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The Choice Ahead: Entrenched Fossil Fuel Dependence Or Climate Change Management

By Emily Spence

11 November, 2009

According to Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard economist Linda Bilmes, the Iraq War cost three trillion dollars. While much of the money used to conduct the war was borrowed (most notably from Chinese institutions), ultimately American taxpayers will be responsible for many years to come for footing the bill, including the high interest payments on the funds loaned. This is because the federal budget, especially between the military and big business bailout costs, far exceeded the annual and shrinking amount taken in by taxes.

Was it worth it? The answer partly depends on whether one works for or has holdings in one of the oil companies that made out well in the aftermath.

The final major prize in the war, southern Iraq's giant Rumaila oil field, was finally awarded on November third with mixed results from an American standpoint. This is because the only successful bidders for it were BP and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and the second organization, it can be assumed, will primarily support Asian interests over ones favoring Western nations.

Nonetheless, plans are moving forward by the BP-CNPC consortium to invest $US15 billion into Rumaila, the fifth biggest known single reserve of oil in the world, to almost triple production from one million barrels daily to 2.85m and, if successful, the field would be the world's second biggest in existence. While BP will own a 38 percent stake, CNPC will retain a 37 percent share and Iraq will hold 25 percent.

Meanwhile, the US government, that invested so much in the Iraq War, is said to be disappointed in the overall outcome, particularly in that CNPC was awarded another favorable ($US3bn) deal in Iraq -- rights to the Ahdeb field in Wasit province in southeastern Iraq. On account, it is by far the largest foreign player.

This being the case is probably above all vexing since the Chinese people did not have to sacrifice lots of lives and taxpayer money into the Iraq war since their focus was concentrated on strengthening the economy in their homeland all the while the USA and its NATO allies remained largely set on trying to gain control of the fossil fuels for themselves through invasion. Even so, the USA and NATO partners, despite an all-out effort to dominate the region, lost most of the reward.

"The Chinese are very aggressive here." According to Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, "They are very eager to build up their presence in Iraq's oil industry." Furthermore, a CNPC-led consortium is one of the three bidders for West Qurna 1, another gargantuan field. A group overseen by Russia's Lukoil and another conglomerate commanded by Exxon Mobil are also in the running for this field.

In consideration of its tremendous success to date, CNPC has developed, along with another Chinese oil company, a special Iraq-focused joint enterprise, called Al-Wah -- an Arabic term meaning ‘the oasis’ -- to expand the Chinese presence and work in Iraq. At the same time, the Chinese, along with not having to subsume any of the war costs, do not have to bear any guilt over the heavy human toll -- assessed by some groups to be a million and a third Iraqis killed, along with 4,680 American military personnel and additional foreign forces from other nations.

At the same time that various organizations involved with fossil fuels are competing to obtain profitably favorable arrangements for themselves and the respective countries to which they supply fuels, leading climate change scientist around the world are putting out an entirely contrary message. They are indicating that, very quickly, global fossil fuel dependence has to greatly shrink to avoid run-away climate change that would cause much of the world's surface to be inhospitable to life. In other words, an almost complete cessation of its use must occur fairly soon despite ever increased worldwide demand.

For example, John Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the main environmental scientist for the German government, told officials from Barack Obama's administration that U.S. carbon emissions must fall from its annual 20 tons per person to zero if there is going to be an even slight possibility for the climate to stabilize with a 2C increase.

As Stephen Leahy points out in "Four Degrees Of Devastation", "Eighteen months ago, no one dared imagine humanity pushing the climate beyond an additional two degrees C of heating, but rising carbon emissions and inability to agree on cuts has meant science must now consider the previously unthinkable."
He goes on to add:

"A four-degree C overall increase means a world where temperatures will be two degrees warmer in some places, 12 degrees and more in others, making them uninhabitable.

"It is a world with a one- to two-metre sea level rise by 2100, leaving hundreds of millions homeless. This will head to 12 metres in the coming centuries as the Greenland and Western Antarctic ice sheets melt, according to papers presented at the [UK international climate science] conference [recently held] in Oxford.

"Four degrees of warming would be hotter than any time in the last 30 million years, and it could happen as soon as 2060 to 2070." [1]

As Clive Hamilton, Charles Sturt Professor of Public Ethics at the Australian National University, points out in "Is It Too Late to Prevent Catastrophic Climate Change?", "It is clear that limiting warming to 2ºC is beyond us; the question now is whether we can limit warming to 4ºC. The conclusion that, even if we act promptly and resolutely, the world is on a path to reach 650 ppm and associated warming of 4°C is almost too frightening to accept. Yet that is the reluctant conclusion of the world’s leading climate scientists. Even with the most optimistic set of assumptions — the ending of deforestation, a halving of emissions associated with food production, global emissions peaking in 2020 and then falling by 3 per cent a year for a few decades — we have no chance of preventing emissions rising well above a number of critical tipping points that will spark uncontrollable climate change." [2]

At the same time, his views are echoed by Lord Stern, former World Bank chief economist, who stated, "A rise of 5C would be a temperature the world has not seen for 30 to 50 million years. We've been around only 100,000 years as human beings. We don't know what that's like. We haven't seen 3C for a few million years, and we don't know what that looks like either."

"Do politicians understand just how difficult it could be, just how devastating rises of 4C, 5C or 6C could be? I think, not yet," Lord Stern shared with a group of scientists gathered in Copenhagen after which he went on to warn that the risk associated with governments not adequately addressing climate change in time to avert the brunt of the disaster would lead to horrendous consequences. According to him, these involve risking at least a third of the world's aggregate wealth, including a minimum of a thirty percent reduction in consumption per person worldwide or, put another way, global GDP would drop to at least 70 percent of current output. [3]

Meanwhile, the mainstream media (MSM) in the United States reveals little information about the degree that the public must radically change lifestyle habits and expectations for economic growth. Little is mentioned about the degree that climate change could have catastrophic impacts across the globe and no government or business leaders are suggesting that reduced consumption of material goods, delimitations in fossil fuel use and other major changes should be carried out very soon. Likewise, none are encouraging ecologically friendly, self-sustaining, financially vibrant communities to be strengthened, nor hinting that transnational patterns of commerce drain dollars out of the country.

In a similar vein, none indicate that these very same globalized patterns that enrich corporate tycoons exacerbate our reliance on fossil fuels due to long distance transportation of raw materials and finished products, as well as the extraordinary amounts of energy used in a massive production of lots of unnecessary merchandise. Obviously, their doing so would be run counter to their extraordinary financial gains at the expense of the poorly paid, everyday work force.

So instead, we have "a business as usual" mentality shoveled forth with bailouts for major commercial organizations, policies to purchase cars subsidized by the federal government, happy-go-lucky TV programs that focus on trivial topics and plenty of advertisements informing the populace that it ought to purchase this or that item to have the latest look in fall fashion, the best anti-aging formula or whatever else for which doing so will, obviously, raise one's personal carbon and overall ecological footprints in most instances.

At the same time, one can assume that there are no immediate plans to direct society into a pattern of living that is regionally self-reliant (so as to avoid carbon footprints from imports derived from other areas) and restricted in terms of the types of goods available from distant locations. In light of the financial recession and the desire for ever more economic growth based on further globalization of transnational industry and fossil fuel use, quite the opposite pattern is emerging despite the disastrous implications in terms of our breaching climate change tipping points, and the fact that, at some point, fossil fuels, themselves, will no longer be available.

On account, a wise program would be to jumpstart an all out effort to put the means for alternative benign energy sources into place while using the larger portion of fossil fuels to build and install these alternatives across the landscape, as well as help communities to transition away from fossil fuel use altogether. Without a doubt, this would especially be positive in light of the fact that almost 71 percent of electricity in the U.S. is currently supplied by fossil fuels while modern agriculture, industry and transportation all have petroleum at their cores.

Meanwhile the largely consensual opinion reached at the annual conference of the U.S. contingent for the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO-USA) is that conventional crude peaked in 2005. Further, biofuels are not expected to be any sort of panacea to make up for pending large-scale oil deficits. [4]

Despite the increasing number of indicators that humanity needs to change course in its fossil fuel use, the policy makers sit in their safe government offices planning new dangerous military operations for others to conduct in resource rich regions abroad regardless of the fact that the death toll is rising in these invasions and it seems highly unlikely that the Taliban or any other groups defending their homelands will be easily defeated if at all despite that ever more Pentagon funding is provided toward that aim.

Added up, the expenses to contain Iran, strive to obtain Venezuelan and newly found Cuban oil, fight for arctic fossil fuels, carry out Afghanistan and Pakistan operations, and ramp up covert or military operations via AFRICOM in Africa all together create a recipe for extreme U.S. bankruptcy and assorted other disasters. At the same time, the U.S. undertaking such endeavors merely postpone the inevitable fossil fuel shortfall, anyway, while not ensuring that the country and its citizens are prepared for the huge transition away from fossil fuels. In addition, such ever enlarging, Pentagon run ventures entail an inordinate amount of national sacrifice as money that could be used to support programs at home drains into war costs and the military's ramped up fossil fuel use.

In relation, is there any question whatsoever as to the reason that there are proposals for greatly diminished funding of certain key social programs, including ones connected to healthcare and public education, in the homeland? How could outcomes be otherwise when 54 percent of every U.S. federal tax dollar goes to plans related to the U.S. military and another 19 percent goes to interest payments on the current federal debt, which leaves 27 percent for all other provisions (excluding the further sums to be borrowed to fund costly bailouts, war expansion plans, etc). Accordingly, the federal budget is at present almost twice the amount taken in from American taxpayers -- an irresponsible and disastrous state of affairs with dire repercussions for many years ahead.

In addition, it's difficult to imagine that, starting with Reagan, U.S. Presidents did not see the long term ramifications in their push for:

Deregulated globalized U.S. industry, which led into greater oil use due to greater reliance on importation, along with offshoring and outsourcing of U.S. jobs so as to effectively hollow out the economic base at home and harm the average American worker. Ultimately financial contraction in the U.S. and tangentially abroad could be the only anticipated outcome.

A lack in adequate oversight of Wall Street activities and the banking industry.

An ever enlarging, expensive war program for obtainment of fossil fuels and other finite resources.

Ratification of many other destructive patterns, such as the huge repeated government bailouts, and acceptance of costly no bid contracts in response to various Pentagon requests.

Just where did they think that such a set of irresponsible orientations would ultimately lead? Could none of them see the consequences, such as the federal deficit reaching a record $1.42 Trillion, representing 10 percent of the economy or the highest amount since W.W. II, along with continuing to rapidly shoot upward? [5]

It's hard to imagine that they were all of them so ignorant, nefarious or outright stupid so as to not see where their intended trajectories would in combination land, especially when the speed with which rapidly diminishing oil reserves would disappear is thrown into the mix. Likewise, the quest for unbridled economic growth is equally if not ever more calamitous when the long view's taken.

It's simply not supportable, as Michael Bond points out in these three sections from "Why Economic Growth Is Unsustainable":

"The present economy is obliged to grow annually at between 3% and 6%. Too much less than 3% for too long and the economy will collapse from lack of currency. Too much over 6% for too long and inflation will spiral out of control, rendering currency meaningless.

"Below is a table that points out how long it takes for something to double, triple, etc. in size, when it increases at rates of 3%, 4%, 5% and 6% per year. For the last 15 years, the global economy has been growing at an average of about 4% per year. Note that at 4% growth the economy doubles every 19 years, and grows 10 times its size in a mere 59 years."

"The second problem stems from the fact that in order to sustain 4% annual economic growth, global debt must increase at about 10% annually. Because it is annual growth, this means it is exponential rather than mathematical growth. The difference between the two is shown below."

"The Global Economy is on course to collapse well before 2030 due to a looming global inability to repay annual interest. The reason why debt outpaces economic growth stems from a fault in global money supply. This fault is described in the article Money - Deadlier Than Plutonium, available from" [6]

Moreover, people collectively can't keep taking and taking ever more resources from the natural world and expecting that they can keep raising ever higher the human population and the standard of living for all. It just won't work because the world is largely limited. At the same time, it should be absolutely clear that our current economic programs for the most part do not work either. Anyone who asserts otherwise perhaps needs to be reminded that nearly half of the world comprising of over three billion people live on less than $2.50 a day. How could this possibly seem like any sort of a success, especially when others, parasitically siphoning the wealth towards themselves off the backs of underpaid laborers and through ravage of the natural world, individually make a financial killing in the millions and billions of dollars at the same time?

It's a killing, all right. The signs of the social and ecological costs are all around us to see.

In truth, an expectation for relentless growth comes with a very high price tag as is well explained at "Interconnectedness of World Problems, a Conceptual Map by Fritjof Capra based on Plan B 3.0, by Lester Brown" -- a vision that goes well beyond a simple, barely accurate, linear model. Likewise, the evaluation of Joel Kovel's "The Enemy of Nature" is a well thought out, comparable assessment, as are Bill Mckibben's "A Timely Reminder of the Real Limits to Growth" and David Model's analysis at "The Elephant in the Room. Ignoring Unsustainable Growth". [7]

Real limits in mind, this excerpt from Wikipedia's coverage of the Carter Doctrine is particularly dicey. Simultaneously, it shows a fallacious (arrogant?) sense that the U.S.A. can enact any course of action that it pleases, is completely invincible and is impervious to any internal or external influences, whether social or environmental in nature, that would undercut its kingpin position in the world.

The Carter Doctrine:

"Meeting this challenge will take national will, diplomatic and political wisdom, economic sacrifice, and, of course, military capability. We must call on the best that is in us to preserve the security of this crucial region.

"Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.

"This last, key sentence of the Carter Doctrine, was written by Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's National Security Adviser. Brzezinski modeled the wording of the Carter Doctrine on the Truman Doctrine,[1] and insisted that the sentence be included in the speech "to make it very clear that the Soviets should stay away from the Persian Gulf."[2]

"In The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power, author Daniel Yergin notes that the Carter Doctrine "bore striking similarities" to a 1903 British declaration, in which British Foreign Secretary Lord Landsdowne warned Russia and Germany that the British would 'regard the establishment of a naval base or of a fortified port in the Persian Gulf by any other power as a very grave menace to British interests, and we should certainly resist it with all the means at our disposal.'[3]" [8]

All the same, Mamoun Fandy of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University identifies, in "U.S. Oil Policy in the Middle East", that the U.S. faces some key problems in its quest for oil dominance. These difficulties include:

Controlling oil access is a cornerstone of U.S. Middle East policy.

U.S. reliance on imported oil is very high.

Oil from the Persian Gulf accounts for 10% of the oil used in the U.S.

Dual containment of Iran and Iraq, along with a broader military engagement policy, is key to U.S. strategy in assuring the flow of oil. [9]

Despite the absolute need to drastically and immediately rein in fossil fuel use for a number of compelling reasons, the U.S. government continues to pursue a forceful and antagonistic policy abroad aimed toward unilateral control over global energy supplies. Using a combination of outright military invasion in an expanding number of countries and threats (i.e., towards Iran and Venezuela), U.S. legislators demonstrate little noticeable remorse over the high fiscal (bankrupting), environmental and social costs of these operations. These include that "The Pentagon Is The Largest Consumer Of Oil In The World" [10], the number of war related deaths continue to rise, there's depleted uranium (DU) spread across the Middle East, the war efforts and resultant obtained oil ensure that the climate change devastation to come is speeded into place, inadequate funding is allocated for provision of alternative energy supplies and improvement of the electrical grid, public transportation is not sufficiently expanded, and other tragic outcomes will unfold.

There are many ways that humanity can move forward to create "the good life" as long as a plan is sound. In 1970, Henry Kissinger claimed, “Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people.” However, one group's domination of oil and food stocks, while denying the needs of other groups, is reckless, unethical and expensive.

Frankly, we've had enough of resource wars. More to the point, conflicts can only get worse as fossil fuel reserves increasingly dwindle and the perception of the diminishment merely strengthens that we have to have the dregs regardless of the grave social and environmental consequences.

No, we do not. In fact, we can no longer afford to fight over material supplies -- particularly the ones, like oil, that are going run out or, like food, be at risk to largely run out due to climate change effects brought on in large measure by our lust for rich energy sources.

Sometimes it's rueful to ponder over the way that the present would be different had the U.S. followed Denmark's example on the same timetable while using the funds that were to become allocated to fossil fuel wars towards development of the self-reliant energy security as Tomas Friedman indirectly suggests in "Flush With Energy" in which he states "Unlike America, Denmark, which was so badly hammered by the 1973 Arab oil embargo that it banned all Sunday driving for a while, responded to that crisis in such a sustained, focused and systematic way that today it is energy independent. (And it didn’t happen by Danish politicians making their people stupid by telling them the solution was simply more offshore drilling.)" [11]

Meanwhile, there's growing public awareness that the Pentagon's worldwide mission IS to get command over oil and gas supplies -- as is explained in an elucidating report by Rick Rozoff [12] with many outstanding factual details. Likewise, it is obvious that the IMF and WB goals are en simpatico with the mission and, as a result, are on a disastrously wrong track as "The grave ecological destruction sponsored by the World Bank", by Eric De Ruest, Hélene Baillot, undeniably indicates. [13]

As an aside, the first TV announcements routinely popped up, several weeks ago, to suggest that the U.S. populace ought to pitch in and cut it energy consumption by 3 percent per person. While the objective is admirable, the recommended curtailment is far too small and the diminishment process is starting around twenty OR MORE years too late. Besides, why don't we even go a few steps further and take Walden Bello's advise from "The Virtues of Deglobalization":

"The aim of the deglobalization paradigm is to move beyond the economics of narrow efficiency, in which the key criterion is the reduction of unit cost, never mind the social and ecological destabilization this process brings about. It is to move beyond a system of economic calculation that, in the words of John Maynard Keynes, made 'the whole conduct of life…into a paradox of an accountant's nightmare.' An effective economics, rather, strengthens social solidarity by subordinating the operations of the market to the values of equity, justice, and community by enlarging the sphere of democratic decision making. To use the language of the great Hungarian thinker Karl Polanyi in his book The Great Transformation, deglobalization is about 're-embedding' the economy in society, instead of having society driven by the economy." [14]

In tandem, let's realize, as did Shamus Cooke, that "the industrial basis for an alternative energy superstructure needs to be created. Only by doing this can we seriously address the needs of the planet. Transforming our giant auto plants — many laying idle — into producers of solar panels, windmills, electricity–producing buoy’s, high-speed trains, electric busses and cars, etc., while massively investing in new research and technology to deal with climate change, is the only realistic way to drastically change direction in the time allotted." [15]

The alternative path to his, of course, is the exact one that we are following. We all know to where it leads -- a 4C (or even) hotter world filled with massive loss of human and other forms of life, ruinous economic consequences, devastating weather patterns, an ocean level rise that puts many coastal regions at risk, massive fresh water shortages, food shortfalls, spreading pestilence and invasive species, and an extremely tenuous future for many generations to come.

Like our ancestors before fossil fuel were discovered, we can live without its benefits. Humankind, throughout our history on this planet, has been able to adapt to widely varying circumstances. Anyone who doubts this to be the case simply needs to compare the way that Inuits live in relation to 67 different uncontacted tribes in Brazil.

In other words, we CAN still adjust to widely varying conditions -- even ones without fossil fuel. However, we, absolutely, cannot prepare to exist in a world that has states outside of the ranges that gave rise to and support of human life. All the same, we -- out of willfulness, wishful thinking or ignorance -- are willing to gamble that we can, it seems.

Perhaps we find it just too hard to give up our current ways of life even though our not doing so ensures that a large portion of the Earth will likely become unable to sustain life towards the end of this century. How tragically demented and selfish of us if, indeed, this is the case!

Of course, our drastically relinquishing fossil fuel use as much as is possible right away is not an easy action to endure. Yet, it can and has to be faced despite that the happening will mean hardship, privation and myriad kinds of losses.

After all, the sorts of difficulties that will exist after we forgo fossil fuel will be minor in comparison to the horrific adversities that would definitely be present if we do not deeply cut our collective carbon footprint in the near future. If anyone thinks that this cutting action is simply too hard to bear, he should for a moment picture the harshness that severe and worsening climate change could bring. Then, it becomes quickly clear about which trouble is doubtlessly preferable.

Emily Spence is an author living in Massachusetts. She has spent many years involved in human rights, environmental and social services efforts.


[1] CLIMATE CHANGE: Four Degrees of Devastation - IPS

[2] Is It Too Late to Prevent Catastrophic Climate ...

[3] Lord Stern on global warming: It's even worse than I thought ...
lord-stern-on-global-warming-its-even-worse- than-i-thought-1643957.html

[4] A review of the ASPO-USA conference from Chris Nelder: Oil and Gas Outlook (
A further assessment from Steve Connor about the views of Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the International Energy Agency (IEA): Warning: Oil supplies are running out fast - ... (

[5] Federal Deficit Hits Record $1.42 Trillion - CBS News

[6] Article: Why Economic Growth Is Unsustainable

[7] PowerPoint - Earth Policy Institute – Building a ...
), Derek Wall's review of The Enemy of Nature, by Joel Kovel
A Timely Reminder of the Real Limits to Growth (,
and OpEdNews - Article: The Elephant in the Room. Ignoring ...

[8] Carter Doctrine - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (

[9] U.S. Oil Policy in the Middle East (

[10] The Pentagon Is The Largest Consumer Of Oil In The World ...

[11] Op-Ed Columnist - Flush With Energy - Op-Ed -

[12] Pentagon's Global Mission To Secure Oil And Gas Supplies

[13] CADTM - The grave ecological destruction sponsored by the ...

[14] Focus on the Global South - Home

[15] Global Warming Accelerating While The U.S. Backpedals


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