Posted by Sadie from ? (188.8.131.52) on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 at 2:36PM :
Nature 423, 15 (01 May 2003) © Macmillan Publishers Ltd.
Oil and war: we had the warning 30 years ago
Sir – The other night, I was looking for an article in Nature from 1973 when the volume fell open to an editorial, "What future for energy?" (Nature 242, 357–358; 1973). I quote the closing part: "...there is every prospect that the immediate problems of energy scarcity could be brought within control in the measurable future. Fuller use of the price mechanism and more resolute decision-making by the Federal Government are urgently necessary, but could make the immediate "crisis" go away. By the 1990s, however, the United States will have more serious problems to contend with. It now seems clear that the annual import bill for petroleum products is bound to increase steadily, and the chances are that even by 1980, the United States will be spending $20,000 million a year (or more if there are further devaluations of the dollar) on imported crude petroleum. Numerically, this expenditure is not insupportable, but there are political snags. The Administration is, for example, alarmed at the prospect that so much cash will find its way into the hands of Arab states which have no automatic sympathy with United States policy in the Middle East — rather the reverse — and which could use their holdings of the large quantities of dollars as a way of manipulating the international currency market. But even this is not an entirely unwelcome prospect, for at the very least it will create a climate in which some lasting political settlement in the Middle East will seem to everybody desirable. And here, luckily, there is plenty of time in which the United States can prepare the ground for a lasting policy. To be sure, in the meantime it will be prudent also to pursue as vigorously as possible the technical means by which other sources of energy might be exploited, and no doubt there is much to be done to make use of geothermal steam and solar energy. But the problem of the 1990s is already definable and is largely political in character. It is to be hoped that the United States will not let that blow up into a crisis for lack of resolution in the next few years."
Thirty years later, the Israeli–Palestinian situation could not be worse. War in Iraq has cost thousands of lives during the past few weeks. Republicans in the US Congress recently fell just two votes short of passing legislation that would allow oilfields to be drilled in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Alaska's North Slope, and the president vowed to redouble efforts to open the refuge to drilling. There have been no significant investments in new energy technologies, and no breakthroughs in technologies or new sources.
The perspective offered by your stunning, telling editorial in 1973 provides some important, albeit expensive, lessons.
Michael D. Jennings
Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, and Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, University of Idaho
The author of the editorial was John Maddox, then Editor of Nature — Editor, Correspondence
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