America’s Global Oil Problem


I’m happy to see Tom Lantos is holding a hearing this morning called “Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Oil Dependence.” Not only is this the right problem for the Foreign Affairs Committee to focus on – it’s the right angle to take, too (insofar as one can judge from the title of the hearing).
Too often, the problem is cast as a “foreign dependence” problem, as if cutting ourselves off from the global energy market were possible or helpful. It is neither. The world’s oil dependence, not just our own, is the problem.
I don’t subscribe to the theory that oil is the main reason we’re in Iraq – I think we have a team of narcissistic neoconservatives with delusions of grandeur to blame for that. But oil does complicate our ability to confront a wide range of national security and human rights issues that should otherwise be at the top of the U.S. agenda.
Even if the U.S. were to generate all of its own energy, we would still be vulnerable to fluctuations in global energy prices so long as the vast majority of the world’s people depend on a few oil-producing states for power. In other words, as long as most of the world is oil-dependent, oil will plague us whether we consume it or not.
Perhaps most importantly, the world’s dependence on oil – not simply America’s – plays a major role in causing climate change and keeping billions in poverty. Plus, oil dependence limits other countries in their foreign policy options more than it limits the U.S., thanks to our ample strategic reserves and some domestic supply. The effects of oil on other states seriously complicate our own geopolitical realities.
The U.S., which consumes about a quarter of the world’s oil, should lead the global transition away from oil – but shutting off the American spigot won’t do the job alone.
I hope this is where Tom Lantos and Co. are heading. This debate desperately needs a respite from the alternating calls for the ideal of “energy independence” and more of the status quo.
— Scott Paul


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