Disengagement II - How We Walk Away

Previous article: Why we must disengage

To bring about lasting reform to the Middle East, we need to stop treating the dictatorships and the absolute monarchies with kids gloves and we need to back the groups pushing for liberal social reform. To do this from a position of military and economic safety, we need to cut out the control the dictatorships and the absolute monarchies have over the West’s oil supply. It’s as simple as that.

Ideally, we should make it a policy to only trade with countries that are multi-party democracies, or who are closing in on such a goal. Fortunately, there are countries in the Middle East which are more liberal in their social and political outlook than Saudi Arabia and Iran. Oman is one, as is possibly Yemen. We can also deal with Qatar and, if a free and democratic society can be salvaged from the chaos, Iraq, but such a policy is likely to reduce the amount of oil available to us from this region.

The United States should take comfort in the fact that Saudi Arabia is no longer its largest supplier of crude oil and energy. Canada is. And Mexico is close to being number two. Significant untapped resources are in the secure hands of America’s closest allies, whose commitment to democracy will never waver. But though the United States is lucky, other nations aren’t, and chances are that if we hope to reduce our dependence on despotically controlled oil, we will all have to reduce our dependency on oil, full stop.

There are plenty of good reasons we should be looking to reduce our consumption of oil. To cut pollution. To cut greenhouse gas emissions. To accept the simple fact that the oil supply in this world is finite, and that if China achieves its goal of an American standard of living within the next twenty-five years, the world’s oil consumption will rise by 160% — not including what India does to grow its economy during that period.

But these reasons seem to be too far in the future for officials within the Bush Administration and other countries in the West. Perhaps, to drive home our point, we should link up the reasoning to the War on Terror, as that appears to infuse much of the thinking behind the Bush Administration’s policies.

Ultimately, since oil is a finite resource, and the conflicts over the remaining supply are only going to grow, we need to switch to a new source of energy — maybe gradually, but soon. This realization shouldn’t be an issue of left or right, but a fact recognized by all rational thinkers whether socialist or libertarian.

We may luck out. Maybe in the next twenty years, a technology will present itself. I, for one, think a hydrogen economy is in our future. By 2020, Iceland hopes to eliminate its dependence on carbon fuels altogether. It helps that they’re sitting on a geothermal battery, but there’s no reason why the technology couldn’t be exported and adapted. Japan, which depends even more on Middle East oil, but which also sits on a battery, should be watching closely.

I’m willing to turn a portion of Yellowstone into a geothermal battery if it stops the coming oil crunch and saves our air, but it doesn’t even have to be this invasive. The temperature of the earth just a few feet underground is a constant 13’C, winter, spring, summer or fall. That’s enough to heat our homes in winter and cool them in summer at substantial energy savings. The Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties has done this. Despite being headquartered in the middle of Alberta’s oil patch, the association’s new building uses a heat pump and a salt solution to keep its energy costs low. The savings achieved paid off the initial investment in just two years.

Finally, fuel efficiency regulations should be applied to SUVs and light trucks as well as smaller cars. Republicans refuse to do this, even though such legislation would remove the need to drill in the Alaska Wildlife Reserve. This is yet another example of capitalism’s propensity to focus on unsustainable short term gains, while sacrificing its long term future.

The inescapable fact is that oil is finite. We see it in how it has affected our foreign policy. We accept it when we make deals with dictators to hold back radical insurgents. China plans for it whenever it buys up another oilfield. The only people who couldn’t possibly care about the long term effects of this situation are those who believe in imminent Armaggedon; who think that the world’s resources will last just long enough until the coming of the Rapture, and who believe that proof of this comes from the very environmental problems and resource crunches we are hoping to avoid.

And, disturbingly, you do catch a few such people walking the halls of the White House.

Further Reading

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