Wars for Oil – and now for Gas

Wars for oil have a long history.

World War 2 is a good example. Oil was a critical resource for all sides.

Japan attacked Pearl Harbor barely 4 months after the United States established an embargo on oil exports to Japan. The oil fields of Indonesia were among Japan’s first conquests after the Pearl Harbor attack. When the shipping lines from there to Japan were cut, both the Japanese naval and air forces were increasingly forced to attempt suicide attacks because they only had fuel for one-way sorties.

Germany’s drives for the oil fields of southern Russia and the Middle East failed, forcing Germany to rely on oil production from Romania and conversion of coal to liquid in order to fuel their army, navy and air force. The British military fought hard to maintain control of the Suez Canal because that was the main way they could get oil independent of America.

In contrast, it can easily be shown that the oil supplies of Russia, Britain and the United States were essential to the Allies’ ability to win the war, despite numerous military errors. P-51 Mustangs, Stormoviks and other Allied aircraft were able to wreck the Luftwaffe and destroy Japanese air defenses because they had the fuel to do it. T-34 and Sherman tanks were able to meet in Berlin for similar reasons.

Since World War 2, natural gas has become a much more important industrial fuel. The house in which I grew up, built shortly after that war, was heated by a coal furnace. That was common, at the time. While it is still legal to build a home with a coal-burning furnace, and you might even be able to find a local company delivering coal, it would be unusual, and the neighbors might well object. Coal-fired electrical power plants are being closed and replaced with gas-powered ones.

That brings us to today’s wars for gas. Methane, that is; natural gas (not gasoline, which is made from oil).

Russia has a lot of developed natural gas deposits. Pipelines from Russia supply a lot of natural gas to both Europe and Ukraine. Even with all the fighting in Ukraine, which has involved tanks and artillery, not just individuals armed with AK-47s, Russia has not yet cut off the flow of gas into pipelines traversing Ukraine on the way to Europe. If and when this happens, the situation gets more serious because Europe and Ukraine get more desperate.

It might be said that, since Afghanistan has little in the way of gas or oil resources, that’s one war that cannot be explained as being about these fossil fuels. When you look at the location of Afghanistan, that proves to be a pretty superficial way of thinking about it.

Afghanistan lies directly between major gas fields located in some of the other “-stan” countries (Kyrgistan, Uzbekistan, etc.) and Pakistan. While the eastern mountainous region of Afghanistan is no place to contemplate building a pipeline, the the flatter region to the west is geographically ideal for the purpose. For details, just start with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Afghanistan_Pipeline. This is one answer to the question, “Why have so many countries been fighting over Afghanistan for so long?”

And, as it turns out, it’s also an answer to a similar question about why the conflict between Israel and Palestine been so impossible to settle. I’m not going to try to explain this in detail, because I would not do nearly as good a job as Michael Schwartz did in his article – http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175961/.

This article is really worth reading, taking notes, checking out the details, discussing and making every effort to understand. The intractible conflict is not a result of a ‘flawed peace process’ or some inexplicable ‘political will of the peoples of ____.’ Nor is it a clash of religions, though it provokes a lot of clashes between followers of several religions. It is a result of the fact that Israel’s economy ‘needs’ the gas, and the gas is inconveniently located largely under Mediterranean water to which Israel does not have an undisputed claim.

Seriously, read the article linked just above, and the comments below the article, and any factual references you can think of. See if you can come to any other conclusion.

Meanwhile, there’s more than enough sunlight falling on Israel (inside the 1967 borders) to supply all the energy needs of the people living in Israel. The source is free. It can’t be used without developing a renewable energy industry, but that development is technically possible.

There’s also more than enough sunlight falling on the United States. We, too could become energy independent, so far as other nations are concerned. We don’t have to be dependent on the earth’s limited supply of fossil fuels. We don’t have to put up with all the bad biological, ecological and social effects of burning fossil fuels.

“Drill, drill, drill!” and similar panicky slogans supporting the old industrial system guarantee more destruction of the environment, followed by economic collapse when the remaining geological deposits become too scarce and expensive to continue using. It’s a path to guaranteed failure, with wars and other calamities along the way.

There are, to be sure, some negatives to developing clean energy sources and a sustainable society world-wide. It’s not a path of 100% sweetness, light and rose petals. But at least, unwinnable wars and collapse are not guaranteed.

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The Pre-extinction Party

Dimitri Orlov (possibly best known as the author of ‘Reinventing Collapse’) on Tuesday, February 17, 2015 published an article on his blog (http://cluborlov.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/extinctextincterextinctest.html#more). The article argues that the likliest outcome of current trends, particularly the trend of global warming, will be the near-term extinction of mankind along with most other living species. It’s certainly a gloomy prospect.

What I found most interesting was one of the comments to the article, made by
Gary Flomenhoft (http://www.uvm.edu/giee/?Page=flomenhoft.html). I have reproduced it in its entirety, because I generally agree with it:

Gaia has maintained the earth’s equilibrium temperature between 12C and 22C for 2 billion years, just fine without humans.

99.9% of all species that have ever existed are extinct. The average life span of a mammal species is 1 million years. Homo Sapiens are around 200,000 yrs old. Expiration date?

Most of the CO2 that is in the ground used to be in the air. That is where it came from.

100 million years ago the CO2 level in the air was 5500 ppm.
There will be no runaway greenhouse effect.

CO2 only becomes toxic to humans at 5% concentration which would be 50,000ppm.

60 million years ago the CO2 level was 3500ppm.

34 million yrs ago it dropped below 1000ppm for the first time and the ice caps formed.

About 23 million yrs ago it dropped below 300ppm where it has remained ever since, up to recently where it is now above 400ppm. the entire life span of humans CO2 was never above 300.

Bottom line is the earth will survive just fine without humans. Even at 22C large parts of the earth will be habitable if any humans manage to survive. Probably further north though (like northern Eurasia). The climate may be unstable for awhile. Then we’ll have a chance to screw it up again.

As a friend of mine says, the sole functions of humans in the scheme of things is to put the stored CO2 back in the the air for the benefit of plants.

One other point. Hubbert was smarter than you think. In his 1976 essay, “Exponential Growth as a transient phenomenon in human history”, Hubbert said world oil peak would be around 1995 (between 1990-2000), BUT “…oil production could be curtailed by the exporting nations to somewhat near the present rate. Were that to occur…curve…would be displaced…10-15 yrs.” IE: 2005-2015. Pretty dead on!

http://www.uvm.edu/~gflomenh/CDAE06/2010/06notes10.html

The reference to “Hubbert” will make some sense if you read Orlov’s article, If you’ve never heard of M. King Hubbert, then you might be interested in his Wikipedia article:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M._King_Hubbert

Global warming/climate change/excess carbon dioxide emissions is a serious problem. It changes the environment on earth in ways we will not like. It is not, by itself, necessarily “game over” for humanity even if do burn up all the extractable coal, oil and methane. If, in the course of this extraction, the governments of our nations get into a thermonuclear war, that might well lead to near-term extinction. That’s definitely a gloomy possibility, but not inevitable. Barring such institutional insanity, it should be possible for life generally, and for humanity in particular, to adapt to the consequences of, let’s say, 1000 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere.

We won’t like the adaptation. It seems it would require a substantial reduction in human population, at a minimum, and the process of reduction is not likely to be a peaceful and controlled one. It’s survivable in the way that Rome survived the loss of empire, becoming a city of ruins inhabited by a few scavengers and sheep herders, so it is not a desirable outcome. Or, we could reduce emissions now and have less harsh conditions to cope with later.

If you conclude that extinction is inevitable, then the only sensible thing to do (as mentioned in other comments to Orlov’s article) is to hold a pre-extinction party. If you understand that there are a range of possible outcomes, and that it is possible to limit the damage from carbon dioxide and methane emissions (and other types of pollution), then you can work to ensure that your descendants have the best chance to live.

There are numerous ways to join with others people in the effort to prevent the worst outcomes for humanity. The Green Party in the United States (http://gp.org/index.php) is one for Americans who understand that the two-party system is directing us toward those worst outcomes with its endless wars for oil. We are the anti-extinction party.

Eventually, all the movements for social justice, protecting the environment, stopping senseless wars and building a sustainable economy will need to converge to achieve their common goals. The sooner, the better, I say.

Vote “NO” on May 5

On May 5, 2015, Michigan will be voting on the sales tax amendment to the state’s constitution. This amendment should be declined with a solid “NO” vote.

There are several components in the package. Increasing the sales tax rate from 6% to 7% is one, and it will probably get the most attention, but the other components are also important. Gasoline or diesel fuel used as a motor fuel would be permanently exempted from sale or use taxes. The percentage allocated to townships, cities and villages would increase. The percentage allocated to “education” would increase, but the definition of “education” would also be expanded in some questionable ways.

It’s really important to note that the points listed above are the only things that are being voted up or down. It is true that there is a package of bills allocating state funds for various purposes including public transportation which would be “triggered” by passage of the proposed amendment.

However, the amendment itself is the only aspect that would be beyond the ability of the legislature to change if the vote is “Yes.” The bills could be modified or repealed by the legislature immediately, or later this year, or next year, or at any later date.

The only long term – we could call it more or less permanent, for practical purposes – change to Michigan law would be the terms of the amendment itself. Whether to vote the amendment up or down should be decided almost entirely on the basis of whether you favor the amendment itself.

We will certainly hear a lot about the effects of the bills to be triggered, but that’s simply advertising to influence the vote. The importance of bills to be triggered by passage should be weighted by how much you trust the legislature, and any future legislatures, to actually work for policies you approve.

When the tax rate was changed from 4% to 6% a couple of decades ago, the change was sold with promises that revenue sharing for schools and cities would fix all the financial problems of schools and cities. What actually happened since then is that tax cuts, tax breaks and revenue reallocations by the state government combined with dropping property values resulting in dropping revenues from property taxes to make the financial problems of cities and schools as bad as before.

This time around, the related bills promise, among other things, an immediate increase in financing for public transportation. That is simply a short-term reality. There is no guarantee that the increase in public transportation funding will even last through 2016, let alone for the decades it would take to create a good public transportation infrastructure in Michigan.

In the long run, if this amendment passes, we could have a 7% tax rate and poor, underfinanced public transportation, just as we now have a 6% tax and financially stressed schools and cities.

A simple reference document showing the relevant sections of the Michigan Constitution as they now exist and as they would be changed has been created. It’s available for download at: https://migreenparty.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/mi-amendment-2015.pdf

The first part of the amendment is fairly simple. It changes the base rate of the sales tax from 4% to 5%. The previous amendment that, in 1994, made the overall rate 6%, allocated revenues from the additional 2% on top of the 4% base rate to a school aid fund. It left the base rate of 4% unchanged. This current amendment does not propose to change the allocation of the additional 2%. It just redefines the 2% as being above the base 5%.

The next part adds the following language to the Constitution’s Section 8: “No sales tax or use tax shall be charged or collected from and after October 1, 2015 on the sale or use of gasoline or diesel fuel used to operate a motor vehicle on the public roads or highways of this state.” It means that roads will no longer be financed by taxes on fuel burned by traffic on the roads. This part of the amendment not only moves away from the idea of having people and businesses that use the roads pay for the roads; it also precludes any possibility of a state “carbon tax” or “carbon fee and dividend” being applied to motor fuels.

The final part of the amendment package is a redefinition of the purposes of the state school aid fund. In the existing constitution, it is defined as “aid to school districts, higher education, and school employees’ retirement systems.” The amendment would change this to: “aid to school districts, public community colleges, public career and technical education programs, scholarships for students attending either public community colleges or public career and technical education programs, and school employees’ retirement systems.”

The motive for this expanded definition is not clear. If the intent is for the school aid fund to be used as it is now used, then no redefinition is needed at all. Apparently there is an intent to redirect the school aid fund for some purpose not now acceptable. Is there, in this clause, some legal justification for funneling state education money to charter schools or other private schools, perhaps through “scholarships?”

In any case, this expansion of “higher education” into a variety of other purposes is part of the package, and it must be voted up or down as the whole package is voted up or down. As there is no sensible explanation of why this portion of the constitution should be amended, we can fairly suspect some hidden purpose that we will not like when we find out about it.

In sum, this proposed amendment to the Constitution of Michigan would:

  • Increase a regressive tax.
  • Permanently exempt gasoline and diesel fuel from state sales and use taxes.
  • Redefine “higher education” for no obvious reason.

Overall,  there is not enough reason to vote for this amendment, and plenty of reason to vote against it. Without the amendment, the legislature is perfectly capable of raising taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel, demanding higher royalties for mineral extraction, reallocating funds from nonessential expenses and generally doing the job that they are supposed to do. This amendment is proposed, at least in part, to shift the blame for an unpopular tax hike to the voters. We should vote down this amendment and force the legislature and the governor to be responsible for the budget they create.

Vote NO on May 5.

That’s my opinion. What’s yours?

(This post, with the correct date for the election, replaces an earlier post with a typo in the worst possible place. Also, since the original post, “Vote NO on May 5” has become the officially endorsed position of the Green Party of Michigan.)