Oil Wars, Energy Crisis, And Thomas Edison's Solution

Vito La Giorgia

Crude oil is a gift from our planet and a curse for many of its people. It is the most valuable commodity to everyday life on earth used by billions around the globe. The profits from its sales are enormous, and so is the environmental devastation and wars associated to it. Tens of millions of innocent men, women, and children have been murdered, orphaned, and displaced due to conflicts rooted in oil. The substance itself is toxic, and its extraction contributes to climate change. Have we ever asked ourselves while at the gas pump where petroleum is coming from and what needed to happen for it to get here? A brief history lesson explains how crude oil caused international crisis and and the direction the decline of oil production could take our world in.

In 1973, the U.S. had lost over half of their gold reserve due to national welfare programs and warfare in Vietnam. The U.S. needed to do something soon if they intended on continuing to be the most powerful military and economic nation in the world. At that time, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela were sitting atop the known majority of what would soon become the most valuable commodity on the planet, crude oil. These five nations founded the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in order to efficiently regulate and monetize their product. Former President Richard M. Nixon and former National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger decided it was time to try and make a deal to solidify America's place in the world for years to come. They were successful in getting Saudi Arabia to buy into their offer, and the rest of OPEC soon followed.

The petrodollar became the driving force of American economic, political, and military power for the next four decades, and the U.S. is still holding on to it while many believe oil is going the way of coal. If so, like coal for Great Britain, oil's decline could also result in the loss of imperial power for America.

In Nixon's book The Real War(1980), the former president knew the importance and eluded to the shelf-life of crude oil.

"Sometime in the 21st century, nuclear, solar, & geothermal may be sufficiently developed to meet the world's energy needs. But for now we live in an age of oil. In the decades just ahead this gives extraordinary strategic significance to the Persian Gulf. This means that one of the world's most troubled, unstable, and imperilled areas is also one of its most vital. In the industrial age, energy is the lifeblood of the economic system, and economic power is the foundation of military power."

In September, 2002, President Bush informed the world about "weapons of mass destruction" and Saddam Hussein's plans to use acts of "terrorism" against the U.S. and its allies. The U.S. leads an invasions into Iraq, called "Operation Iraqi Liberation." That name was soon changed to the Iraq War, perhaps because the acronym for Operation Iraqi Liberation is O.I.L. The Bush administration did their best to convey that the Iraqis were the ones they were interested in liberating, not the oil or the profit from the petrodollar. In June, 2003, as the war rages on, Iraqi oil sales officially go back to being denominated in U.S. dollars instead of euros. In 2007, the Guardian reported that "1.2 million people have died because of the conflict in Iraq." That same year, Alan Greenspan wrote in his memoir, The Age of Turbulence, "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everybody already knows: the Iraq War is largely about oil."

BP estimates the "total world oil reserve reached 1700.1 billion barrels at the end of 2014, sufficient to meet 52.5 years of global production." Those numbers have considerably fluctuated and they do not take into account new extraction technologies that could extend that time frame, but could be more hazardous to the environment and more costly for users. An 82-page "Special Report on Carbon dioxide Capture and Storage" conducted for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the leading international body for climate change, according to the UN), concluded that oil, natural gas, and other synthetics could continue to be consumed at the current rate for the next 1,000 years. The main issue (and perhaps why BP did not include that in their estimation) are that these methods, as described in the 82-page document as Forbes reported, have been "commercially available since the 1970s", but are incredibly expensive. Like any product worth making a profit on, the more expensive it is to produce, the higher the price tag. Just as an example, a barrel of oil worth $10 in 1998 now costs about $120. In spite of these extracting technologies, it's unlikely that anyone is going to pay $300 for a barrel of oil -- especially since renewable energy technologies could one day produce the same energy output for a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the destructive nature crude oil represents.

Last year alone, the world invested 329 billion dollars in renewables, that's six times the 2004 total, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Aside from the scary prospect of water becoming the next war-friendly commodity, it seems that there is hope renewable energy technologies could cauterizing the casualties of war and greenhouse gas emissions caused by crude oil. This could result in the end of American imperialism and imperialism in general. There doesn't have to be a World War III or doomsday scenario just because oil is potentially going out of business in the next 50 years. Coal put the "Great" in Great Britain, and the coal industry has pretty much gone up in smoke, yet we are still very much alive, regardless of the fact that Great Britain isn't the superpower it once was.

"I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that."

Let the Middle East monetize their oil fields and rebuild their war-torn infrastructure to look more like Dubai and less like Afghanistan. Let the rest of the world do what it is capable of, and that is discovering the energy producing technologies that allows us to sustain a decent quality of life. Let history teach us to avoid the dependence and resulting conflicts over resources that come with a fatal price tag. Let us look up to the skies for the answer and discover that like an Edison light bulb atop our head, the solution to solving our energy crisis has been there the entire time. Technologies to extract energy from the sun more efficiently should lead to greater peace on earth, seeing how no one owns the sun -- unless, of course, we allow a nation to patent the sun and in doing so force Dr. Jonas Salk to turn in his grave. The elements to avoid conflict and environmental disaster are available. It's up to mankind to be proactive instead of reactive like the people of Pompeii who ignored the rumblings of Mount Vesuvius.