Will Oil Dependence Lead to War Once again?

September 18, 2019

Bill McKibben in the Guardian:

We are sadly accustomed by now to the idea that our reliance on oil and gas causes random but predictable outbreaks of flood, firestorm and drought. The weekend’s news from the Gulf is a grim reminder that depending on oil leads inevitably to war too.

Depending on how far back you want to stand, the possibility of war with Iran stems from a calculated decision by Tehran or its Houthi allies to use drones and missiles on Saudi installations, or on the infantile rage that drove President Trump to tear up a meticulously worked out and globally sponsored accord with Iran and to wreck its economy. But in either case, if you really take in the whole picture, the image is rendered in crude, black tones: were it not for oil, none of this would be happening.
Were it not for oil, the Middle East would not be awash in expensive weapons; its political passions would matter no more to the world than those of any other corner of our Earth. Were it not for oil, we would not be beholden to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – indeed, we might be able to bring ourselves to forthrightly condemn its savagery. Were it not for oil, we would never have involved ourselves in a ruinous war with Iraq, destabilising an entire region. (I remember the biting slogan on a sign from an early protest against the war with Saddam Hussein: “How did our oil end up under their sand?”)

We’ve come to take for granted that this is how the world works. Within hours of the pictures of devastated oilfields, we had “explainers” from our various news outlets reminding us of the realities of our predicament: with Aramco largely offline, the world’s spare capacity was mostly gone. Hence oil prices would spike upwards. Hence there would be damage to the world’s economy. Reporters quoted gloating Revolutionary Guards from Iran and concerned Opec officials, and stock analysts waiting breathlessly to see how Wall Street would react. The drama seemed choreographed because we’ve seen it so often that everyone knows their parts.
But this iteration of the opera is different in one way. An unspoken truth hangs over the whole predictable scene: this will be the first oil war in an age when we widely recognise that we needn’t depend on oil any longer.
The last time we started down this path, in Iraq more than 15 years ago, a solar panel cost 10 times what it does today. Wind power was still in its infancy. No one you knew had ever driven an electric car. Today the sun and the breeze are the cheapest ways to generate power on our Earth, and Chinese factories are churning out electric vehicles. That is to say, we have the technology available to us that would render this kind of warmongering transparently absurd even to the most belligerent soul.

We haven’t come close to fully deploying that technology, of course – and unlike 15 years ago we understand why. Thanks to great investigative reporting, we now know that the oil industry knew all about climate changedecades ago, but instead of acknowledging it and helping us move to a new energy future, they instead spent billions building the scaffolding of deceit and denial and disinformation that kept us locked in the present paradigm. Just as they have profited from sea-level rise and Arctic melt, so they will profit from the war now starting to unfold. (Right on schedule, the share prices of fracking firms and oil majors all jumped perkily northwards on Monday morning.)

If it happens, this war, like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, will cost untold lives, most of them civilian. It will also, like those conflicts, cost trillions of dollars. Imagine if we had spent those trillions of dollars not on cruise missiles and up-armoured Humvees, but on solar farms and offshore wind turbines. Imagine if we’d stuck insulation in the walls of every building in the US, and built a robust network of electric vehicle chargers.

That’s not a fanciful vision – it’s exactly what legislation such as the Green New Deal envisions in the US – and indeed there are very similar proposals in the UK and Canada, and across the EU. But we are told that the Green New Deal is an impossibly expensive boondoggle – by precisely the same people now eager to pour blood and treasure down a hole in the desert. A trillion dollars spent on war returns nothing except trauma and misery; a trillion dollars spent on solar panels leaves behind a nation that gets its power for free each morning when the sun comes up.

That new world is coming – in fact, you can sense its arrival in the somewhat muted reaction to the oilfield drones and missiles. Yes, the price of oil “spiked”. But it’s still historically low, because the planet is awash with oil – and that’s in part because demand growth has begun to soften. The day will come when blocking the strait of Hormuz or blowing up a petrol station will be an empty threat – and that will be a good day indeed.

No one will ever fight a war over access to sunshine – what would a country do, set up enormous walls to shade everyone else’s panels? (Giant walls are hard to build – just ask Trump.) Fossil fuels are concentrated in a few places, giving those who live atop them enormous power; renewable energy can be found everywhere, the birthright of all humans. A world that runs on sun and wind is a world that can relax.

10 Responses to “Will Oil Dependence Lead to War Once again?”

  1. morpheusonacid Says:

    A pity this idiot hasn’t heard of nuclear energy. We saw the consequences of high wind capacity on a grid system with the recent blackout. Grid systems need spare capacity with a rapid response when generators trip. This has been provide by the action of governors on steam turbines. The result of closing these power stations will become more apparent. Even the Nazis understood the problem with wind turbines. Hitler was probably the first green politician. He wanted fossil closed down and replaced with wind turbines, but he understood the unreliability and wanted to produce hydrogen which could be stored. Unfortunately they could not develop a hydrogen economy. Strange but true.

    • Sir Charles Says:

      “Hitler was probably the first green politician”?

      Bollox, he was a brown fascist.

      Grid stability is not linked to renewable energy. And if it is, RE has rather a positive impact.


      • J4Zonian Says:

        Yes, wind stabilizes grids, and batteries perform many ancillary services, including much faster ramps up and down than any fossil or fissile fuel facility (at least intentional ones). Wind and/or solar + batteries is a cheaper combination than any fuel in a growing number of places. The Tesla <100-day battery in Australia, e.g. has saved the people of that area millions while eliminating blackouts. (You can see the wind farm next to it.)

        The world's first megawatt-size wind turbine on Grandpa's Knob, Vermont, 1941 (2MW)
        The more renewables a grid has, the more stable (and cheap) it is.

        Wind stabilizes the grid

        Australia’s Wind Farms Could Be “Core Providers” Of Grid Stability, Says AEMO

        ”Jacobson and colleagues…say that the grid they propose will be … more reliable than today's grid… [That's borne out by experience.]
        reliability is assured through three measures.
        1. dispatchable RE: hydro, geothermal, CSP, waste biomass/methane digestion, OTEC. [Solar and wind + batteries; increasingly, offshore wind alone is semi-dispatchable; higher capacity factor than US coal or gas.]
        2. storage: batteries, pumped, thermal, gravity ”for excess heat (in soil and water) and electricity (in ice, water, phase-change materials tied to CSP, pumped hydro, and hydrogen).”
        3. demand response

        Baseload Is Poison

        Researchers see stronger electric grid in regions with large amounts of renewables


  2. Gingerbaker Says:

    The Iran problem only tangentially involves oil – it is not about oil. It is about radical Islamist theocrats getting their hands on nuclear weapons which they have vowed to use against their enemies.

    And Israel and the United States are the top two on their hit list.

    • Sir Charles Says:

      How would they transport their nuclear weapons to the US? Via post? Their rockets haven’t even a range of 1,500 miles. You guys are just paranoid. Comes from spending to much money for military.

      Seriously, the world should be much more afraid of the US with a moron now as president than worrying about Iran.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        Paranoid? Seriously?!?

        Lots of ways to blow up NYC or DC without using a rocket. Float it into the harbor inside a ship. Smuggle in a suitcase or crate – do you have any idea how small is the percent of imports which are examined?

        These are jihadis – they could fly it in from anywhere within range of a fuel-modified DC-10, detonate from the air.

        FFS, the best intelligence agencies in the world are terrified of Iran. Glad you feel safe where you are.

    • doldrom Says:

      Actually, the last war in which Iran was not the victim was in 1795. The ayatollah’s have declared nuclear weapons haram (impure, sinful), a decree they cannot just walk back in a society like Iran’s. All agencies (including US intelligence) have confirmed that they were sticking to the JCPOA.

      Many ethnic and religious groups have lived side by side (not always at peace, but survived) for millennia in the Mid-East. There was a Jewish community in Baghdad and in Persia, for thousands of years. Sunna and Shia were last engaged in an actual war in 680. The genocides did not start until the CIA got involved.

      America is a far better candidate for a malign actor and a sponsor of terrorism than is Iran. The US officially supports groups like MEK and Baluchi tribals in an attempt to fan the terrorism there, let alone the rest of the world. The US has been using drones for extra-judicial murders for years (in about 37 countries, in contravention of international law), including a 16 year old American in Yemen in 2011 (accident, oops), killing 1147 innocents to go after 41 alleged “bad guys”. Yikes, Yemen again. Drones again.

      The whole Iran narrative has been about oil (BP) and overthrowing democratic governments for about 100 years.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        These are truly dreadful arguments. Wtf is wrong with you, ddrom?

        “Actually, the last war in which Iran was not the victim was in 1795.”

        Iran the victim? Do you have any idea how many innocent people they have slaughtered via terrorist proxies all around the world? Please – STFU.

        “The ayatollah’s have declared nuclear weapons haram (impure, sinful), a decree they cannot just walk back in a society like Iran’s”

        Sure. Which totally explains their nuclear arms program.

        “All agencies (including US intelligence) have confirmed that they were sticking to the JCPOA.”

        False. The Mossad gathered hard evidence they were cheating like hell. They now publicly announce they are cheating on the terms of the agreement, the lovely innocent lambs.

        “The genocides did not start until the CIA got involved”

        What a stinking crock of shit. Muslims and Arabs have been committing genocide against Jews and Christians for ~ 1.5 millennia. Learn your effing history.

        America is a far better candidate for a malign actor and a sponsor of terrorism than is Iran.”

        See? Now you are just sinking into completely implausible propaganda mode. (Wtf are you up to here???)

        Iran has effing taken over an entire country just in the last few years – Lebanon – with its Islamic Revolutionary Guard proxies. They fund Hezbollah to the tune of $600+ million a year. And that is just the tip of the iceberg:

        Click to access UskowiTestimony20180417.pdf

  3. doldrom Says:

    Rohani will not meet with Trump. Forget about it. Nobody trusts Americans to stick to deals, especially not since Trump’s antics.

    As for senseless oil wars, perhaps Trump could start a war somewhere about coal!
    In Manchuria, gets to take on China and Russia over a single issue.

  4. Sir Charles Says:

    A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers wants to defund the U.S. military involvement in the war in Yemen, which could bring the four-year struggle to an end.

    => Sign the petition: Demand Congress cease funding war crimes!

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