Renewable Energy and a Biden Peace Dividend

The Biden Administration’s commitment to renewable energy paves the way for a major peace dividend for the United States.    A fundamental shift to renewables will dramatically lessen the need for U.S. military expenditures that subsidize the global oil-based energy economy.   It will also deprive corrupt petro-states of the oil wealth that sustains their misrule and funds their foreign adventures.   A rapid shift to renewables will also help mitigate the geopolitical costs of climate change.

The Sinkhole of U.S. Military Spending in the Middle East

The budgetary sinkhole of Iraq illustrates the magnitude of the U.S. national security subsidy for oil.   The Brown University Cost of War project estimates the total cost to the U.S. budget of the second Iraq War alone, as of 2019, at nearly two trillion dollars.  While protecting global oil supplies was not the only goal of U.S. involvement in Iraq, it was without doubt a central factor in both Iraq wars.

In a 2018 report, Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), an organization of military and business leaders dedicated to bolstering U.S. energy security, put the cost of the U.S. military’s defense of global oil supplies at $81 billion per year.   This amounts to a subsidy of $11.25 per barrel.   

These costs are not and have never been reflected in oil’s market price.    Furthermore, the U.S. continues to provide this security umbrella even though, as a result of the fracking revolution, it is no longer dependent on Mideast oil imports.   In effect, the U.S. navy is policing the Gulf to benefit Chinese consumers and Saudi producers.  

U.S. and global independence from Middle Eastern oil supplies will accelerate with the shift to renewables.   General Motors’ recent announcement that it will produce only electric vehicles after 2035 shows where the world is heading as far as demand for oil.    

Pressure on the Putin Regime

Vladimir Putin was fortunate in having the early years of his reign correspond with rising oil prices.   This subsidized his military build up, funded his military adventures and sustained his oligarch-nationalist regime.    Russia has long used natural gas as a political weapon, most notably in its efforts to subjugate Ukraine.   

The leverage Russia has had from its energy exports will now erode.   Russia’s petro-economy is entirely unprepared for a massive shift to renewables in Europe and elsewhere.    The fall of the Soviet Union was precipitated by a collapse in oil prices in the 1980s.   If history repeats itself, the Putin regime may follow suit.    In any event, the resources for Russian foreign adventures and military spending are drying up.

Funding Kleptocracy and Conflict

As in Russia, oil revenues provide the funding for despots the world over.   Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Nigeria – and even small oil-funded tyrannies as in Equatorial Guinea – rely on oil to support kleptocracy and misrule.    The global shift to renewables, accelerated now by the Biden Administration, will remove the financial cushion upon which these regimes rely.

NATO countries are not immune from the corrupting influence of fossil fuels.   Turkey in 2020 threatened armed conflict with fellow NATO member Greece over disputes involving natural offshore gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Mitigating the Costs of Climate Change

The earlier the global shift to renewables, the less will be the geopolitical costs of fossil fuel-driven climate change.   Whether it is the inundation of Bangladesh and other coastal countries by rising sea levels, or water shortages in North Africa, the impact of fossil fuels on the climate will be enormous.   

The costs of dealing with coastal inundation globally will likely be in the trillions of dollars, with untold political upheaval.    There is also the specter of climate change related infectious diseases and wars and famines resulting from climate change induced water shortages.

Factoring even a small portion of these costs into the price of fossil fuels makes the case for dramatically accelerating the global shift to renewables abundantly clear.   Wind and solar are now competitive with fossil fuels.   There is no reason – apart from submission to fossil fuel interests -- to remain on the current path.   

Biden Energy Policy as a Global Driver of Change

The Biden Administration has set the ambitious goal of zero net U.S. carbon emissions by 2050 and a carbon pollution free U.S. electricity grid by 2035 – targets that are in step with those of the European Union.    Biden has also pledged to expand research and development in renewable energy technology “on a scale well beyond the Apollo program.”  U.S. re-entry into the Paris Climate Agreement and the appointment of John Kerry as Special Envoy for Climate send a clear signal of a return to U.S. leadership.   

“Support our troops” is a popular refrain in the United States.   Perhaps the best way to support U.S troops is by not deploying them – and U.S. diplomats – in support of unnecessary and vastly expensive military commitments designed to defend an antiquated fossil fuel-based global energy system.