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Monday, December 26, 2005

Abolish the Weapons Industry to Save Energy

by Bill Totten

Nihonkai Shimbun & Osaka Nichinichi Shimbun

(December 12 2005)

(I've written a weekly column for two Japanese newspapers for the past several years. Patrick Heaton prepared this English version from the Japanese original.)

I have spent the last couple of years researching the state of the world's oil supplies. The world's oil reserves are peaking; there is a decrease in the readily-available, cheap oil upon which our modern lifestyle has been built over the past several decades.

Explosive Population Growth

Life-spans have been extended through advances in technology, but the main impetus for this burgeoning population growth has been a change in lifestyle made possible by plentiful oil. Oil is a key component in plastics, for example, and has contributed to improved transportation and communications.

The result has been an explosive increase in the growth rate of the world's population over the past one hundred years compared with that of the previous century.

In 1800 the world's population stood at about one billion; in 1900 it was 1.65 billion. Today it is about 6.5 billion.

At the same time, global warming has also been increasing, creating many new problems. It is predicted that climate changes will cause flooding and other disasters, thus creating a crisis for our civilization within the next few decades.

The problem of peak oil is fairly well known in the English-speaking world. In Japan, however, only a few articles on diminishing oil resources can be found on the Internet, and few Japanese energy experts who issue warnings about peak oil are taken seriously. Lately, however, some major business magazines have carried articles by thoughtful writers such as John Gray, Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics, on the implications of declining oil reserves.

The Struggle to Corner Energy Resources

Gray, the author of several books on the questions of free trade and the laissez-faire market system, states that today the war over cornering the world's energy resources determines who controls international politics. We can see examples of this struggle by looking at American military diplomacy, especially recent US actions in the oil-producing Middle East. Gray quotes Matthew R Simmons, who is the founder and chairman of the world's largest energy investment banking company. Simmons, a frequent adviser to President Bush on energy matters, warns that Saudi Arabia probably has reached peak production levels. Saudi Arabia, as the world's largest oil-producing nation, is now facing a reduction of petroleum resources that is fundamentally different from the "oil shocks" of the 1970s. Estimates are that not only Saudi Arabian oil, but worldwide petroleum reserves in general, will last only about another forty years.

Cheap, abundant oil made globalization possible. The free market economic philosophy at the center of the globalization process now affects not only industrialized nations, but the entire world economic system. It has become apparent that globalization causes instability in that while the wealthy classes become richer, poorer citizens are driven deeper into poverty. Developed nations have been promoting globalization and dependence on oil to maintain their standard of living at the expense of poorer nations.

Increasingly affecting this situation is the rapid development of China, now the second-largest consumer of oil after the United States. To meet its energy needs, China has been strengthening relations with both of the world's largest oil producers, Saudi Arabia and Russia, and is involved in developing oil production from Canada's oil sands. It is not unreasonable to predict that in the coming decades, countries with rising oil demands will be competing over every last drop of oil with developed countries that are already completely dependent on oil.

Avoid Waste of Energy Resources

Given the coming worldwide energy shortage, to me the height of stupidity would be to consume energy by waging war over oil just as the world's energy is running out. To avoid such an absurd debacle, I firmly believe that all nations must stop producing weapons.

Countries should not only abolish weapons, but should cease operation of all businesses related to the war industry. It should not be difficult to convince citizens of the need for this policy. If weapons production were stopped, peace and a better standard of living would result for nations that currently become the world's energy battlefields, and for countries that now send soldiers to risk their lives attempting to corner energy reserves in oil-producing nations.

Realizing the Earth's Limits

Japan, as a developed nation, is highly dependent at present on imported oil for a variety of industries, including agriculture. The end of globalization would obviously have a tremendous impact on Japan. It is imperative, therefore, for the Japanese government to promote agricultural methods that do not depend on vast amounts of energy imports. As the peak oil situation becomes more severe, Japan will need to support regionally-based organic agriculture. Japanese will have to shift from a global economy that depends on importing oil and exporting manufactured goods to one that resembles that of the locally self-sufficient Edo period.

Being Frugal yet Remaining Optimistic

Of course, there is no reason that Japan should become isolationist. It is enough simply to recognize that over-consumption, over-efficiency, and a fast pace are not necessarily constructive or optimal lifestyles.

During the Cold War the world was on the brink of destruction many times. Maintaining a positive spirit in spite of shortages and in the face of danger helped Japanese citizens navigate through those difficult times. There is no reason to believe that the peak oil crisis cannot be managed the same way. The key is for sensible people to realize the folly and stupidity of wasting resources on weapons and wars that do nothing but consume those precious diminishing resources.

Bill Totten


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