Michael Klare, expert on energy politics, addressed a full Barnum Auditorium yesterday on the relationship between oil and national security.
The lecture was sponsored by the Institute for Global Leadership for students in the Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship (EPIIC).
Klare framed his discussion in the context of the upcoming presidential election, emphasizing the "geopolitical consequences" of the relationship between oil and national security.
"The situation facing us Americans is much more threatening and dangerous than it was four years ago," he said.
Klare blamed the severity of the situation on the increasingly disappointing prognosis for new oil discoveries, the growing energy demands of developing countries, and the mounting instability in the Middle East as reasons.
Before Sept. 11 and the rise of terrorism as the prime issue on the national agenda, the "energy crisis" was the Bush administration's premier policy issue, Klare said, citing the electrical blackouts in California and trucker demonstrations over oil shortages.
This moment represented a critical juncture, according to Klare. "It was very clear to everyone that the U.S. was at a fork in road - we could find ways to perpetuate existing energy paradigm by providing tax breaks and subsidies to energy companies, or begin to move away and begin the development of an entirely new 'post-petroleum' energy paradigms," he said.
The energy commission led by Vice President Dick Cheney elected to continue using fossil fuels after soliciting advice mainly from energy companies, Klare said.
"As you know, the energy commission met in secrecy behind closed doors - no members of the environmental community - only Enron, Chevron, and other large nuclear and natural gas companies were included," he said.
The commission's completed report, issued in May 2001, called for substantially increased yields from existing Middle Eastern energy sources. The report said increasing U.S. oil demand would require 19 million barrels of oil-per-day coming from foreign sources.
"This has enormous geopolitical consequences," Klare said. "I'm convinced that American foreign policy rests on these numbers."
According to the report, "[The job of foreign] officials is to conduct an international campaign to get foreign countries to increase output and exports ... and eliminate any obstacle to increasing production," Klare said. "The energy paradigm rests on getting access to other countries' oil."
After Sept. 11, however, the goal of the war on terror became interlaced with the voracious U.S. appetite for oil. "The U.S. war on terror has been subsumed on top of America's perceived need to protect access to unstable foreign suppliers of oil," he said.
The "elephant in the living room" of this program, however, is that the projected yields were unrealistic and that a "massive shortfall" would inevitably arise, according to Klare.
He cited increasing evidence in recent months that foreign sources could not produce the amount of oil stipulated by the report, and that oil companies themselves admit that the global peak in oil production may be approaching.
"That oil peak is much closer than we thought, and it was laughed out of existence, until very recently big oil companies' projections began to be consistent with this kind of chart," he said.
Another factor is the increasing energy demands of the developing world. "China's demand has grown much more than in 2001 - the developing world doubling its anticipated energy requirement," he said.
As America and the rest of the world become increasingly energy-dependent, conflict over oil-rich regions will only become more violent and disputed, he said. "Our intervention is provoking higher degrees of instability."
Klare said that he did not foresee an easy transition from America's high dependence on oil.
"People don't make a move without a powerful emotional jolt," he said. "Americans will not be won over by logic; they will have to be won over by emotions."
He said that no president has publicly come to grips with this issue. "Whatever president gets up there and tells us this is a serious and dangerous addiction, it's not going to go over well - they're afraid."
Klare said that President George Bush had slated $1 billion for alternative energy, while Senator John Kerry called for an expenditure of $10 billion. Neither plan would be adequate to create real change in the energy paradigm, he said.
"This expenditure needs to be in hundreds of billions [of dollars] - it will start at $1 trillion. It's not going to happen at [the levels the candidates propose]. It has to come from defense budget because that's the only place it can come from, and everybody knows it," he said.