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.