Foreign Policy Blogs

A World Without Oil


Can you imagine a world without oil?  I can.  Even with all the oil in which we’re swimming today – as pictured by this excellent graphic from the latest issue of Momentum from the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota – I can see a world powered by renewables, generating electricity to fire up electric vehicles and to produce hydrogen for fuel cells.  That’s part of the vision that Moving Planet is hoping to further embolden our imaginations with tomorrow.

Why?  If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile or you just know generally about the dire impacts of climate change, then you know why.  If you’re not among the climate cognoscenti, then you should know that there is abundant, deeply researched, broadly documented and, quite honestly, clearly visible, tangible evidence of the impacts:  environmental and economic, all with stark implications for human security, public health and the future of ecosystems on the planet.  Hyperbole?  Not really.  Don’t believe me?  How about the science academies of 13 leading nations of the world?  Or the Nobel Peace Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?

Forget – if you dare – the environmental, public health and economic impacts.  What about how reliance on oil degrades human security?  Oil funds terrorism.  Oil makes countries vulnerable to political blackmail.  Oil degrades national security, not only for developed economies but for all the world’s economies.  The burning of all the fossil fuels, oil very much included, exacerbates the palpable pressure that climate change brings to security concerns.  I wrote a two-part article for DeSmogBlog in which security concerns were echoed by several of the groups I cited.  One, a highly regard national security research organization, CNA, said in a report in May of 2009, that “U.S. dependence on oil — not just foreign oil — weakens international leverage, undermines foreign policy and leaves us vulnerable to unstable or hostile regimes.”

Precisely this message is being echoed by a new group, the United States Energy Security Council.  Their goal?  “…diminishing the inordinate strategic importance of oil, which stems from its virtual monopoly over transportation fuel.”  Two of their members, one a former National Security adviser, the other a former CIA director, had an op-ed in the NY Times recently in which they recommend, among other things, bringing EVs into the mainstream more quickly, more and better hybrids, and building a “flex fuel” option into new vehicles to enable the use of 2nd generation biofuels and methanol from natural gas.

Oil?  More is less.  The DeSmogBlog article I wrote centers on the Alberta tar sands and how their further development poses serious concerns.  A new ad out from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Nobel Women’s Initiative features an open letter to President Obama from nine Nobel Peace Laureates urging him to deny permission for the Keystone XL pipeline to be built, enabling the tar sands oil to be transported to Houston for refining then export.  (Why Al Gore and Wangari Maathai were not among the signees, I couldn’t tell you.)

NRDC’s “Stop Dirty Fuels” program has much to say about the manifest evils of this particular mode of fossil fuel extraction.  To get a good, quick picture of what’s at issue, see this video.  Then get on your horse, your bicycle, or into your electric vehicle and help us create an oil-free world.  (Hint:  We’re closer than you think.)

  • njcons

    Hyperbole? You bet.

    I mean, outside of the miniscule portion of oil money that funds terrorism, the rest is pure alarmist non-sense. Let’s take a look.

    Firstly, if Nobel Peace prizes somehow adds credibility to a side of an argument then count Dr. Ivar Giaever in the “opposed” column.

    What about how reliance on oil degrades human security?

    You’re kidding…right? Oil has added more security to human beings everywhere than any other substance on earth. It is oil that allows food to be grown in magnificent quantities, harvested, shipped, processed and prepared. It is oil that allows many humans to relocate to at a moment’s notice to safer parts if they feel threatened. It is oil that provides for medicines, antiseptics, insecticides, anasthetics, artificial limbs, bandages, etc. This suggestion is pure fantasy.

    Even the UN reports that human security is at a 60 year high (in spite of ever higher oil production).

    When you think about a “world without oil”…think about the suffering that will result.

    Oil degrades national security, not only for developed economies but for all the world’s economies.

    Another argument that 180 degrees off. Oil absolutely drives any developed country’s economy. It is literally the lubricant that allows all of the worlds economies gears to function. And no wind or solar solution is going to replace it. It is oil that allows virtually all modern transportation. It is oil that allows for the massive shipping of food, medicine, and living supplies. It is oil that allows for the construction of hospitals, office buildings, and homes. It is oil that turns on the lights and provides heat to millions. It is oil that provides for over 1,000 products including those mentioned above as well as roads, fertilizers, roofing materials, detergents, dyes, petroleum jelly, etc.

    A world without oil is pure fantasy. Your piece is, in fact pure hyperbole.

  • njcons

    was there a problem with my comment that it won’t be posted?

    • Bill Hewitt

      NJCONs – We have a new system. Not of my design in any way! I am no longer able to see comments and approve them. I would never disapprove your comments, disagree as we have so often. Somehow or other the system ate your previous comment. Very sorry. Try to resubmit it or email me: [email protected] – and I will post it for you.



      • njcons

        Thanks Bill.

        After 5 days of not being posted I thought maybe I crossed a line somewhere. Thanks for always listening to alternative (and hopefully respectful) views.

        Take care

  • larry

    I don’t really understand how people could not care about the environment and what’s going on in it. It affects everything. I remember that I spent a summer doing that whole alaska salmon thing. That taught me to appreciate our environment and the wildlife native to it.


Bill Hewitt
Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change