Healing Our World Commentary: Say One Thing, Do Another

By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D.

Say One Thing, Do Another

Political and industrial leaders are fond of telling us that environmental issues can be considered only if there is enough time and money and only if the economy is not affected. Yet time and time again, environmental issues prove to be the fundamental basis for major policy decisions.

The decision to colonize North America was heavily influenced by the vast resources that were present. The European colonists began a relentless drive to capture those resources, and most fundamental U.S. doctrines, laws, and values were born out of the need to use those resources.

Very quickly, environmental issues surfaced as forests were denuded, streams diverted, and minerals mined. But no single resource may have changed the face of the world as much as fossil fuels have since their discovery.

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Oil derricks in Los Angeles shortly after the discovery of oil there in the 1920s (Photo courtesy http://www.dieoff.org/)
With a seemingly endless supply of relatively cheap gasoline and natural gas for our homes and businesses, it is easy to believe that we can never run out. Yet this has never been the case and even oil industry analysts are discussing the inevitable end to this finite, non-renewable resource.

Now scholars and analysts are agreeing that we WILL run out of oil and other resources. As prices increase, the gap between those who have and those who don't will widen. Many of us who are those who have today will be the have-nots of tomorrow.

Oil industry investors, however, will not go down without a fight. Fossil fuels are now being searched out in places once deemed too costly to explore, and markets are being sought that would have once been considered out of the question.

All major oil companies are now working on alternative energy sources, but rather than encouraging their introduction more widely today, they are trickling out the technology. I suspect that when the last drop of oil is gone, the oil companies will miraculously unveil their new energy producing plants that run on hydrogen, wind, and solar power.

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Traffic in Denver, Colorado (Photo by Warren Gretz courtesy National Renewable Energy Lab)
"For over 150 years, mankind has been used to an ever growing supply of cheap and abundant energy," said Colin J. Campbell at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Toronto in 1998. Campbell is the co-author of an article in the March 1998 "Scientific American" magazine entitled "The End of Cheap Oil." A former exploration geologist, he believes that oil production will peak within the decade.

"The implication of this on industry, world politics, and economics seems to me to be enormous," Campbell said. Others feel the peak may be two decades from now, but it will come.

When the quantity of oil already burned since oil extraction began equals the amount yet to be extracted, the peak will have been reached. More costly methods will be used for a while to extract oil from tar, heavy oil and hydrocarbons locked in shales.

The International Energy Agency in Paris thinks that oil production could peak before the year 2015. By 2020, the demand for oil could exceed the supply by 17 million barrels per day.

The end of oil production is a much harder date to predict and is not really as important as when production peaks. The peak will be a time of crisis if world dependence on oil continues unchecked since demand will exceed the supply. This is the time when the rich will become very much richer while the gap between economic classes widens.

Imagine paying five, 10, or even 20 dollars for a gallon of gas. It could happen in our lifetime.

These stark realities that jeopardize the profits of the world's biggest companies have affected the modern day foreign policy of the United States and nearly every nation on the planet. Countries will gladly go to war to insure that cheap oil is available.

The United States' dependence on fossil fuels has shaped its Middle East policies dramatically. Even today's war on Afghanistan has fossil fuel undertones that have not been revealed at press briefings.

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Afghan refugees arrive last week at a camp set up by the Iranian Red Crescent just inside the Afghan border. (Photo courtesy International Federation Red Cross and Red Crescent)
Afghanistan is one of the world's most impoverished nations and many of its nearly 26 million people suffer daily from the effects of a decimated political, physical, and institutional infrastructure. But under that country's devastated landscape are significant fossil fuel resources. And the only route to get Asian and Russian oil to the Arabian Sea for transport to the West is through Afghanistan.

The Soviets estimated Afghanistan's proven and probable natural gas reserves at up to five trillion cubic feet. Soviet estimates from the late 1970s said Afghanistan's proven and probable oil reserves are around 95 million barrels. All oil exploration and development work as well as plans to build a 10,000 barrel per day refinery were halted after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

U.S. oil interests have already begun planning to extract oil and natural gas from Afghanistan. In January 1998, Unocal, the U.S. based oil giant formerly known as the Union Oil Company, signed an agreement with the Taliban to proceed with an 890 mile, US$2 billion, two billion cubic foot per day natural gas pipeline project, led by Unocal.

The Internet data service CountryWatch.com, in its description of the energy resources of Afghanistan, says, "the proposed $2-billion pipeline tentatively would run from Dauletabad south to the Afghan border and through Herat and Kandahar in Afghanistan, to Quetta, Pakistan. The line would then link with Pakistan's gas grid at Sui."

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Map of Afghanistan and its neighbors (Map courtesy CIA World Factbook)
The gas pipeline project consortium headed by Unocal is known as the Central Asian Gas Pipeline Ltd., or Centgas, which was formed in August 1996.

CountryWatch.com goes on to say, "Unocal and Saudi Arabia's Delta Oil hold a combined 85 percent stake in the consortium, while Turkmenrusgas owns five percent. Other participants in the project include Hyundai Engineering & Construction Company of South Korea, Itochu Corporation of Japan, and Indonesia Petroleum Ltd."

In August 1998, Unocal announced that it was suspending its role in the Afghanistan gas pipeline project in light of the U.S. military action in Afghanistan that year. The U.S. had launched cruise missiles against sites in Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden was suspected of training terrorists. The strikes were launched about two weeks after bombings, linked to bin Laden, of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

Unocal has stressed that the gas pipeline project will not proceed until an internationally recognized government is in place. Putting such a government in place has been a stated objective of the current war effort.

Besides the gas pipeline, Unocal has proposed building a 1,000-mile, one million barrel per day capacity oil pipeline that would link Chardzou, Turkmenistan to Pakistan's Arabian Sea Coast through Afghanistan.

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Unocal CEO Charles Williamson. Prior to becoming CEO in January 2001, he was executive vice president, International Energy Operations. (Photo courtesy Unocal)
Since the Chardzou refinery is already linked to Russia's Western Siberian oil fields, this line could provide a possible alternative export route for regional oil production from the Caspian Sea. The $2.5 billion pipeline is known as the Central Asian Oil Pipeline Project.

Afghanistan also has significant coal reserves, estimated to be in excess of 400 million tons. Most of the coal is located in the region between Herat and Badashkan in the northern part of the country.

While few would suggest that Afghanistan's fossil fuel resources instigated the current war, it is difficult to believe that these facts about Afghanistan's energy potential are not on the minds of our business and political leaders.

Once again, the environment is playing a pivotal role in the shaping of world policy.

It is time for our leaders to stop telling us that the condition of our environment is yet one of many optional factors to be considered in decision making. Let's get them to admit that resource extraction, energy generation, and their subsequent impact on our precious life support systems are really the foundational elements that shape our interactions in the world.

It is time to stop saying one thing, and doing another.

RESOURCES

1. Visit the Alternative Energy Institute for their view on fossil fuel depletion at: http://www.altenergy.org/2/nonrenewables/fossil_fuel/depletion/depletion.html

2. Visit Witness for Peace at: http://www.witnessforpeace.org/

3. See details on the condition of Afghanistan's environment at: http://www.countrywatch.com/files/001/cw_topic.asp?vCOUNTRY=001&TP=ENV

4. Learn more about the Afghan people from The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies at: http://www.ifrc.org/Docs/News/01/100902/

5. More about the peak of oil production can be found at: http://www.hubbertpeak.com/

6. The Peacemakers Speak website has Nobel Peace Prize winners' views on the current crisis at: http://www.thecommunity.com/crisis/

7. See the Rainforest Action Network's case against continued fossil fuel exploration at: http://www.hubbertpeak.com/

8. CARE has been quietly helping the people of Afghanistan for years. Find out how to help them at: http://www.thecommunity.com/afghan.html

9. The International of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is instrumental in getting aid directly to the Afghan people. Visit them at: http://www.ifrc.org/index.asp

10. The Non-Violence Web Page will give you many links to peace organizations at: http://www.nonviolence.org/links.htm

11. Find out who your Congressional representatives are and e-mail them. Tell them that you want them to take acknowledge that the environment affects everything. If you know your Zip code, you can find them at: http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.html

{Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and teacher in Seattle. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at: jackie@healingourworld.com and visit his website at: http://www.healingourworld.com}