Now that President-elect Donald Trump is positioning ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as head of the U.S. State Department and America's top diplomat, expect U.S. foreign policy to adopt a more overt and explicit commitment to resource-based warfare.
There is no question that Tillerson will steer diplomacy in the direction of resource exploitation and resource control, using "American security" framing to justify it. Watch for the narrative. America's diplomats and White House officials are already using it. Tillerson, however, will take it to another level.
To be clear, Tillerson isn't unmindful of climate change - in fact, Exxon has known about global warming for years - and knows well that land grabs, water grabs, and food grabs are happening here and now and will only increase in frequency and ferocity.
While the U.S. Defense Department, CIA and State Department were already deeply entrenched in the business of resource domination for decades (see America's overthrow of Iran's democratically elected Mohammad Mosaddegh, for example, after the nationalization of his country's oil supply), this appointment is a sinister preview of the kind of resource wars that await.
America's more recent resource grabs - for Iraq's oil, Afghanistan's minerals, and even Libya's oil - may soon pale in comparison to what a Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would implement.
What's most maddening is the mental mindset behind this appointment. Trump and Tillerson are both exploiters. That's their business modus operandi. When it comes to energy, for Tillerson, it's about drilling farther and further. And while we should, indeed, be pioneering if we want to meet the increasing energy demands of a rapidly growing population, there are much more sustainable ways to secure our future.
Ten years ago, I wrote about this very topic - how pioneers can secure our future - with a very different kind of Republican, a Member of Congress named Roscoe Bartlett who understood that foreign land grabs - the likes of which Rex Tillerson would approve and commission - were problematic and not sustainable for America or any other superpower.
It's time to stop land grabbing and start wind grabbing and sun grabbing. That's the only thing that'll save us now. This is what we said a full ten years ago. How we've lost time. Take a look at how relevant our Republican-written words remain:
Russia, Canada, and the United States are rushing to the North Pole in a pioneer-like land grab for an estimated 25 percent of the world's unknown oil and gas reserves. One wonders when we will learn. Oil and gas are not forever. We need to change course and save some to ensure a secure energy future.
The National Petroleum Council recently warned, in "Facing the Hard Truths About Energy," that oil and gas supplies are unlikely to meet projected world demand in 2030. Rather than depleting finite fossil fuels upon which future generations will depend, and considering their effects upon our planet's environment, we must invest in efficiency and renewable alternatives.
Congress has an opportunity to show real teeth on this matter as it reconciles Senate and House omnibus energy bills in conference. Since electricity and transportation are the top two sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., at 34 and 26 percent, we think the final bill should contain the following two components:
First, the Conference Report should include a flexible, affordable, achievable national Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) for electricity generation. Requiring some but not all utilities to generate 15 percent of their electricity from certain sources and limiting energy efficiency is controversial. Some regions will have an easier time extracting sun, wind, or biomass than others. For many utilities and states, the renewable infrastructure does not exist, or if it does, it is negligible. So how to reduce the transition cost and gain the support of renewable-light states, utilities, and their customers and the members of Congress who represent them?
Since we depend upon energy and global warming impacts all of us, teamwork is critical. To capture support for a national RPS, changes may be necessary. It should be affordable for low-renewable utilities to purchase energy credits from high-renewable states to meet the 15-percent mark by 2020. We need to prevent driving energy-intensive, high-paying manufacturing jobs overseas. Low-renewable states could be afforded a higher ceiling on energy efficiency, perhaps double or triple the 4-percent limit. Some argue all utilities should be included to level the playing field. Others advocate reducing the goal to 10 percent.
Second, the Conference Report should include stronger vehicle efficiency standards. Americans want a cleaner environment and are tired of paying more to drive to work. Lower-emission, higher-mileage vehicles, such as hybrids, are gaining in popularity. That is a key reason Toyota surpassed the U.S. Big Three as the world's top manufacturer. Foreign manufacturers now outsell American makers in the U.S. Incentivizing Detroit to go green will allow Americans to do our wallets and our pride good and make our domestic auto industry more competitive in world markets.
North Pole scavenging will get us little but a brief reprieve in the world's current race to the bottom of the oil barrel. More efficient and cleaner electricity and vehicles, given their combined 60-percent responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions, would help the environment and Americans' pocketbooks. Americans need political pioneers, not the glacier flag-planting types, to ensure a secure energy future.
Michael Shank [was] an analyst with George Mason University's Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Roscoe Bartlett [was] a Republican who [represented] Maryland's 6th District and [was] the co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Peak Oil Caucus.
Michael Shank, PhD, teaches sustainable development at NYU's Center for Global Affairs and served as senior policy advisor to U.S. Congressman Michael Honda between 2009-2013.