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Tomgram: Michael Klare, Militarizing America's Energy Policy

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

Think of President Trump and his administration as a den of thieves. There is, of course, the obvious thievery: what they will in the end, as with the recently passed tax "reform" bill, steal from ordinary citizens and offer as never-ending presents to the already staggeringly wealthy, among them the president himself (possible savings up to $15 million annually) and son-in-law Jared Kushner (possible savings: up to $12 million annually). According to the Congressional Budget Office, government cash reserves are already starting to fall faster than expected as a result of lost revenue from that bill. And the modest gains offered to ordinary taxpayers to give cover to a vast increase in the wealth of the top 1% will all sunset in the 2020s, while that bill's corporate tax cuts are meant for eternity.

Think of such moves not as acts of petty theft, but as robbery of the most basic sort, since they involve stealing from the future to fund an increasingly plutocratic present. The Donald, in other words, isn't just stealing from us but from our children and grandchildren. And if that's true of his tax bill, it's so much truer of his energy policies, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare makes clear in a newsworthy manner today. That the president's addiction to fossil fuels, his belief that freeing Big Energy from every form of restriction and regulation, is crucial to future American global domination has, Klare informs us, been embedded in the administration's recently released National Security Strategy. In other words, the exploitation of fossil fuels in North America is now officially the heart and soul of the global policy-making of President Trump and his generals.

This isn't just a matter of stealing future money from our children and grandchildren, or even of polluting the American environment in which they'll grow up in a fashion familiar to anyone -- like Donald Trump (or me) -- who was raised in the 1950s. It's a matter of stealing everything from them, including potentially the very environment that's nurtured generation after generation of children on this planet for all the thousands of years of human history. If the president and his crew of climate deniers have their way and a fossil-fuelized version of energy "dominance" comes to rule our American world, while the path to alternative energy growth is crippled, then they will have stolen from the future in the most basic way imaginable for the comfort of just a few human beings now. As part of what can only be thought of as a semi-conscious plan to further warm the planet, President Trump's energy policy will, without any doubt, represent not just thievery, not just the crime of this century, but terracide, the destruction of the planet itself, which will be the crime of any century. Keep that in mind as you read Klare's piece today. Tom

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The Strategy of Maximal Extraction
How Donald Trump Plans to Enlist Fossil Fuels in the Struggle for Global Dominance
By Michael T. Klare

The new U.S. energy policy of the Trump era is, in some ways, the oldest energy policy on Earth. Every great power has sought to mobilize the energy resources at its command, whether those be slaves, wind-power, coal, or oil, to further its hegemonic ambitions. What makes the Trumpian variant -- the unfettered exploitation of America's fossil-fuel reserves -- unique lies only in the moment it's being applied and the likely devastation that will result, thanks not only to the 1950s-style polluting of America's air, waters, and urban environment, but to the devastating hand it will lend to a globally warming world.

Last month, if you listened to the chatter among elite power brokers at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, you would have heard a lot of bragging about the immense progress being made in renewable energy. "My government has planned a major campaign," said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the group. "By 2022, we want to generate 175 gigawatts of renewable energy; in the last three years, we have already achieved 60 gigawatts, or around one-third of this target." Other world leaders also boasted of their achievements in speeding the installation of wind and solar energy. Even the energy minister of oil-rich Saudi Arabia, Khalid Al-Falih, announced plans for a $30 billion to $50 billion investment in solar power. Only one major figure defied this trend: U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. The United States, he insisted, is "blessed" with "a substantial ability to deliver the people of the globe a better quality of life through fossil fuels."

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A better quality of life through fossil fuels? On this, he and his Trump administration colleagues now stand essentially alone on planet Earth. Virtually every other country has by now chosen -- via the Paris climate accord and efforts like those under way in India -- to speed the transition from a carbon-based energy economy to a renewable one.

A possible explanation for this: Donald Trump's indebtedness to the very fossil fuel interests that helped propel him into office. Think, for example, of his interior secretary's recent decision to open much of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to offshore drilling (long sought by the oil and gas industry) or his administration's moves to lift restrictions on coal mining on federal lands (long favored by the coal industry). Both were clearly acts of payback. Still, far more than subservience to oil and coal barons lurks in Trump's energy policy (and Perry's words). From the White House perspective, the U.S. is engaged in a momentous struggle for global power with rival nations and, it is claimed, the country's abundance of fossil fuels affords it a vital edge. The more of those fuels America produces and exports, the greater its stature in a competitive world system, which is precisely why maximizing such output has already become a major pillar of President Trump's national security policy.

He laid out his dystopian world vision (and that of the generals he's put in charge of what was once known as American "foreign policy") in a December 18th address announcing the release of the administration's new National Security Strategy (NSS) document. "Whether we like it or not," he asserted, "we are engaged in a new era of competition." The U.S. faces "rogue regimes" like Iran and North Korea and "rival powers, Russia and China, that seek to challenge American influence, values, and wealth." In such an intensely competitive world, he added, "we will stand up for ourselves, and we will stand up for our country like we have never stood up before... Our rivals are tough. They're tenacious and committed to the long term. But so are we."

To Trump and his generals, we've been plunged into a world that bears little relation to the one faced by the last two administrations, when great-power conflict was rarely the focus of attention and civilian society remained largely insulated from the pressures of the country's never-ending wars. Today, they believe, the U.S. can no longer afford to distinguish between "the homeland" and foreign battle zones when girding for years of struggle to come. "To succeed," the president concluded, "we must integrate every dimension of our national strength, and we must compete with every instrument of our national power."

And that's where, in the Trumpian worldview, energy enters the picture.

Energy Dominance

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From the onset of his presidency, Donald Trump has made it clear that cheap and abundant domestic energy derived from fossil fuels was going to be the crucial factor in his total-mobilization approach to global engagement. In his view and that of his advisers, it's the essential element in ensuring national economic vitality, military strength, and geopolitical clout, whatever damage it might cause to American life, the global environment, or even the future of human life on this planet. The exploitation and wielding of fossil fuels now sits at the very heart of the Trumpian definition of national security, as the recently released NSS makes all too clear.

"Access to domestic sources of clean, affordable, and reliable energy underpins a prosperous, secure, and powerful America for decades to come," it states. "Unleashing these abundant energy resources -- coal, natural gas, petroleum, renewables, and nuclear -- stimulates the economy and builds a foundation for future growth."

So, yes, the document does pay lip service to the role of renewables, though no one should take that seriously given, for instance, the president's recent decision to place high tariffs on imported solar panels, an act likely to cripple the domestic solar-installation industry. What really matters to Trump are those domestic reserves of fossil fuels. Only by using them to gain energy self-sufficiency, or what he trumpets not just as "energy independence" but total "energy dominance," can the U.S. avoid becoming beholden to foreign powers and so protect its sovereignty. That's why he regularly hails the successes of the "shale revolution," the use of fracking technology to extract oil and gas from deeply buried shale formations. As he sees it, fracking to the max makes America that much less dependent on foreign imports.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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