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Is there an Energy Shock Doctrine?

malagodi's picture

(cross-posted from

First, let’s dispense with the comforting bedtime story of energy independence. Regardless of all the campaign rhetoric, neither Romney’s “Drill Everywhere” nor Obama’s “All of the Above” energy strategies do anything for energy independence. Regardless of how much oil, gas and even alternative energy is produced by commercial operations in this country (or Canada), unless the government is prepared to either nationalize the industry or commandeer the product, companies are free to sell their goods wherever and to whomever they like. It can safely be said that neither candidate favors energy industry nationalization. The question will still remain; independent from whom?

It is also no secret that the oil, coal and gas industries exert enormous political influence in this country. For the past century, it is the interests of those industries that have determined both the broad and sometimes specific directions of U.S. foreign and domestic policies. In an era in which there is no viable alternative to fossil fuels for powering industry and infrastructure, the fossil fuel producers hold the trump cards.

But there are signs of division within the larger industrial sector itself. Industries – led by the military – are clearly planning for a post-fossil age. This movement is being driven by physical realities of declining fossil supply (despite the oil/gas industry propaganda) and its rising cost, as well as the increasingly obvious costs of climate change. Regardless of how one feels about Industrial Capitalism itself, one thing that can be said is that it does not like to be held hostage.

But in a political environment still dominated by fossil fuel producers, how does the nation as a whole break free of that entrenched legacy power system and its physical infrastructure?

In a recent conference at the Center for the National Interest, aka The Nixon Center, a discussion entitled “War with Iran: Economic and Military Considerations” outlined the dramatic consequences of what seems to be an unavoidable, immanent war in the Middle East, with the Western industrial powers on one side, and the Eastern industrial powers (China and Russia) on the other. With the potential for global economic meltdown, not to mention the enormous human cost so apparent, what could possibly be of benefit from such a conflict?

One possibility is that it is an end-game confrontation that would settle the issue of access to Mid East oil for the rest of this century. It would be a war for what’s left.

Another possibility is that to break the grip of control held by the fossil industry along with its mainly Saudi, Iranian and Russian landowners, one must set the oil fields on fire, break the supply chain, and force the issue. With this view, one might suggest that for environmental and climate change activists, a final war to end all fossil fuel wars may be just the way forward for an alternative energy movement.

In the aftermath of such a scenario, one can envision a world divided, industrially and economically, between those technically advanced enough to emerge as post-fossil fuel powers and those still dependent on legacy, expensive and inefficient fossil energy. We can see this kind of division among nations today between those which rely on nuclear and petroleum fuel and those that rely on coal, charcoal and animal power.

Is there an energy shock doctrine? For something to be a doctrine, it must be a conscious plan. In Naomi Klein’s famous “Shock Doctrine”, the case is made that the economic shocks on 20th century Latin American nations were conspiratorial. I have no evidence of a conscious conspiracy, and no such evidence would likely emerge until after the events unfold. But one does not need a conspiracy to explain the movements of continents or epochs. The era of carbon fuel is over; the only question is how the transition will happen. Historically, capitalism’s answer to stalemate is war.

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