Could Clean Energy Cause the Next Cold War?

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Photo via NATO

Most Americans think energy independence is an important goal--our dependence on foreign oil funds oppressive governments and subjects the US energy economy to the whims of institutions like OPEC, some common arguments go. Not to mention that buying oil imports is costly, both fiscally and environmentally. So generating enough renewable energy to support our entire nation would be a good thing for both the climate and national security—right? National Defense Magazine doesn't think so—on the contrary, it argues that achieving energy independence would inadvertently kick start a global cold war.The argument goes something like this: by moving towards energy isolationism and relinquishing 'dirty' energy resources, we'd usher in another cold war-esque scenario where an emboldened China and Russia would usurp resources the US left behind and put a stranglehold on dependent nations. Their 'expansionist' energy policy would leave other nations at their whims, and they'd grow ever more powerful, and ever the greater threat to the US:

Energy isolationism is not a realistic option.

Even if the energy experts were right that imports of foreign oil and gas could be halted, the United States would still be unsafe. Removing the nation from the global crude oil and natural gas markets would make those fuels cheap and plentiful for the rest of the world. The United States would be subsidizing the growth of an all powerful China and other as yet unidentified rivals. It wouldn’t take long for China to become the world’s biggest national economy. Perhaps most ironic for those worried about global warming, the new flood of cheap and plentiful fossil fuels for developing countries would unleash the Co2 that would have been limited if emitted by the United States under any Kyoto II deal.

To most Americans, energy security still means that the United States is sending money to Arab oil kingdoms and that those dollars are getting into the hands of Islamist terrorists. But in fact the amount of money we send to Arab regimes is much exaggerated, and Islamist terrorists do not constitute as great a threat to the United States as would a reconstituted Russian empire or a new Chinese regime.

He goes on to conclude:
We need to retire the mirage of energy independence — an isolationist dream that makes no sense in a globalized world.

What to make of all this? A few things worth noting—this article seems to have a poorly conceived timeline, first of all. It seems to be arguing that energy independence is feasible right now, or at least very soon. No one believes we could sever all foreign imports and become energy dependent immediately, even if we opened every possible site in the US up for local oil drilling. It will be a lengthy, painful process, in which the US lessens its imports while increasing renewable energy output. While this process takes place, of course, the world's supply of oil continues to be depleted—many argue that it has already peaked right now, after all. No matter how much access to oil Russia and China may have, in 30 years, when the US will have realistically begun to achieve energy independence, stores will be even more prohibitively lessened—and thus more expensive and unappealing.

This would potentially make clean energy sources like wind and solar (which will grow more efficient and advanced over coming years to be sure) a financially viable alternative for exportation to the developing nations National Defense believes will be compensating for US emission cuts by spewing ghastly amounts of carbon.

It's in fact much more likely that a cold war scenario would emerge if we don't work to develop energy independence, and nations are left to squabble over fast-depleting resources. There have already been a number of global war scenarios put forward based on such an occurrence.

What do you think? Will clean energy spur a cold war, or lead to greater national security?

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Tags: Developing Nations | Economics | Global Climate Change


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