|[so someone in the opinion elite is taking Mark Jones seriously...]
The west must kick its oil habit: Renewable energy could open up our
options in the Middle East
Thursday November 1, 2001
The Guardian [U.K.]
British and American officials now talk of the present conflict lasting
years, even decades. It is clear that our options are greatly limited by
the impact of regional instability on the world economy. Replacing oil as
the mainstay of our energy policy should be a vital part of winning the
struggle against terrorism and would dramatically improve western policy
There has been much talk in recent weeks of asymmetric warfare, the buzz
phrase used to describe the new context following the atrocities visited
upon the US. This simply means acting in unexpected ways that do not fit
into orthodox methods of fighting. A shift from oil to renewable energy
sources would be a strategic way to apply this.
In the present crisis, the oil factor narrows military and political
options. Some see the western military presence in the region as a source
of further problems, but believe we cannot withdraw because of the threat
from Saddam Hussein. Even the most hawkish, such as the US deputy secretary
of defence, Paul Wolfowitz, have had to realise that the oil price would
rocket if they went to war simultaneously with every state they don't care
for in the region.
Even before the attacks on the US, American and western global strategy
gave a very high priority to ensuring access to Middle East oil. This
priority translates into a massive investment of taxpayers' money,
personnel, military equipment andpolitical capital. Around 20,000 British
troops are in the Gulf today in pursuit of this objective. The UK and other
western states give little support to democratic change in the region for
fear of upsetting stability.
When traditional strategists look ahead to 2020 or 2050 they still see
Middle Eastern oil as the key issue in international energy policy. In the
UK this view informs the House of Commons investigation into energy
security, which assumes that we will have to import our energy. The US
joint chiefs of staff strategy document, Joint Vision 2020, makes the same
But renewable energy can provide a substitute for oil. Just 3% of wind
resources could provide 30% of global energy needs. Solar power has the
potential to provide a similarly limitless capacity. Wind power is far
advanced in other states: in Denmark it already provides 14% of national
supplies. Meanwhile, car companies have developed engines using advanced
hydrogen fuel cells. In his presidential campaign last year, Al Gore
proposed eliminating the internal combustion engine in 25 years.
Renewable energy has additional advantages to providing strategic freedom
of action in the Middle East. It creates jobs. It is decentralised and thus
invulnerable to terrorist attack. Unlike nuclear energy, renewables do not
bring the risk of catastrophic toxic releases. Many people could make money
by selling back to the utility companies surplus energy produced by
back-garden windmills and solar roofing tiles. Lastly, the shift to
renewables will greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But there are three major obstacles which must be overcome before we can
take oil off the list of key objectives for our military and foreign
policy. These are the difficulty of changing official thinking, the vested
interests of the oil companies and the need for a transition strategy.
The difficulty of changing the bureaucratic mindset cannot be
overestimated. The power of the oil companies to resist change is immense,
though there are considerable signs of change. Shell recently predicted
that oil would be an outdated technology by 2050. Today there is a national
security imperative to cease our needless reliance on oil.
Nobody is proposing that we give up using energy and return to the
pre-industrial age. A shift to renewables would move industrial society
ahead a stage. A transition strategy to renewable energy should focus
attention on the leading industrialised nations of the G7 and in particular
on the EU and the US. Next month's EU-US summit needs to take some key
The EU set a target last month of creating 22% of electricity supply from
renewable sources by 2010. This target should be dramatically accelerated
by both the EU and the US. In America the policy should fall under the
strategy of improving homeland defence through increasing self-reliance.
Congressional districts, states and counties could develop programmes with
These objectives are far-reaching. But they constitute a policy shift
towards the world's strategic environment that the public can help bring
about. We need worry no more about the Gulf than we do about the Costa Brava.
· Dan Plesch is senior research fellow at the Royal United Services
Institute. This is an edited version of his contribution to Tuesday's
Guardian-RUSI conference. email@example.com