If the world ran on renewable energy, it would never be at risk of going to war for oil, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben argues in a post for The Guardian.
“We’ve come to take for granted that this is how the world works,” McKibben writes. “Within hours of the pictures of devastated oilfields, we had ‘explainers’ from our various news outlets reminding us of the realities of our predicament: with Aramco largely offline, the world’s spare capacity was mostly gone. Hence oil prices would spike upwards. Hence there would be damage to the world’s economy.”
But a different picture emerges if you take a half-step back.
“Were it not for oil, the Middle East would not be awash in expensive weapons; its political passions would matter no more to the world than those of any other corner of our Earth,” he continues. “Were it not for oil, [the United States] would not be beholden to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—indeed, we might be able to bring ourselves to forthrightly condemn its savagery. Were it not for oil, we would never have involved ourselves in a ruinous war with Iraq, destabilizing an entire region.”
But McKibben points to one “unspoken truth” that will hang in the air, in the event that last week’s Houthi drone strike on a key Saudi fossil plant ends in armed conflict: “this will be the first oil war in an age when we widely recognize that we needn’t depend on oil any longer”.
When the U.S. invaded Iraq more than 15 years ago, “a solar panel cost 10 times what it does today,” he recalls. “Wind power was still in its infancy. No one you knew had ever driven an electric car. Today, the sun and the breeze are the cheapest ways to generate power on our Earth, and Chinese factories are churning out electric vehicles. That is to say, we have the technology available to us that would render this kind of warmongering transparently absurd, even to the most belligerent soul.”
Which opens up another, vastly better use for the vast sums of money that would be poured into another Middle East war, with countless human lives lost or devastated. “Imagine if we had spent those trillions of dollars not on cruise missiles and up-armoured Humvees, but on solar farms and offshore wind turbines. Imagine if we’d stuck insulation in the walls of every building in the U.S., and built a robust network of electric vehicle chargers.”
That future is near, despite the naysaying of U.S. Green New Deal skeptics who are all too eager to “pour blood and treasure down a hole in the desert,” McKibben says. “A trillion dollars spent on war returns nothing except trauma and misery; a trillion dollars spent on solar panels leaves behind a nation that gets its power for free each morning when the sun comes up.”