Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The use of force in the context of energy policy

When I was a very young man in high school, I was bullied on a fairly periodic basis. I had few friends and could not stand up to the bullies, so I found ways to deal with them in my mind. Like the blond girls who seemed to depend on their looks to get what they wanted, I saw that the bullies depended on their brawn to get what they wanted. I saw a definite correlation between the use of force and intelligent action. The conclusion? The use of force tends to decrease the odds of positive results.

For the man who depends on the use of force to get what he wants, life is boiled down to two simple outcomes: get what you want or violence. There is no in-between. There is no negotiation. There are no alternatives. The consequences of this way of life are staggering and have many subtle effects.

This is not a conservative or liberal argument as both ends have been guilty of using force, and both ends have used force in ways that failed to benefit this nation as a whole. To be more specific, for decades, we have used military force and occupied countries in the Middle East for their oil. We have occupied those countries as a government intervention in the market to make sure that our country has access to cheap oil.

Because we use force by default, we are slow to look at green options. While some other more enlightened countries have replaced much of or nearly all of their dependence on oil with green options like solar, water and wind, we are barely making a dent in that quest. Since at least the 1970s, we've relied upon the use of force first to get what we wanted rather than to seriously try alternatives.

In 2013, 67% of our energy was produced from coal and natural gas. Only 1% was produced by oil. Yet we burn more than 20 million barrels of oil a day in our vehicles. The price of oil, or what we use in our cars, gasoline, is directly determined by our ability to inflict violence on the source of that oil. When our ability to inflict violence goes up, the price of oil seems to come down.

Total energy production by renewables (solar, wind, hydro) is about 13% in the US. In China its about 19%. By contrast Norway and Brazil are about half and half, with half the energy produced by carbon sources and the other half produced by renewables. Note that they don't have standing armies and they don't police the world imposing their will upon others. They don't rely upon the use of force to get what they want to an extent that is even remotely close to China or the US. Even Canada comes in at a close 3rd place to Norway and Brazil. No one associates aggression with Canada.

If, starting in 1973 with the oil embargo, we had relied upon American know-how, rather than force, we might be completely free of our dependence on oil today. We foreclosed that opportunity in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan and went with the carbon interests. But, as someone once famously said, you can always change the road you're on.
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