Trying to work out international politics while eating porridge at the breakfast table is not always a fruitful process. Half the things on the radio are only half heard while the other half are lost completely, but there was something vaguely disturbing about an interview this morning.
RTE Radio’s Morning Ireland had an interview with Dr Colin Campbell of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil who explained that the peak in international oil supply had been reached in 2005-2008 and that supplies were not so much running out, but were in gentle decline. He believed that oil prices were not going to multiply, as some suggested, because rises above $100 a barrel killed demand and pushed the world into recession
The interviewer, Richard Downes, then said “We need to wean ourselves off dependence on fossil fuels”, with which Dr Campbell naturally agreed, as any of us would.
Something that is an obvious necessity, and which can only be beneficial for the Earth, caused a troubling thought.
An economist friend says that the United States is on a drive towards energy self-sufficiency. At the same time, statistics from the Energy Information Authority show United States petroleum consumption falling – the level of daily petroleum consumption in 2009 will be below that of 1998.
Now, if the United States is at once pushing towards self-sufficiency and at the same time reducing consumption, its import requirements will fall; the projected figure of 9.81 million barrels a day of oil that will require to be imported in 2010 is the lowest since 1998.
Isn’t this a good thing?
If the United States reaches the point where it no longer needs imported oil, it will begin to disengage from the Middle East, where its experiences, while securing oil supplies, have brought considerable pain.
And if it disengages from the Middle East, will it not look also at its involvement in Europe? Europe has an ageing population, is persistently rude and hostile and offers a market of declining importance. Why not pack the bags and look instead across the Pacific where the huge Asian economies offer considerably more prospects than tired old Europe?
And what would happen to Europe without an American umbrella over it? At the level of individual conscience, would Oxford University offer a scholarship in memory of an Iranian dissident if Britain did not have the huge figure of Uncle Sam standing behind it to scare off those frightening people in Tehran? At the level of continental politics, would Russia take the slightest notice of a European Union left militarily toothless without an American presence? How many other situations in between would change for the worse with an American departure? Even if their current presence is only a matter of self-interest, With the Americans gone, the countries of Europe would be prey to the nationalisms and religious divisions that plagued it for so much of its history.
An end to a dependence on fossil fuels is very desirable, but the silver lining might have a very dark cloud around it.