Change A Light Bulb, Save Darfur

I can’t quite put my finger on why I’ve singled Republican Presidential candidate Duncan Hunter out as my bête noire, but I have, so deal with it. Hunter isn’t as dangerous to civil rights as, say, Sam Brownback, or as connivingly amoral as Rudy Giuliani, but there’s something about him that just rubs me the wrong way.

Even when he says something halfway decent, I can’t help but take issue with the San Diego Congressman. I’m talking about the following statement he made at the Reagan Library debates:

MR. VANDEHEI: Congressman Hunter, Kenyu Thomas (sp) from Honolulu, Hawaii, wants to know if you watched Al Gore’s environmental documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” (Laughter.) REP. HUNTER: No, I didn’t watch it. But, you know, I think that global warming and the need to be energy independent gives us a great opportunity. I think we should bring together all of our colleges, our universities, the private sector, government laboratories and undertake what for this next generation will be a great opportunity and a great challenge to remove energy dependence on the Middle East and at the same time help the climate. I think we can do that.

We need to take taxes down to zero for the alternative energy sources.

We need to make sure that all the licensing from our laboratories goes to the private sector, goes to the American manufacturing sector for these energy systems. I think we can do it.

Duncan, I was with you until the last paragraph. This is the kind of speech a Democrat might have given, and I think it’s really great to hear this becoming a bipartisan issue, because moving renewable energy to the middle- (and fore-) ground makes it possible for something to be done about it.

Hunter is right to separate the issue of global warming and building a renewable domestic energy supply, because the latter issue has broader implications even if you don’t believe in global warming.

But the Democrats and Hunter, because they are American politicians running for public office in America, have in their proposals one fatal flaw: keeping the patents in the United States.

It’s actually more important for China to switch to renewable energy than it is for Americans. That’s only partly because China has 1.3 billion people. It’s also vital because China is undergoing its own Industrial Revolution—the same kind that set us off in this carbon-spewing, gas-guzzling direction in the first place. China is building a huge amount of coal-powered electric plants and buying cars for families that never had anything worse than a bicycle. China, and the rest of the world, need to build their infrastructure right from the ground up, because it’ll be prohibitively expensive to fix later, if these things are even fixable. Every dollar invested in fossil fuels pushes us backwards and slows down renewable energy’s progress.

That’s the technological aspect, but the meat of this issue are the geopolitical implications of fossil fuels. You may not believe that Iraq was invaded because it sits atop the world’s second-richest oil field, but consider, for a moment, Darfur. 70% of Sudan’s oil exports go to China, who actually trade weapons for oil, thus arming the Janjaweed militias who have been carrying out a genocide against the Darfuris. China’s oil needs are gigantic, and burgeoning. But what if they didn’t need Sudan’s oil?

Notice how politicians who talk about this always have to make it an issue of “dependence on foreign oil” (I would have just said ‘oil’, but I can understand why they need to tar foreigners with our excesses). The United States gets most of its oil from North America anyway; according to a PBS website:

Where does America get all the oil it needs? The U.S. imports roughly half the total — over ten million barrels of crude oil a day. Canada is the top source, at nearly 1.8 million barrels. Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and Venezuela are numbers two through five, each exporting more than one million barrels a day. Angola, Iraq, Colombia, Kuwait and Algeria round out the top ten; each exports between 273,000 to 641,000 barrels a day.

Oil prices and supply are global phenomena that affect the U.S. (see: price of gas, unrest over). Just reducing our oil dependence is a fine idea, especially considering we consume more than three times as much oil per year and 12 times as much per person as China does, but keeping those innovations to ourselves doesn’t help us as much as we seem to think.

Paradoxically, higher oil prices mean that more countries (although this mostly applies to Canada) can now consider producing dirtier oil that wasn’t economically feasible to extract before, like tar sands. At any rate, demand will outpace local production and countries will have to look elsewhere to import oil.

Renewable energy, on the other hand, has the potential to give every country its own energy security. I’m not going to pretend it will bring about world peace, but it will eliminate one of the major contributing factors in wars all over the world. Oil wars are a global problem and they have a global solution. (And once each country is energy independent, we can move on to potable water filtration.)

Competing for limited resources rather than sharing the intellectual property to make the world self-sufficient is a surefire way to incite more oil wars. Remember, World War II was won when the Allies cut off Germany’s gasoline supply; the strategic value of self-sufficiency cannot be overstated. So let’s release those renewable energy patents to the whole world! It can only help us; being selfish in this case is a fine way to ensure self-destruction.


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