Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
History and common sense tell us that for a nation to survive, it must secure and control critical natural resources. In recent decades, Western nations have increasingly ignored this imperative in order to pursue dubious environmental goals dressed up as science, but more often the consequence of cultural ideals, political agendas, or profitable industries supported by government subsidies.
The current rise in the costs of energy in the U.S. and Europe is a flashing red light warning us that irresponsible energy policies are threatening the global economy, with dangerous consequences for our freedom, security, and way of life.
History provides us with examples of what happens to a state when it loses control of a critical resource. Ancient Athens depended on imported grain to feed its people. Recognizing the importance of foreign grain, the Athenians controlled the ports and sea-lanes that facilitated grain transport from the Black Sea region. Its dependence on those imports in fact led to its defeat by Sparta in the 27-year-long Peloponnesian War. Sparta’s naval victory at Aegospotamai at the mouth of the modern Dardanelles cut off Athenian imports from the Black Sea. Faced with starvation, the Athenians capitulated.
Twenty-two centuries later, the West faced a similar, though not as disastrous, challenge–– the 1973-74 Arab Oil Embargo. OPEC cut off imports of oil to the U.S. and other nations for supporting Israel during the 1973 Arab-Israeli, or Yom Kippur War. Dependent on imported oil, the U.S. faced the “oil shock”: gasoline prices rising 43%, gas rationing, long lines at gas-stations, a tripling of oil costs per barrel, stagflation, a stock market crash, and further damage to the global economy. The silver lining of this crisis was the development of policies and measures intended to wean the U.S. from its dependence on imported oil.
The current energy crisis, with oil prices recently rising to $80 a barrel, is much different from the Athenian grain crisis or Arab oil embargo, both of which were the consequence of war. But it is a serious one, affecting the world’s richest economies. As Ellie Gardey writes in American Spectator Online, “Economists are predicting that Europe and Asia will face a cataclysmic energy crisis when winter weather collides with drastically higher energy prices and shortages of oil, natural gas, and coal. There are warnings about widespread blackouts in Europe, factory shutdowns in China, and economic chaos in poorer countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan.”
The pandemic’s effect on supply chains is part of the problem, but the more significant factor is the decades-long assault on carbon-based energy on the pretext of catastrophic global warming. Germany, the EU’s largest economy and the world’s fourth largest, is the bellwether for Europe’s economies. After the Fukusima nuclear disaster in 2011, Germany recklessly decommissioned all its nuclear power plants, which provided nearly 30% of the country’s energy, and mandated they be replaced by “green” energy like wind and solar.
But as Texas learned this past winter when power outages killed at least 80 people, those sources of energy are highly unreliable fixes when fuels like natural gas that power generators become unavailable. Yet Europe’s powerful environmental lobby continue to block and delay new coal-fired plants or allow hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for extracting shale oil. As a result, they are dependent on Russian natural gas, and hence subject to Vladimir Putin’s geopolitical ambitions.
For now the U.S. is in better shape to weather the fuel crisis thanks to the fracking revolution, and Donald Trump’s relaxation of bans on oil development on public lands and waters, and his support for innovations like fracking that have made the U.S. potentially energy self-sufficient and the top oil producer in the world. Trump also left the Paris Climate Accords, the latest act of globalist virtue-signaling that will do nothing to mitigate the alleged apocalypse humanity will face if temperatures rise more than a couple of degrees in the next few decades.
The Biden administration, of course, has reversed most of these policies and renewed the progressives’ war on coal. Now the goal is for electricity generation to be carbon-free by 2035, at the cost of who knows how many trillions of dollars. He has tried to put a moratorium on oil-leases on public lands, cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline, and rejoined the useless Paris Climate accords. More humiliating, he has lobbied OPEC to produce more oil in order to stabilize prices––so much for our goal to achieve energy independence, first set as a response to the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo. The consequences of this squandering of Trump’s support for domestic oil production can be seen in current rising energy costs, with regular gas as much as twice as high in some states as it was in 2020.
Why have the richest, best educated, most technologically sophisticated nations in history violated the obvious lesson delivered by history and common sense––that a nation’s security depends on controlling and enhancing the supplies of its most important resources?
Today’s crisis reflects naïve or self-interested claims about the relationship of human behavior to the environment. For most of humanity before the modern period, nature was an arena of destructive, inhuman forces that had to be propitiated, but also controlled and exploited in order for people to survive. The idealization of nature as a beneficent mother from whom our technology, industry, and cities have estranged us arose in the West with the 18th-century Romantic movement. The impact of early industrialization’s “Satanic mills,” as William Blake put it, on the landscape and human life and labor; the growth of cities shrouded in coal smoke and crowded with the destitute; and finally, the shrinking of rural populations and the number of people required to produce food for the rest–– all popularized Romantic idealizations of nature as a soothing balm for the psyches of those, mainly comfortable poets and the growing middle class, who felt traumatized by modernity.
This powerful myth, now in its fourth century, has saturated our culture and, through environmental lobby, influenced our government policy. The notion that human beings, in their efforts to survive and improve their material existence, threaten the survival of the natural world––the rationale for policies mitigating catastrophic global warming––goes back even farther, to the ancient myth of the Golden Age. This was the time before technology, laws, private property, and war, when the earth unasked bestowed on us all we needed to survive and flourish. Or as the Roman poet Ovid put it, when the earth “untouched by the hoe and unwounded by the plow herself gave all things.”
Unfortunately, that age passed and deteriorated into the Iron Age, when people rend and tear “mother earth” with their iron tools to grow food and mine gold. Then come cities, private property, technology, seafaring, tyranny, crime, and war, all generated by what Ovid called the “wicked lust for having.” These ancient longings and ideals are obvious in popular culture, especially in movies like Avatar, Pocahontas, or Dances with Wolves, the latter two box-office hits in the 90s, the decade when the “global warming” industry was just beginning its growth into today’s most important and lucrative global ideology.
Despite the dubious science behind anthropogenic, catastrophic global warming, in a few weeks the next global-warming gab-fest comes to Glasgow, just as winter weather will start exposing the fecklessness of subjecting energy policy to utopian schemes such as achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Of course, the Biden administration will be there, and no doubt sign on to expensive, economy-wounding schemes for reducing carbon that China––whose emissions of CO2 are greater than those of the U.S. and the other developed nations combined–– will game, subvert, or out-right ignore.
Holding our energy policy hostage to a dubious hypothesis about a global climate we as yet do not understand sufficiently––not to mention indulging mythic longings and dreams that are the luxuries of the prosperous well-fed––is dangerous. The first obligation of a government, and the people who select the officers of that government, is to protect the nation’s security and interests, particularly its economy–– and the cheap energy that powers it–– that funds their way of life.
The global warmists’ pipe-dreams have already cost us billions of dollars in sketchy research and subsidies for “alternative energy” that is decades from achieving, if ever, its promise to make fossil fuels obsolete. The Biden administration has already jeopardized our security abroad with its feckless appeasement in Afghanistan, compromised our safety and citizenship with its virtual open borders policy, and threatened our economy not just with proposed trillions in new spending, but with its war on fossil fuels and fantasies of “net zero” carbon that will cost trillions more and severely damage our economy.
That’s what happens when a people are guided by bad science rather than their own common sense, prudence, and skepticism.