citizens, human rights activists, media commentators, alternative energy suppliers, elements within business and industry sufficiently concerned about their own need for affordable energy and even politicians are some potential forces for change.
One is presently aware that a Mom at home in Idaho or a villager in Ghana will not in the least be interested in what is written here. If ever those individuals broach thoughts about “peak oil”, the concept will sound like the thoughts of a Martian visitor from outer space. Yet the concept is quite real and earthly as it impacts the cost of heating for the Idaho Mom’s home or putting fuel in her car, as much as it is relevant to the cost of kerosene for cooking in Ghana. Yet, there are still detractors who ignore the hard statistical evidence, and assume that the oil depletion problem is mythology [11].


Martin Luther King shortly before his death had opposed the Vietnam War. President Johnson had started the Vietnam War with a lie when he forgot the international dateline and announced a North Vietnamese attack on a US vessel the day before the incident actually occurred, the Bay of Tonkin incident launching the war. President Bush lied with Secretary of State Colin Powell’s helpful address to the UN that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction hidden in Iraq. Bush himself knowing the opposite to be true repeated the lie and sought to deceive Americans and the world that Saddam assisted with the 9/11 attack, [10]. It is for such reasons that thousands of people are bombed and American soldiers are sacrificing their lives.

Hungry interests constructed lies (the “dodgy dossier”) to embark on a bloody strategy of control and domination of Middle Eastern oil. However, despite the deceptions and the more palatable proclamations about genuine interest in the pursuit of “freedom” and “democracy” (reminiscent of words used by Kennedy in a letter sent to the South Vietnamese installed leader) there is a juncture where honestly oil must be placed as central in the foreign policy calculus. Rather oil always has been central in US foreign policy assessments, but the American people themselves need to become more aware and enlightened about the depth and implications of their leaders’ lies, deceptions and ruthless pursuits of interests inimical to both the American people and the world (30,000 to 100,000 people dead and hundreds others harmed and maimed is a very heavy price to pay - not for “freedom” and “democracy” as Bush lies about - but for oil and gas).

The Uranium Information Centre in Melbourne, Australia, confirms that there are 31 countries with nuclear power plants. There are a further 7 seeking to acquire nuclear capabilities. The US bellicose position on Iran, in attempting to justify another oil war against Iran would have to be seen in the light of what actually is the position in the world and not the world from George Bush’s “nuclear bait” line to hook American public opinion. A 32nd country having nuclear capabilities will not be a threat to the US.

The anti-nuclear arguments presently being run are the equivalent of Bush’s WMD ruse in his build up to attacking Iraq. Afghanistan’s invasion is justified by 9/11; Iraq’s invasion was predicated on WMDs; and, war is to be justified in Iran by resistance to Iran acquiring nuclear capabilities. Can the American people continue to be duped by the military service dodger - George Bush [10]? Are any of these oil wars being fought by Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld or Powell’s children? Is it credible for the American people to endorse the hypocrisy of the US policy of setting out to overthrow a democratically elected leader (Venezuela), ignoring a dictatorial and torturous ruler (Uzbekistan) and illegally invading where oil’s petrodollars are sought (Iraq)?

For decades the US has supported an oligarchic and corrupt dictatorship in Saudi Arabia –why no concerned or timely effecting of change where the US has had direct influence and military bases [9]? One has to look at the real reasons of oil interests to make sense of the US policy postures of professed concerns over human rights or democracy or non-proliferation. In the mid-1980s the US had not only praised Saddam as progressive for educating Iraqi women and advancing the Iraqi people’s welfare (vis-�-vis other Arab states), but rewarded him by selling significant amounts of dual-purpose arms exports. Was it not possible for the US to have supported a UN veto in the 1980s against Saddam’s human rights abuses instead of having supported him? Maybe the CIA having installed Saddam would have then made it counterintuitive to overthrow him before he struck out on an independent course of action (i.e. selling oil in the Euro in 2000).

The war in Iraq was started by deceit and little that Bush does conveys any credibility in management of this illegal war. Where is there principle, credibility or genuine interest in the welfare of the invaded Iraqis or for the welfare of unsuspecting and co-opted US soldiers fighting for what? - Oil! Having destroyed Iraq the US will insist on selling its produce to Iraq with Iraqi oil money spent as loosely as is convenient in the US interest. Proven deceits of those who started the oil war in Iraq urge reconsideration of US foreign policy as it relates to domination over Middle Eastern oil supplies. Every reader of this article is invited seriously to consider the implications of Bush nuking Iran. Bush is running the line of Iran being a “real threat” to the US and in real terms this signals that Chief Bush is on the warpath again. The US in fact has been the greatest force in militarising the Middle East and it has also resolutely and consistently rejected any linkage between a country’s human rights record and sales to that country of arms - where is there humanity or principle manifested in policy?

The Project for the New American Century has prescribed unending war, and war will be the result when warmongers embark on a policy of invasions and support of dictators to dominate desired sales of oil supplies in dollars. A more sober and peace focused world system’s theory is a rational alternative. The Bush administration has chosen the path of unending war (not so much against terrorism but by pursuing a path of energy acquisition reliant on aggression that stirs global reactions that lead to terrorism). The bellicose policies that the PNAC advocates most definitely stir reactions of resentment and retaliation. War is the PNAC mantra and peace converted into globally sustainable energy supplies for the world will have to be Bush’s and the PNAC’s nemesis. The problem, I suppose, is not that I understand why the US has invaded and occupied Afghanistan or Iraq, but that so many Americans have yet to comprehend what is being done in their name.

Analysis, consensus building, rational solutions for the energy problem affecting all energy users on the planet is a better path to follow than the presently designed path of exacerbating global conflict for dominance over oil resources.

Common sense dictates a need to recognise the ways in which oil as the world’s primary source of energy directs not only US foreign policy, but also impacts all citizens of the world. Some people are in countries where increasing oil prices have devastated their already oil dependent economies; some people in industrialised countries perceive their civilization and/or economic progress threatened by inadequate access to affordable oil supplies; and in all non oil producing countries there is greater strain placed on national budgets to pay for oil [12]. Decision makers in the US bombed, invaded, occupied and caused at lowest estimate over 30,000 innocent civilian deaths in Iraq’s oil war. These are the discernible human consequences of the way in which powerful interests pursue the ends of dominance over global oil supplies. Human beings do enter the calculations of “peak oil” and on the present trajectory of US foreign policy increasingly as corpses in coming oil wars. We ought to consider ways in which alternative energy supplies can be developed and utilised. Humankind made itself dependent on oil as a primary energy source and human beings can therefore find ways, as an imperative, of weaning ourselves on to alternative sustainable and more peacefully accessible sources of energy supplies.

Courtenay Barnett is a graduate of London University. His areas of study were economics, political science and international law. He has been a practising lawyer for over twenty years, has been arrested for defending his views, and has argued public interest and human rights cases. His web site:


[1] See: National Energy Policy at Legal battles are advancing where disclosure is being sought of details within the report, to connect Cheney with wrongdoing in respect of Halliburton and his cronyism, but aspects of this energy policy report that affects the US and the world are being suppressed.
[2] See: for the PNAC’s statement of its goals for the US: -
“ The Project for the New American Century is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to a few fundamental propositions; that
American leadership is good for America and for the world; and that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle.”
This global objective is so reminiscent of the earlier domestic version expressed by a General Motors CEO that what was good for General Motors was good for America.
The US Department of Defense has a $425b annual budget. It can realistically be anticipated that in consequence of the Bush administration’s reliance on PNAC prescriptions, ever increasing sums will be required for establishment of permanent military bases in oil important countries and for the prosecution of oil wars.
[3] — “The real reasons for the upcoming war with Iraq: a macroeconomic and geostrategic analysis of the unspoken truth” by W.C. Clark.
[4] See, inter alia: M. King Hubbert, “Energy from Fossil Fuels”, Science, vol. 109, pp. 103-109, February 4, 1949. Hubbert also wrote about the handicap of two systems he termed “matter-energy” and “monetary culture”.
[5] See: “The Coming Oil Crisis” by Colin Campbell (, Multi-Science Publishing Co. Ltd., 2004, ISBN 0906522110. His work can be viewed at Also note the book by Kenneth Deffeyes, “Hubbert’s Peak: The impending world oil shortage”.
[6] Consider these statements: -
“Hussein has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors.”
–Colin Powell on February 24, 2001
“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction,”
–Dick Cheney on August 26, 2002.
“Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent. That is enough agent to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets. Even the low end of 100 tons of agent would enable Saddam Hussein to cause mass casualties across more than 100 square miles of territory, an area nearly five times the size of Manhattan.”
–Colin Powell at the UN on February 5, 2003
“Intelligence leaves no doubt that Iraq continues to possess and conceal lethal weapons.”
–George W. Bush on March 18, 2003
“We are asked to accept Saddam decided to destroy those weapons. I say that such a claim is palpably absurd.”
Tony Blair, Prime Minister 18 March 2003
“Saddam’s removal is necessary to eradicate the threat from his weapons of mass destruction.”
Jack Straw, British Foreign Secretary 2 April 2003
“Before people crow about the absence of weapons of mass destruction, I suggest they wait a bit.”
Tony Blair 28 April, 2003
One need not crow but honestly ask whether French and Russian intelligence assessments belying the statements that came after Colin’s Powell’s February 24, 2001 statement, coupled with the calculated lies about yellow cake from Niger and the “dodgy dossier” fabricated by British Intelligence and handed to the US (assisting Powell’s statement to the UN on February 5, 2003) can leave any sensible and rational person in doubt about the levels of dishonesty, collusion, fabrication and calculated deception that led the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
[7] See: Any recent US State Department annual report on Uzbekistan’s human rights record. There is clear documentation of widespread abuses, known to the US government.
[8] The former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, resigned in principled protest at his government’s willfully ignoring widespread torture practised by the Uzbek government. Details on his position can be found at On May 13, 2005, over 700 people under the leadership of Islam Karimov were slaughtered in Uzbekistan for protesting for democracy. However, the calls for “democracy” in Uzbekistan are not an interest neutral movement. Such movements correlate to external geostrategic interests. As former US Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick astutely delineated, there were “totalitarian” and “authoritarian” regimes. The former being those tolerated as not being unduly harmful to US interests and the latter being those outside the ambit of acceptability. Karimov from present indications remains in the former grouping, being tolerated as of use to larger US interests.
[9] See: ” The real reasons why Iran is the next target:” The Asian Energy Security Grid; Shanghai Cooperation Council; Iranian oil bourse are energy supply initiatives moving independently of the US and as such are therefore deemed threats to US energy resource dominance or control. Dollars as payment for oil compels countries to rely on the US dollar. These transactions of petrodollars provide a massive global subsidy for the US economy. The Iranian oil bourse will be an alternative of payment in the Euro afforded the world’s oil purchasers (as Saddam had done under the UN “Oil for food programme”. Post-invasion Iraq witnessed the US canceling all non-dollar Iraqi oil sales. Exclusive dollar trading is good for the US, but is unhelpful for a world holding depreciating dollars). Iran’s threat in an economic sense is that it will offer the world an alternative to petrodollars and the US will therefore endeavour via military or sabotage or propaganda or whatever means to halt the process of a shift into Euro trading. The US response to the 1970s domestic “peak oil” problem was by way of special and secret arrangements with a corrupt Saudi oligarchy for recycling of petrodollars. A reason for such secrecy relates to the fact that such arrangements conflicted with US commitments to other industrialised nations to avoid pursuit of unilateral policies. Cf. the difficulty of the US facing global “peak-oil”, and now on a global scale pursing unilateralism a la PNAC recommendations. From a US perspective, the dilemma is one of finding comparative political and/or economic formulae that work to the overwhelming economic benefit of the US, as has been the case with Saudi Arabia. The American populace remains emotionally manipulated by appeals to nationalistic defence of the homeland – but their economic circumstances are not that simple and need in American collective consciousness correlation to broader global factors that are affecting the cost of America’s supply of oil. The PNAC has quite clearly honed in on the fact of America’s dependence on oil and has also opted for the military imperative. Interestingly the CIA head of Mossadeq’s overthrow in 1953, Kermit Roosevelt (grandson of Theodore Roosevelt), wrote then “ If we are ever going to try something like this again, we must be absolutely sure that (the) people and army want what we want”. Clearly in Venezuela they didn’t and in Iraq – well – maybe the mission is not yet accomplished.
[10] The Indian publication, “The Hindu” in its Sunday, April 13, 2003 edition had this to say about the US ‘coalition’ in Iraq: “That these fictions are believed nowhere in the planet except in the United States is a tribute to the capacity of U.S. corporate media to manipulate their public. So, even as their image takes a beating, don’t underestimate their ability to sell war and death. They’ve been doing it — with some success — for decades”
[11] See: “Thermodynamics and money” by Peter Huber at
[12] See: for a credible overview of the world’s oil reserves.