Sunday, January 27, 2008

The True Cost of [insert energy source here]

In class, we briefly discussed the difficulty in calculating the external cost of using petroleum as an energy source. As Dr. Webber said, it's impossible, for example, to seperate the defense related costs associated with securing Middle East oil from the defense costs associated with antiterrorism, protecting our allies in the region, etc.

In fact, the Middle East would not be much more than sparecely populated desert if not for the oil resource there, and neither the U.S. nor the European powers before us would have gotten involved there over a century ago. And, as controversial a statment as it may be, the fact remains that the rise of organized terrorism is a direct result of decades of our millitary and economic intervention in the region, from propping up corrupt and brutal dictatorial regimes in Saudia Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and elsewhere, to funding and training anti-soviet militias like the Taliban, to overthrowing the first democratically elected regime in the Middle East - that of Iran's Mossadeq - in 1952, and on, and on...

The point can thus reasonably be made that a portion of all of our security spending, from airport security to spying to all millitary spending, can be attributed to our consumption of Middle East oil, not just now, but for the last century. And, while it might seem like I'm stating the obvious, it amazes me how we go from not being able to calculate exaclty what that external cost is to talking about the market price of oil as if it is meaningful. As long as we continue to compare the price of oil with that of alternative fuels, or calculate the savings of a hybrid car based on the price paid at the pump, or any of the innumerable ways in which we calculate and compare fuel costs using obviously incorrect numbers - simply because we're not sure if the true cost is 2x or 10x the market price - we're continuing to prop-up a destructive, wasteful, and cost-ineffective energy paradigm that will continue to haunt our generation and those to come for decades.

Bon Apetite...

1 comment:

Ben Jones said...

Cyrus, why not take this a step further? The 2007 DOD operating budget was in the ballpark of $440B, which does not include spending related to co-sponsored programs like nuclear weapons research with the DOE, Veterans Affairs, or any expenses related to our presence in Afghanistan or Iraq. All told, we're talking about roughly $620B. I agree completely that our foreign policy goes far beyond our country's energy needs, and that it is impossible to allocate military costs to individual goals of our policies. However, I also am not naive to think that a significant amount of what we try to accomplish with our military, and therefore a significant amount of spending, is directly related to our dependence to imported energy.

I had a difficult time trying to aggregate how much money our government spends every year on research, subsidies, tax breaks, etc for technology and infrastructure that would help to reduce our dependence on imported energy. Common sense would tell you that whatever that number is, it pales in comparision to our total military spending. President Bush made headlines by proposing $200M annually towards hydrogen and biofuel research, so I assume that the total spending is less than $1B annually. Even at $1B, that is less than 1% of our nation's military budget. Is it so far fetched to consider financial backing of new technology and infrastructure as an investment to potentially reduce future military spending? I brought this up when I interviewed with a few investment banks last year and didn't get an offer from any. Coincidence...?