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Climate Change

Let’s “Finally, Formally, Categorically, & Irreversibly” End Our Oil Obsession!

Why isn’t the US using the opportunity of limited oil and gas resources to promote a WWII-style push to renewable energy?

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As Winston Churchill was working to form the United Nations after WWII, he famously said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” It’s an aphorism that Thomas Friedman called upon this week as he considered US foreign policy amidst a national obsession with oil. The US, states Friedman — regardless of how the war ends in Ukraine — needs to be “finally, formally, categorically, and irreversibly ending its addiction to oil.” He argues that no other influence has distorted US “foreign policy, our commitments to human rights, our national security, and, most of all, our environment than our oil addiction.”

Our oil obsession must stop, as it has had many casualties, and the climate crisis is at the top.

Thomas L. Friedman is an author and reporter who has received 3 Pulitzer Prizes — 2 for international reporting. A columnist for the New York Times, Friedman is quite disappointed with the Biden administration and, particularly, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as they are “doubling down on our oil addiction, rather than tripling down on renewables and efficiency.” The spark for that regression, “bogus Republican claims that Biden’s energy policies are responsible for higher gasoline prices,” has led to Biden and team to beg some of the biggest petro-dictatorships in the world — Venezuela, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, in particular — to extract more oil in attempts to push down gasoline prices.

“Is this the future we want?” Friedman asks. “As long as we’re addicted to oil, we are always going to be begging someone, usually a bad guy, to move the price up or down, because we alone are not masters of our own fate.”

Begging oil from petro-dictatorships is a simplistic solution to a systemic energy problem. Quick drilling will not lead to substantive near-term effects on gasoline prices.

It’s important to remember that higher prices at the pump are an artificial inflation created by oil conglomerates. It’s not a coincidence that more robust 2021 profits came after shareholders pressured fossil fuel corporations to restrict supply in order to drive prices higher.

“This is our umpteenth confrontation with a petro-dictator whose viciousness and recklessness are possible only because of the oil wealth he extracts from the ground,” Friedman reminds us. Petrostates also have highly concentrated political and economic power, resting in the hands of an elite, as well as unaccountable political institutions which are susceptible to corruption.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, a petrostate describes a country with several interrelated attributes:

  • government income is deeply reliant on the export of oil and natural gas
  • economic and political power are highly concentrated in an elite minority
  • political institutions are weak and unaccountable, and corruption is widespread

For years, petro-dictatorships like Venezuela, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia have managed to manipulate US policies and feed a reckless oil obsession. Benefiting from a sick symbiotic relationship, these petro-dictators have largely escaped social upheaval through programs and security resources purchased with oil royalties.

Friedman pleads to let this “be the last war in which we and our allies fund both sides.” This Western alliance has aided Ukraine’s military with tax dollars, and — since Russia’s energy exports finance 40% of its state budget — has funded Putin’s army with purchases of Russian oil and gas. Oil money allows an autocrat like Putin to buy off domestic opposition, build a military machine, and create a war chest to ward off sanctions, note Colgan and Weeks of the Washington Post. Major oil-exporting petrostates like Russia are about 50% more conflict prone than non-petrostates, on average, and oil has played a role in 25 to 50% of recent wars.

US President Joe Biden said recently that the Russian invasion of Ukraine “should motivate us to accelerate the transition to clean energy.” His weak follow-through was a stark symbol of how the US oil obsession is tearing at the fabric of the nation. Between one-quarter and one-half of interstate wars since 1973 have been connected to one or more oil-related causal mechanisms:

  • resource wars, in which states try to acquire oil reserves by force;
  • petro-aggression, whereby oil facilitates domestic political control of aggressive leaders such as Saddam Hussein or Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini;
  • externalization of civil wars in petrostates;
  • financing for insurgencies, such as Iranian oil money to Hezbollah;
  • conflicts over potential oil-market domination, such as the US conflict with Iraq over Kuwait in 1991;
  • control over transit routes, such as shipping lanes and pipelines;
  • oil-related grievances, whereby the presence of foreign workers in petrostates helps extremist groups such as al-Qaida recruit locals; and,
  • as an obstacle to multilateral cooperation, such as when an importer curries favor with a petrostate to prevent multilateral cooperation on security issues.

“This has got to stop,” Friedman utters. He acknowledges that there will be a transition phase during which oil, gas, and coal use will continue to be acceptable, as “we can’t go cold turkey. But let’s vow to double the pace of that transition — not double down on fossil fuels.”

Nothing would threaten Putin more than that, he says.

Electricity is in the Air — Goodbye, Oil Obsession

Media headlines have switched very quickly from dismissing electric vehicles (EVs) as whims, with lists of reasons why not to buy an EV and frustrated musings about why more people don’t buy EVs, to helpful overviews about why your EV will help to reduce emissions and tips for EV shopping.

Texas, the state that made it illegal to divest from fossil fuels, is, paradoxically, expected to add another 35 gigawatts (GW) of solar and wind power capacity by 2023.

Friedman suggests these are elements of “making this a true national mission,” one that “would get us to a clean power economy so much faster.”

What victory gardens were to WWII efforts could have been translated into this generation’s solar rooftops in a collective struggle against petro-dictatorships, he continues. “Is that too much to ask to win the war against petro-dictators like Putin — a victory in which the byproduct is cleaner air, not burning tanks?”

Friedman offers several suggestions to wean ourselves from our oil obsession and begin the post-fossil capital era.

  • Increase clean power standards for electric utilities so that every US power utility is required to reduce its carbon emissions by shifting to renewables at a rate of 7% to 10% percent a year. 31 states have already set steadily rising clean energy standards for their public utilities.
  • Enact a national law that gives every consumer the ability to join participate in the conversion to renewables by eliminating the regulatory red tape around installing rooftop solar systems and giving every household in the US a tax rebate to do so — like Australia has done.
  • Promote all electrified cars, trucks, buildings, factories, and homes.

“Once the grid is running mostly on renewables — presto! — we become increasingly free of fossil fuels,” Friedman exclaims, “and Putin becomes increasingly dollar poor. That’s right. The technology is here. We can now put Putin over a barrel.”

“It is just a matter of leadership and national will. What are we waiting for?”

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a Model Y as well as a Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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