The story of the climate’s deterioration is intertwined with the story of class conflict, with the battle between the revolutionaries and the counterrevolutionaries. Much to the chagrin of U.S. national security technocrats, factors show that the instability and destruction from the climate collapse is most likely going to harm the strategic interests of the counterrevolutionaries far more than those of the revolutionaries.
Many Western analysts have chosen to interpret the recent fighting in the Caucasus as the onset of a new Cold War, with a small pro-Western democracy bravely resisting a brutal reincarnation of Stalin’s jack-booted Soviet Union. Others have viewed it a throwback to the age-old ethnic politics of southeastern Europe, with assorted minorities using contemporary border disputes to settle ancient scores.
It’s strange that the business and geopolitics of energy takes up so little space on American front pages — or that we could conduct an oil war in Iraq with hardly a mention of the words “oil” and “war” in the same paragraph in those same papers over the years. Strange indeed. And yet, oil rules our world and energy lies behind so many of the headlines that might seem to be about other matters entirely.
This past May, in an unheralded and almost unnoticed move, the Energy Department signaled a fundamental, near epochal shift in US and indeed world history: we are nearing the end of the Petroleum Age and have entered the Age of Insufficiency. The department stopped talking about “oil” in its projections of future petroleum availability and began speaking of “liquids.” The global output of “liquids,” the department indicated, would rise from 84 million barrels of oil equivalent (mboe) per day in 2005 to a projected 117.7 mboe in 2030 — barely enough to satisfy anticipated world demand of 117.6 mboe. Aside from suggesting the degree to which oil companies have ceased being mere suppliers of petroleum and are now purveyors of a wide variety of liquid products — including synthetic fuels derived from natural gas, corn, coal and other substances — this change hints at something more fundamental: we have entered a new era of intensified energy competition and growing reliance on the use of force to protect overseas sources of petroleum. To appreciate the nature of the change, it is useful to probe a bit deeper into the Energy Department’s curious terminology. “Liquids,” the department explains in its International Energy Outlook for 2007, encompasses “conventional” petroleum as well as “unconventional” liquids — notably tar sands (bitumen), oil shale, biofuels, coal-to-liquids and gas-to-liquids. Once a relatively insignificant component of the energy business, these fuels have come to assume much greater importance as the output of conventional petroleum has faltered. Indeed, the Energy Department projects that unconventional liquids production will jump from a mere 2.4 mboe per day in 2005 to 10.5 in 2030, a fourfold increase. But the real story is not the impressive growth in unconventional fuels but the stagnation in conventional oil output. Looked at from this perspective, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the switch from “oil” to “liquids” in the department’s terminology is a not so subtle attempt to disguise the fact that worldwide oil production is at or near its peak capacity and that we can soon expect a downturn in the global availability of conventional petroleum.