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Is energo-fascism in your future?

Jan 15, 2007

[Excerpts from the article follow. The complete article is posted at Tom Dispatch.]

It has once again become fashionable for the dwindling supporters of President Bush's futile war in Iraq to stress the danger of "Islamo-fascism" and the supposed drive by followers of Osama bin Laden to establish a monolithic, Taliban-like regime -- a "Caliphate" -- stretching from Gibraltar to Indonesia.

The President himself has employed this term on occasion over the years, using it to describe efforts by Muslim extremists to create "a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom."

While there may indeed be hundreds, even thousands, of disturbed and suicidal individuals who share this delusional vision, the world actually faces a far more substantial and universal threat, which might be dubbed: Energo-fascism, or the militarization of the global struggle over ever-diminishing supplies of energy.

Unlike Islamo-fascism, Energo-fascism will, in time, affect nearly every person on the planet. Either we will be compelled to participate in or finance foreign wars to secure vital supplies of energy, such as the current conflict in Iraq; or we will be at the mercy of those who control the energy spigot, like the customers of the Russian energy juggernaut Gazprom in Ukraine, Belarus, and Georgia; or sooner or later we may find ourselves under constant state surveillance, lest we consume more than our allotted share of fuel or engage in illicit energy transactions. This is not simply some future dystopian nightmare, but a potentially all-encompassing reality whose basic features, largely unnoticed, are developing today.

These include:

  • The transformation of the U.S. military into a global oil protection service whose primary mission is to defend America's overseas sources of oil and natural gas, while patrolling the world's major pipelines and supply routes.

  • The transformation of Russia into an energy superpower with control over Eurasia's largest supplies of oil and natural gas and the resolve to convert these assets into ever increasing political influence over neighboring states.
  • A ruthless scramble among the great powers for the remaining oil, natural gas, and uranium reserves of Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia, accompanied by recurring military interventions, the constant installation and replacement of client regimes, systemic corruption and repression, and the continued impoverishment of the great majority of those who have the misfortune to inhabit such energy-rich regions.
  • Increased state intrusion into, and surveillance of, public and private life as reliance on nuclear power grows, bringing with it an increased threat of sabotage, accident, and the diversion of fissionable materials into the hands of illicit nuclear proliferators.

Together, these and related phenomena constitute the basic characteristics of an emerging global Energo-fascism. Disparate as they may seem, they all share a common feature: increasing state involvement in the procurement, transportation, and allocation of energy supplies, accompanied by a greater inclination to employ force against those who resist the state's priorities in these areas.

As in classical twentieth century fascism, the state will assume ever greater control over all aspects of public and private life in pursuit of what is said to be an essential national interest: the acquisition of sufficient energy to keep the economy functioning and public services (including the military) running.

The Demand/Supply Conundrum

Powerful, potentially planet-altering trends like this do not occur in a vacuum. The rise of Energo-fascism can be traced to two overarching phenomena: an imminent collision between energy demand and energy supplies, and the historic migration of the center of gravity of planetary energy output from the global north to the global south.

...A growing number of energy experts believe that the global output of "conventional" (liquid) crude oil will soon reach a peak -- perhaps as early as 2010 or 2015 -- and then begin an irreversible decline. If this proves to be the case, no amount of inputs from Canadian tar sands, shale oil, or other "unconventional" sources will prevent a catastrophic liquid-fuel shortage in a decade or so, producing widespread economic trauma. The global supply of other primary fuels, including natural gas, coal, and uranium is not expected to contract as rapidly, but all of these materials are finite, and will eventually become scarce.

...Such future possibilities are generating great anxiety among officials of the major energy-consuming nations, especially the United States, China, Japan, and the European powers. All of these countries have undertaken major reviews of energy policy in recent years, and all have come to the same conclusion: Market forces alone can no longer be relied upon to satisfy essential national energy requirements, and so the state must assume ever-increasing responsibility for performing this role.

...[The rise of Energo-fascism] is also being driven by the changing geography of energy production. At one time, most of the world's major oil and natural gas wells were located in North America, Europe, and the European sectors of the Russian Empire. This was no accident. The major energy companies much preferred to operate in hospitable countries that were close at hand, relatively stable, and disinclined to nationalize private energy deposits. But these deposits have now largely been depleted and the only areas still capable of satisfying rising world demand are located in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

The countries in these regions were nearly all subject to colonial rule and still harbor deep distrust of foreign involvement; many also house ethnic separatist groups, insurgencies, or extremist movements that make them especially inhospitable to foreign oil companies.

...The most significant expression of this trend has been the transformation of the U.S. military into a global oil-protection service whose primary function is the guarding of overseas energy supplies as well as their global delivery systems (pipelines, tanker ships, and supply routes).

...[The costs of using the U.S. military to protect oil supplies] will snowball in the future as the United States becomes predictably more dependent on energy from the global south, as resistance to Western exploitation of its oil fields grows, as an energy race with newly ascendant China and India revs up, and as American foreign-policy elites come to rely increasingly on the U.S. military to overcome this resistance. Eventually, the escalation of these costs will require higher domestic taxes or diminished social benefits, or both; at some point, the growing need for manpower to guard all these overseas oil fields, refineries, pipelines, and tanker routes could entail resumption of the military draft. This will generate widespread resistance to these policies at home -- and this, in turn, may trigger the sorts of repressive government crackdowns that would throw an ever darkening shadow of Energo-fascism over our world.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author of Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependence on Imported Petroleum (Owl Books).

Editorial Notes: I would like to disbelieve in Michael Klare's vision of the future, but the supporting evidence for it comes from many different sources (financial, conservative, liberal, scholarly, etc.). For example, at least some people within the U.S. military are not overjoyed with the prospect of continual wars over energy (see the testimony of Gen. Charles Wald, Former Deputy Commander, US European Command, at the Senate hearing on the Geopolitics of Oil last week). The original post at TomDispatch.com has an introduction by Tom Engelhardt. Klare's article is also posted at Znet. -BA

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