An expert on U.S. defense policy, energy geopolitics and international arms trade who has authored several books on the subjects said Tuesday he sees the era of easy-to-obtain energy supplies coming to an end.
Dr. Michael Klare, who kicked off Washington & Jefferson College’s “Energy Series” of speakers for 2012-13, told an audience of mostly students and professors in W&J’s Yost Auditorium he’s hopeful new technologies to deliver alternative fuel sources will continue to be developed to replace traditional fossil fuels.
Klare, who is Five College Professor of Peace and World Security Studies in Amherst, Mass., has written several books, including the recently published “The Race For What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources.” He also is the defense correspondent for The Nation magazine and a contributing editor of Current History.
According to Klare, the U.S. and the world are nearing the end of an era that ran from 1950 to 2005 in which there was a steady increase in the world’s supply of energy and a consensus among major countries that all forms of energy – coal, oil and natural gas as well as nuclear – should be increased to satisfy ever-rising demand.
The era was marked by unparalleled prosperity and expansion worldwide, led by “colossal growth” in America and the economic recovery of post-World War II Germany and Japan.
He said that era is being replaced by “a period of transition” that will eventually lead to one of unreliability and discord, where energy will not be in sufficient supply to meet our needs and arguments will prevail about which types of fuels should be encouraged or discouraged.
Klare said one of the problems of energy now is that “all of the world’s ‘easy’ oil and natural gas is already in production.
“That’s not to say we are about to run out of oil and natural gas,” Klare said, noting the world possesses a lot of both resources, but they are more difficult to access.
Another challenge to accessible, affordable energy is that most of the largest known oil reserves are in Russia, Iran, Iraq and Venezuela, countries that are not friendly with the United States.
As for fossil fuels in general, Klare believes the country is already divided on their use.
While some believe fossil fuels should be phased out in favor of alternative renewable sources, “others say fossil fuels are essential but need to be held up to regulations.
“Some say fossil fuels place such a threat to environmental change that they want them to be eliminated, but some say quickly, some say gradually,” he said.
The same types of arguments are waged in Europe and Japan about nuclear power.
Klare said he asks a number of questions about how the arguments over energy can be resolved, because “the unreliability of energy is going to be a constant drag on the economy.”
“Will oil and natural gas still prevail, or will hydrogen replace these fuels?”
He wonders if our foreign policy should be changed or whether we should continue to spend about one-third of the defense budget to patrol Middle East oil fields and protect Middle East countries.
If we cut our reliance on fossil fuels to combat climate change, how would we proceed? Would we shift to more wind and solar?
“The answers to any of these questions are self-evident, although I suspect every one of us have (an opinion),” he said.
For Klare, five points are prominent as people ponder his questions.
n Don’t expect energy abundance to return again.
n Climate change is real and happening much faster than anyone expected.
n Technology is moving very swiftly, and many things under development today might prove to be competitive in the not too distant future.
n Global markets will be very strict, favoring those who quickly adapt new technology and punishing those slow to adapt.
But his final point was perhaps the most salient.
“Don’t believe anything you hear: not from me, industry or government,” he said. “Don’t believe what anybody says. Find out for yourself.”
During a question-and-answer period, some students asked how they could prepare for a time when energy became scarce.
Klare responded by saying that people could choose to drive hybrid or electric cars or choose not to own a vehicle.
He noted most of the world’s oil goes to fuel cars and trucks.
Another person questioned why Klare didn’t include the new drilling technology being used to produce massive amounts of natural gas and oil from U.S. shale deposits over the past several years.
He noted the Energy Information Agency estimated recently that U.S. oil production should surpass that of Saudi Arabia and Russia by the next decade.
“I don’t question that more is not going to be gained,” Klare said, adding he questioned whether fossil fuel use can be extended without contributing further to greenhouse gas.