Read: “The Pentagon Prepares for Peak Oil”

31 Jul 2010

“More than half of all the cargo moved by the military is just fuel. And 80 percent of the material transported on the battlefield is fuel. That’s a lot of effort, just to move fuel around,” says Profit from the Peak: The End of Oil and the Greatest Investment Event of the Century.

That’s a big reason, the book argues, that the military is taking a close look at remaining oil supplies, and how they might fight wars if oil production starts declining and barrels get more and more expensive.

The book cites articles such as a 2007 Boston Globe piece, “Pentagon Says Oil Won’t Last,”, and a report on ways the Navy could cut oil use—including pulling its ships by kites.

But this isn’t just the kind of far-out threat analysis that the military likes to do, but something that Congress has heard about from government veterans, too, like George Shultz and James Woolsey. Their 2005 report “Oil and Security” (pdf available through The Internet Archive) argued for big spending on renewable energy.

Profit from the Peak captures the arguments from Woolsey and others like him:

In 2005, Woolsey testified before the House Armed Services Committee on the proposed takeover of Unocal by China Oil, along with Frank Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy and a prominent neoconservative who championed the Iraq war, and Richard D ’ Amato of the U.S. – China
Security Review Commission.

It was probably the most unflinching, candid talk about energy, peak oil, security, trade defi cits, and China anyone in the U.S. government had ever uttered on television (C – SPAN).

Their top recommendation?

To heavily invest U.S. tax dollars in renewable energy production in China!

Why? Because the Chinese have a chance to build their burgeoning economy on renewables from the beginning, whereas we are trapped by our fossil – fueled infrastructure, and they will only compete with us for those diminishing resources as they continue to industrialize.

It will literally be cheaper and better to invest in renewable energy for China than it would be to compete with China for oil, gas, and coal and contend with the consequences of their emissions.

This is the opposite of what New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman argues in his book (if I remember right). He says that America needs to develop green energy fast—because if they don’t, they’ll lose out on this huge growth industry, and China will snap up most of these business opportunities.

China is already out in front in manufacturing windmills and solar panels, as The Climate Group points out. (Although a recent New Yorker article, “Green Giant”, argues that China is still not so hot on innovation, and relies on designs from the “West”.)

But I find it really fascinating that Woolsey would argue that our biggest priority should be investing in renewable energy in China.

If we did, I wonder what that would lead to. I think back to a part in Friedman’s book, when he asks “the longtime Asia-watcher Nayan Chanda… for his views on China’s energy and environment performance.”

Chanda told him: “Go rent the movie Speed.”

“China is that bus,” Chanda said. “It has to grow at a minimum of 8 percent a year or it will explode,” he added, “because it will have so much unemployment and discontent, the population will erupt.”

Last night, I watched the classic talk “Arithmetic, Population, and Energy”, by Al Bartlett, a physicist at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He argues that humanity’s biggest problem is not understanding exponential growth. A growth rate of 7% a year leads to a doubling every decade. At 8% a year, the doubling time would be even shorter.

How long can China keep this up, either with clean energy or without it? If Chanda is right, it seems to me they’re going to blow up either way.


books I've read on failure & grace

The World Without Us
The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
Hell and High Water: Global Warming--the Solution and the Politics--and What We Should Do
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
The Tipping Point
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time
The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization
Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail
The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850
Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Mason's favorite books »