Terrorist Crisis directory
Environmentalists make a plea for 'patriotic' energy conservation
November 12, 2001
By Jennifer McNulty
Two of the most patriotic actions Americans can take in the wake of the September
11 terrorist attacks are investing in alternative energy and reducing their consumption
of fossil fuels.
|The message of conservation resonated with the American public during World War
II. Courtesy of Daniel M. Kammen, UC Berkeley
That was the message last week as faculty members Alan Richards and Brent Haddad
of the Environmental Studies Department discussed the energy implications of the
crisis with a crowd of about 75 people.
The teach-in, one of several offered on campus last week as part of a "Week
of Reflection on the Crisis," focused on the national security and environmental
benefits of a "greener" U.S. energy policy.
"The best way to be safe is by being green," said Richards, a professor
of environmental studies who specializes in the political economy of the Middle East.
"In this crisis, we face both real dangers and we are also being presented with
some real opportunities."
The country's dependence on Persian Gulf oil, much of which comes from Saudi Arabia,
is problematic in four ways, said Richards:
- Oil price shocks impact the entire U.S. economy.
- Saudi Arabia, which has reaped great wealth from the oil market since 1973, supports
a very narrow interpretation of Islam and funnels large amounts of money to charities
and schools that "produce warriors for the Taliban."
- The centralized system of energy production in the U.S. makes it a "target-rich
environment" for terrorists, with 103 nuclear reactors and 155 oil refineries
in the country.
- Oil consumption levels in the U.S. make the nation the world's largest contributor
to global warming.
But the good news is that history shows the United States is capable of changing
its ways, thanks both to technological advances and conservation efforts, said Richards.
"Politically, this is a great opportunity to say very clearly, 'Energy efficiency
is patriotic,'" said Richards, who donned an Easy Rider-style flag-motif bandanna
and proclaimed: "So, folks, get a bike!" to audience applause.
Richards and Haddad, associate professor of environmental studies, urged the audience
to put pressure on President Bush and other state and federal officials, acknowledging
that the Bush administration is unlikely to support the development of alternative
energy sources without strong public pressure.
"Nothing will ever happen politically if there isn't an aroused citizenry,"
said Richards. "This is an opportunity to link environmentally sound policies
with patriotism at a moment in the United States when Americans are feeling hugely
patriotic. We must use this opportunity to generate as much pressure as possible
and to prevent them from doing something egregiously stupid like drill for oil in
the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."
The United States, as the oldest producer of oil in the world, has drained U.S. reserves.
"It's nuts to focus on expanding the supply of domestic oil," said Richards.
"We drained America first. The amount we would get would be peanuts compared
to what we could save on the demand and technology side."
The price of petroleum, which is currently about $22 per 42-gallon barrel, vastly
exceeds the cost of production, which ranges from a high of about $4 per barrel for
North Sea oil to between $1 and $1.50 per barrel for Persian Gulf oil. The rest is
"pure profit," said Richards. Saudi Arabia, which boasts about 25 percent
of the planet's oil reserves, is one of the largest producers in the world, generating
about 10.5 million barrels per day. The United States consumes 18 million barrels
Tracing the flow of oil money to terrorists, Haddad explained that Saudis are directed
by Islamic tenet to donate a portion of their wealth to charity. Although most Saudi
charities are probably legitimate, he noted that some money is channeled to radical
Islamic groups, including Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.
"Imagine making the case for energy independence by saying, 'Some portion of
the money you pay for gas goes toward anthrax'?" said Haddad. "That's a
compelling reason not to spend that money."
U.S. dependence on oil has "forced us into too close a relationship with a country
that is really different from the United States," said Haddad, noting that Saudi
Arabia is a country in which dancing, music, and movies are forbidden, women are
not allowed to drive or ride bicycles on public roads, and some fast-food restaurants
refuse to serve women who are unaccompanied by a close male relative.
Moreover, discontent is growing in Saudi Arabia, where half the population is less
than 20 years old and job opportunities are limited. The official unemployment rate
is 15 percent, but unemployment among young Saudi males runs as high as 40 percent,
according to some estimates, said Haddad. The per capita gross domestic product has
fallen during the past decade to about $8,000 a year. And the future is problematic
given an educational system that focuses on religion and a technology-based economy
that requires skilled workers.
Any strategy to reduce U.S. dependence on Saudi oil must focus on automobiles, said
Richards, because two-thirds of the nation's oil is used in transportation, and 40
percent of that fuels passenger cars.
Since 1975, fuel economy has improved dramatically, jumping from an average 16 miles
per gallon (mpg) to 28 mpg in 1987, and backsliding a bit to 24 mpg today, he said.
New hybrid engines that run on gasoline and electricity get 48 to 55 mpg. Strict
federal and state regulations for new-car fuel economy and higher gasoline taxes
could dramatically reduce the nation's oil consumption, said Richards.
Gains in efficiency in other areas are similarly impressive, said Richards, noting
that refrigerators today are three times as efficient as those made 30 years ago.
Steel production requires 25 percent less energy than it did in 1973.
"It is possible to reduce our dependence in not a very difficult way,"
said Richards. "What really has to happen is political action."
On the "homeland security" front, Haddad emphasized the environmental benefits
of reducing the U.S. contribution to global warming and the security rationale for
reducing the number of possible terrorist targets.
Of the 3,600 vessels that pass through the San Francisco Bay each year, 1,100 are
oil tankers, said Haddad. "Think about the potential that poses for a massive
environmental disaster. It would be devastating to the Bay Area's economy and the
Bay Area's environment." Solar and wind facilities that generate electricity
would be vastly less attractive targets for terrorists, he added.
And oil will not last forever. At current rates of consumption, the Saudi oil fields
will be drained in about 70 years, said Haddad. Technological advances are aiding
the transition away from fossil fuels.
"We are already in transition away from an oil-based economy," said Haddad.
"We're saying, let's put it in hyperdrive."