Why conflict in Libya should trigger US response for renewable energy

ibyan oil refinery

A rebel militiaman stands guard at a Libyan oil refinery in rebel-held territory.

Global Walker

In September 2010, as America and the rest of the world were struggling to recover from the economic collapse, Libya urged members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to raise oil to US$100 a barrel. Today, oil is priced at around US$103 a barrel, and American airstrikes are well under way.

On one level, the conflict of the Libyan civil war is escalating, and human rights violations against the Libyan people have been well documented. And while the cooperation of 22 member-nations of the UN have assisted in taking Khadafi and his regime out of their dictatorial roles, a deeper assistance to the Libyan people could be under way. If we initiate the efforts.

Rather than funding rulers like Khadafi with our pleas for more oil, the U.S. can quench its appetites with serious advocacy for domestic energy production. While the U.S. consistently imports over 5 million barrels of oil a day from OPEC (about 60 percent of total U.S. oil consumption), oil-rich countries in the Middle East are turning more to offshore drilling as their land taps are running dry. So far, they are keeping up—though with frantic pace—with the wells of appetites for America’s fossil-fuel-dependent livelihood. But what will happen when offshore drilling in the Middle East and elsewhere have been exhausted? What will happen if (perhaps “when” is more accurate) OPEC charges US$200 a barrel? Or US$300?

If I were a high-stake investor, I would bet the oil wells off the U.S. coasts are not endless either. They will run dry just as land taps are running dry, and current livelihoods will either be forced to quit their oil consumption cold turkey, or commit larger salaries to search and drill in harder to find places.

Or, we can recognize the signatory failures of oil-dependency altogether, and begin the transition away from the conflict-creating, salary-exhausting fuel. Imagine a country populated with competing solar manufacturers and technicians. Imagine a transportation sector that was comprised of high-speed rails, fuel-efficient buses, and wide bicycle lanes. Imagine a country powered by innovative technologies to collect energy from the wind. It will take investment to reach these alternatives—perhaps high-cost investment that will initially be unpopular—but our present fossil-fuel-based economy will undoubtably drill itself into rock bottom, leaving energy providers scratching their heads as to what to do.

Even with the most recent signs cautioning against unsafe and unreliable energy dependency—from the oil disaster in the Gulf, to the nuclear fallout in Japan, to the instability in the Middle East—political and popular resistence is halting America’s investment in domestic renewable energy. In early March of this year, a House subcommittee voted to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate greenhouse gases. Although the Obama administration’s climate and energy strategy is, at best, a modest attempt to mitigate climate change, industrial and energy sectors without any regulation would have global ramifications far more destructive than current levels. Coal and oil companies would be allowed to overexploit regions as they saw fit, thus accelerating the effects of global climate change.

But there are those in positions of legislative power who choose not to recognize the signatory cautions of a climate in peril. For many of them, their policy choices are built around theological backbones of goverance, in which the separation of Church and State are called into question. This past November for example, Illinois Republican Representative John Shimkus insisted that such measures to establish a stable climate were unnecessary. In his own words, “The planet won’t be destroyed by global warming because God promised Noah.” Such fundamental fanaticism is neither conclusive with science or the role of political goverance. On another level, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce essentially works as a lobbying firm for multnational corporations such as ExxonMobile and Massey Energy, funding what is known as “junk science” in order to breed skeptism into the climate debate.

Either way, if global warming is a “leftist hoax,” or if it is a real concern that this generation will have to face, oil wells are drying up, and dependency on the oil that is left is met with the costs of higher prices and higher risks. The only lasting solution to energy independence and freedom from the instability in regions of the Middle East, is to begin the transition to America’s energy sources. Let the conflict in Libya be a cautionary as well as opportunistic reminder that our energy demands are exhausting their welcomes, and that fortunes are to be made in domestic energy innovation rather than paid out to oil-bred dictators.

Guy Walker

gaiasecology@gmail.com

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