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The Choice Ahead: Entrenched Fossil Fuel Dependence Or Climate Change Management

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According to Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard economist Linda Bilmes, the Iraq War cost three trillion dollars. While much of the money used to conduct the war was borrowed (most notably from Chinese institutions), ultimately American taxpayers will be responsible for many years to come for footing the bill, including the high interest payments on the funds loaned. This is because the federal budget, especially between the military and big business bailout costs, far exceeded the annual and shrinking amount taken in by taxes.

Was it worth it? The answer partly depends on whether one works for or has holdings in one of the oil companies that made out well in the aftermath.

The final major prize in the war, southern Iraq's giant Rumaila oil field, was finally awarded on November third with mixed results from an American standpoint. This is because the only successful bidders for it were BP and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and the second organization, it can be assumed, will primarily support Asian interests over ones favoring Western nations.

Nonetheless, plans are moving forward by the BP-CNPC consortium to invest $US15 billion into Rumaila, the fifth biggest known single reserve of oil in the world, to almost triple production from one million barrels daily to 2.85m and, if successful, the field would be the world's second biggest in existence. While BP will own a 38 percent stake, CNPC will retain a 37 percent share and Iraq will hold 25 percent.

Meanwhile, the US government, that invested so much in the Iraq War, is said to be disappointed in the overall outcome, particularly in that CNPC was awarded another favorable ($US3bn) deal in Iraq -- rights to the Ahdeb field in Wasit province in southeastern Iraq. On account, it is by far the largest foreign player.

This being the case is probably above all vexing since the Chinese people did not have to sacrifice lots of lives and taxpayer money into the Iraq war since their focus was concentrated on strengthening the economy in their homeland all the while the USA and its NATO allies remained largely set on trying to gain control of the fossil fuels for themselves through invasion. Even so, the USA and NATO partners, despite an all-out effort to dominate the region, lost most of the reward.

"The Chinese are very aggressive here." According to Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, "They are very eager to build up their presence in Iraq's oil industry." Furthermore, a CNPC-led consortium is one of the three bidders for West Qurna 1, another gargantuan field. A group overseen by Russia's Lukoil and another conglomerate commanded by Exxon Mobil are also in the running for this field.

In consideration of its tremendous success to date, CNPC has developed, along with another Chinese oil company, a special Iraq-focused joint enterprise, called Al-Wah -- an Arabic term meaning 'the oasis' -- to expand the Chinese presence and work in Iraq. At the same time, the Chinese, along with not having to subsume any of the war costs, do not have to bear any guilt over the heavy human toll -- assessed by some groups to be a million and a third Iraqis killed, along with 4,680 American military personnel and additional foreign forces from other nations.

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At the same time that various organizations involved with fossil fuels are competing to obtain profitably favorable arrangements for themselves and the respective countries to which they supply fuels, leading climate change scientist around the world are putting out an entirely contrary message. They are indicating that, very quickly, global fossil fuel dependence has to greatly shrink to avoid run-away climate change that would cause much of the world's surface to be inhospitable to life. In other words, an almost complete cessation of its use must occur fairly soon despite ever increased worldwide demand.

For example, John Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the main environmental scientist for the German government, told officials from Barack Obama's administration that U.S. carbon emissions must fall from its annual 20 tons per person to zero if there is going to be an even slight possibility for the climate to stabilize with a 2C increase.

As Stephen Leahy points out in "Four Degrees Of Devastation", "Eighteen months ago, no one dared imagine humanity pushing the climate beyond an additional two degrees C of heating, but rising carbon emissions and inability to agree on cuts has meant science must now consider the previously unthinkable."

He goes on to add:

A four-degree C overall increase means a world where temperatures will be two degrees warmer in some places, 12 degrees and more in others, making them uninhabitable.

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It is a world with a one- to two-metre sea level rise by 2100, leaving hundreds of millions homeless. This will head to 12 metres in the coming centuries as the Greenland and Western Antarctic ice sheets melt, according to papers presented at the [UK international climate science] conference [recently held] in Oxford.

Four degrees of warming would be hotter than any time in the last 30 million years, and it could happen as soon as 2060 to 2070.[1]

As Clive Hamilton, Charles Sturt Professor of Public Ethics at the Australian National University, points out in "Is It Too Late to Prevent Catastrophic Climate Change?", "It is clear that limiting warming to 2C is beyond us; the question now is whether we can limit warming to 4C. The conclusion that, even if we act promptly and resolutely, the world is on a path to reach 650 ppm and associated warming of 4C is almost too frightening to accept. Yet that is the reluctant conclusion of the world's leading climate scientists. Even with the most optimistic set of assumptions -- the ending of deforestation, a halving of emissions associated with food production, global emissions peaking in 2020 and then falling by 3 per cent a year for a few decades -- we have no chance of preventing emissions rising well above a number of critical tipping points that will spark uncontrollable climate change."[2]

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Emily Spence is a progressive living in MA. She has spent many years involved with assorted types of human rights, environmental and social service efforts.

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