Oil and Empire

John Michael Greer describes the relationship between oil supplies and international power. This is not fun reading if you are an American who believes that we can prosper with the same thinking about energy that dominated the 1900’s. Excerpts below.

Link: The Archdruid Report: The Future that Wasn’t, Part Two:

The basis of American power was geological, rooted in the accidents of paleoecology that left immense deposits of crude oil in half a dozen American states, and can be measured by the fact that in 1950 the United States produced more crude oil than the rest of the world put together. Winston Churchill famously remarked that the Allies had floated to victory in the First World War on an ocean of American oil, and the Second depended even more dramatically on oil production, with oil-poor Germany and Japan overwhelmed by the tanks, ships, and planes of oil-rich America and Russia.

By the first wave of energy crises in the 1970s, however, the geological basis for American ascendancy no longer existed, because most of it had been pumped out of the ground and burnt. I’ve argued elsewhere that the American political class in the Seventies faced a difficult choice between a transition to sustainability and a high-tech, high risk nuclear society, and ended up choosing neither because the costs on both sides were too high. Since then, political and economic gimmicks and a willingness to burn through our remaining resources with reckless abandon have papered over the hard reality of American decline.

It’s in this context, I’ve suggested, that the neoconservative adventures of the last decade needs to be interpreted. By the end of the 1990s, it was very likely clear even to the most recalcitrant members of America’s political class that trusting the free market to find a long-term solution to America’s energy dependence had failed. It’s a matter of public knowledge that investment banker Matthew Simmons, one of the first voices to raise an alarm over peak oil in the 1990s, was brought in as a consultant to Vice President Cheney immediately after the 2000 election. The march to war that followed can best be understood as a desperate attempt to keep the dream of empire from collapsing completely by giving America control over Iraqi oil reserves.

It was a bad plan, pragmatically as well as ethically, and the incompetence with which it was put into effect has not exactly helped the situation. Still, I’m far from sure that those Americans who talk about their eagerness to see the troops come home from the Middle East have quite grasped what they are asking for. For the last sixty years the American way of life has depended on wildly unequal international relationships that guarantee the 5% of the human race that lives in the United States access to more than 30% of the world’s energy and other resources.