Environment & the World

Friday, August 18, 2006

Global competition for oil

Filed under: Climate Change, Energy, Oil, Politics — Cathy @ 11:16 pm

Just read a long and interesting article in Der Spiegel on oil politics:

http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/spiegel/0,1518,429968,00.html

Basically the article talks about how, sooner or later, the U.S., China, and India are going to clash over oil and natural gas resources.  Already, China’s demand for oil has led it to support the current Iranian regime; President Ahmadinead rightly notes that “the West needs us more than we need the West.”  Africa is another hotspot, with both the United States and China pushing for oil development along the West African coast – regardless of the corruption and consequences for human rights.

The article’s main conclusions are that: China, the US and India will have trouble securing the oil resources they need in the coming century, the EU’s energy security is uncertain, Russia is likely to be a winner if it can stabilize its government, and Brazil and Sweden will be fine.  Brazil has a well-developed biofuel economy and Sweden is developing one, with the goal of being independent of oil by 2020.  More investment into alternative transportation fuels would probably be a wise idea for the U.S., China, and India too.  The United States certainly has the resources for a significant biofuels industry based on crop residues.  China might as well, although China also has significant coal reserves; converting coal into liquid fuels and sequestering the carbon would probably be a better alternative than the current path of propping up corrupt and unstable governments for a source of energy that is damaging the climate.

 It is not surprising that the role of oil as a driving force in African poverty and political corruption (at least in some parts of Africa) rarely surfaces in public debate.  While oil does indeed bring money into many African countries, it often ends up fueling corrupt and brutally repressive governments, such as that in Nigeria.   As the article points out, “The standard of living has declined for most of the population in corrupt states such as Nigeria, Algeria and Gabun, for example.”  China gets 5% of its oil imports from the Sudan, with the consent of its genocidal government, so it’s no surprise that the Chinese are not anxious to have that government toppled (China has been blocking the imposition of UN sanctions against Sudan).  If oil exports were less of a driving force, not only would there be less corruption, but I suspect that the rest of the world would be able to turn a more objective eye to problems in Africa.  After all, it is rather difficult to make serious progress in promoting transparent governance and reducing poverty when our oil dollars are simultaneously funding the corrupt regimes.

  (There is more detail on the East Africa’s role in the global oil scene in a previous Spiegel article: http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/spiegel/0,1518,389138,00.html)

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1 Comment »

  1. That was a great, thorough article on energy politics, and petropolitics in particular. It really highlights how international tensions arise over competition for resources. If our apetite for energy were smaller, or if we could satisfy it from domestic sources, there would probably be much less tension in the world. Also, I agree with your point that promoting human rights or solving global disease epidemics could be tackled with more clarity if we didn’t have economic ties with problematic governments…

    The article really opened my eyes to the way China’s foreign policy is heavily dominated by concerns to secure as much energy as it can. What’s particularly disquieting is the lengths to which China goes in order to secure its own interests–making deals with Iran, Sudan, and generally having little qualms about conducting business with whoever can provide them with something they want. This potentially really undermines the effectiveness of the international community to exert pressure via diplomatic, economic, and noncombatant means.

    Anyway… all this does lend itself to good nightmare material. It’s just troubling to think that one day soon we could wake up to this reality.

    Comment by Amir — Sunday, August 20, 2006 @ 4:00 pm


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