By Donella Meadows
–October 26, 1990–
In the Great White Capital City the leaders of the nation are making plans to go to war. They are also making a national energy policy. The war and energy plans are being designed in different parts of the government, but of course the events that drive them are closely related.
The citizens of this democracy will be asked to pay for and fight the war, if it happens; to pay for and endure the energy policy; and to pay for and re-elect the architects of both. We need to know the facts behind these plans, so our response to them will be properly informed.
Here are some basic facts. The numbers pertain to the period just before Iraq invaded Kuwait.
Percent of the world’s commercial energy supplied by oil: 40. Commercial energy counts only oil, coal, gas, nuclear, and hydro, not the wood, dung, and solar energy used by much of the world’s population.
Total world oil production: 61 million barrels a day (mbd).
Amount supplied by Iraq and Kuwait: 5 mbd — eight percent of world oil production, just over three percent of the world’s commercial energy.
Amount supplied by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates: 7.7 mbd — 13 percent of world oil production, five percent of total energy. Note that a disruption in August of three percent of the world’s energy supply, with the possible disruption of another five percent, caused oil price to double and brought the world to the brink of war. The global energy system has many virtues; stability is not one of them.
Amount of oil consumed in the United States: 17 mbd. With five percent of the world’s people, we burn 27 percent of the world’s oil.
Amount of U.S. oil consumption that comes from U.S. production: 7.3 mbd, or 42 percent. We produce fifty percent more oil than Iraq and Kuwait, almost as much oil as Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Nevertheless, we import more than half the oil we use.
Amount of U.S. oil consumption that comes from the Middle East: 2 mbd — 12 percent, only three percent from Iraq and Kuwait. The rest of our imported oil comes from places like Canada, Venezuela, Mexico, Nigeria, Algeria, Ecuador, and England.
Amount of U.S. oil used to run vehicles: 7.3 mbd or 43 percent. (Doubling our vehicle efficiency would therefore reduce our oil consumption by 3.6 mbd — and we import only 2 mbd from the entire Middle East.)
Average miles per gallon of all U.S. cars in 1973: 13. Average mpg of all U.S. cars in 1985: 20. Average mpg of the most efficient cars currently on the market: over 40. Average mpg of the Toyota prototype AXV: 98.
Gasoline prices at the pump (before Iraq’s invasion): U.S. $1.07 per gallon, Japan $3.56 per gallon, Netherlands $4.68 per gallon, Italy $5.91 per gallon. These differences are due mainly to taxes. If our gasoline tax went up by $1.00 per gallon, it would bring in over $100 billion to solve the deficit problem, and it would provide the market incentive to improve car efficiency. At the moment Congress is agonizing over raising the tax by 5 cents per gallon.
Other U.S. uses for oil: trains and airplanes 3.4 mbd; industry 4.25 mbd; home heating 1.3 mbd; electricity 0.66 mbd. Only four percent of our oil goes to produce electricity. Only five percent of our electricity comes from oil. Nuclear power, which produces only electricity, has few virtues; its ability to substitute for oil is not one of them.
Now we come to the most important facts, the real reasons for the war plan. Size of known oil reserves in Iraq and Kuwait 194 billion barrels; in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates 255 billion barrels; in the U.S. including Alaska 26 billion barrels. Iraq and Kuwait sit upon 20 percent of the world’s known oil; Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates sit upon another 25 percent; the U.S. upon only two percent. If U.S. oil consumption were to be supplied from U.S. production alone (which it couldn’t be, because there are not enough pumps and pipelines to deliver it that fast), known U.S. reserves would last just over four years.
Estimate of possible U.S. oil discoveries offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: somewhere between 0.6 billion and 13 billion barrels. These last possible sites for major U.S. oil discoveries, would, IF SUCCESSFUL, provide enough oil to supply the U.S. for somewhere between one month and two years. (However, at $30 per barrel, that oil, IF IT’S THERE, is worth somewhere between $18 billion and $390 billion in oil company revenues, which is, of course, the reason for seeking it out.)
The war plan is a long term one, driven not by a present need for oil, but by the realization that in the decades ahead the world’s oil will be concentrated more and more in the Middle East. The energy policy needs to look that far ahead too. If it does, and if it includes the economic and human cost of war as part of the cost of oil, it will conclude that an affordable, sustainable energy future requires as little oil and as much efficiency as possible.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1990