The theory of peak oil is a controversial one; no one can agree whether if and when oil will reach peak production and start a decline, volatile or otherwise. The International Energy Agency (IEA) suggest that the world’s supply of oil will be adequate until 2030. If offshore exploration continues, that date could be pushed back; it could lurch forward if developing nations’ demand for fossil fuels soar. The reality, however, is that when oil stocks are depleted, the effects will be felt quickly and with little warning, flowing as fast as the testimonials that will crow, “We told you so.” Such a scenario is a daunting prospect as many of the “clean energy” sources require fossil fuels for their manufacture—and the transformation of a nation’s energy infrastructure on a dime cannot happen without painful consequences.
Naturally military institutions are considering the impact of peak oil and issues related to climate change in their future scenario planning. The US Department of Defense is evaluating the potential impact that climate change could have on military operations and national security later this century. DOD officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have also addressed the potential threats that reliance on foreign oil poses to the United States. Across the pond, United Kingdom government officials are publicly denying such “alarmist” fears while documents obtained by The Guardian reveal a spike in the canvassing of views from energy industry and science experts. Now a German military think tank has drafted a report that discusses the impact that peak oil could have on the world’s economy.
The report, which is still in the draft stage and contains mostly opinions from the scientific community, has an ominous tone. As discussed by the national daily Der Spiegel, the global peak in global oil production could very have occurred in 2010, give or take a few years. The effects, however, probably would not be felt for another 15 to 20 years, or around the time of the IEA’s more Panglossian scenario.
The study, on which the Bundeswehr (German United Armed Forces) still refuses to comment publicly, suggests a huge shift in geopolitical power. The consequences for Germany are unnerving: the EU’s largest nation would have to be more nimble in how it approaches relations with oil-rich Russia, with the risk that its smaller neighbors to the east, including Poland, could suffer harm. And Germany, which currently offers unconditional support to Israel’s right to exist, would have to modify its stance in order to avoid infuriating oil-rich Middle Eastern kingdoms. Perhaps Chancellor Angela Merkel’s energy plan can not progress fast enough.
Obviously the United States would hardly be immune for such drastic changes. A few years back, I attended a lecture by an international relations professor who in a nutshell said, “Moderate your approach to the Arab states because in the future they will hold all the cards.” Many business students in the audience smirked, but the professor was onto something. Market failures, price shocks, relapses into more centrally-planned economies, and political upheaval are a few of the symptoms that could occur worldwide as large world powers flounder from pricey and unreliable oil supplies.
We cannot predict events of the next few decades, but we can plan better to address such scenarios that really are not that far off into the future. For a nation that consumes 20% to 25% of the world’s energy, some sobering news is on the way. And for clean energy advocates and their friends in the environmental community, perhaps their strongest allies are at the Pentagon.