(Swans - March 26, 2012) A US-Israeli military attack on Iran will save the world. How?
The U.S. today is the world's Polyphemus, a maddened Cyclops obsessed with chewing up a planet it seeks to control, and only recognizing this behavior by belching it into consciousness as "profits." Such an attack would allow Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz by bombardment, instantly shutting off 40% of the world's maritime traffic of oil exports, and rapidly collapsing the US economy along with many others around the globe. This would be the Mother Of All Oil Embargoes, the poke in the eye of a ravenous and myopic Cyclops by an Iran pushed into the role of Odysseus (Ulysses). As Uri Avnery persuasively argues, (1) it would not be a quick and simple matter for the U.S. to reverse the situation by a combined air and ground war aimed at controlling Iran's vast territory to destroy all the missile sites capable of launching attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, and enemy military forces in the region and in Israel.
The subsequent economic collapse would be so swift and devastating that it would cut deeply into the ability of the U.S. to prolong the war, a mercy to Iran. The ensuing economic suffering by the US public would most likely fatally sour the popular view of Israel, and new American politicians would surf that tsunami of anger into successful careers untangling Israel's political tentacles from the gears of the US policy-making machinery, a mercy to the Palestinians (Avnery argues that the entire purpose of the Israeli Likud government's incessant war talk against Iran is to distract official and public attention in the U.S. from the continuing Israeli depredations against the Palestinians, a tactic that has succeeded).
Aside from the conjectural relief for the Palestinians, the consequences of a US-Israeli war on Iran would be an irredeemable global catastrophe except for one positive effect: it would prompt the U.S. to rapidly develop alternative sources of energy, probably breaking the psychological impasse of climate-change denial in the mentality of the decision-making and profit-making elite. (2)
The first US reaction to the Mother Of All Oil Embargoes would be to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but that only holds about five weeks' supply at the current rate of consumption.
The second act of response would be to approve the Keystone XL pipeline to transport heat-softened and slurried Athabasca tar sands (strip-mined in Alberta, Canada) to US synfuels plants and oil refineries in Illinois, Oklahoma, and the Gulf Coast of Texas, for the production of liquid hydrocarbon fuels. However, significant quantities of refined Athabasca petroleum could not be expected until at least a year after the project secured government approval, all legal challenges were set aside, and construction began.
The third measure in response to a loss of Middle East oil would be to approve expanded oil exploration and extraction in the United States and along its continental shelves ("drill, baby, drill!"). As Michael Klare points out, (3) since most of the "easy oil" has already been extracted or found, it seems unlikely that domestic production can be increased sufficiently (and rapidly) to compensate for a loss of oil imported from the Middle East.
Coal can be converted to synthetic petroleum, but with greater effort than is needed with the Athabasca oil sands ("oil sands" is used by proponents of the Keystone XL project, and "tar sands" is used by opponents; the material itself is bitumen mixed with sand and gravel). Large diversions of industrial agriculture from food production to the growing of feedstock for the synthesis of biofuels would cruelly add to the economic misery by raising food prices. Building more nuclear power plants to compensate for a loss of petroleum-based electrical power would take years to realize, and in any case never supply liquid fuels for transportation.
Because of the conceptual simplicity of solar energy technologies, and the near universal accessibility to sunlight and wind, these methods of harvesting energy and converting it to electricity offer the quickest ways to greatly expand the generating capacity of the United States, without resorting to fossil fuels. (4) Electrical energy can be packed into rechargeable batteries to power ground transportation vehicles, but electric batteries do not yet provide for as long a range of travel between recharges ("fill ups") as do liquid hydrocarbon fuels. However, all-electric ground transportation using today's battery technology would not have to be significantly inferior to our present gasoline-powered auto-mobility if we increase the numbers and types of electrified public transportation networks (trains, light rail, trollies, streetcars, buses), design standardized "quick change" modular battery packs for electric automobiles, and convert gas stations into battery exchange and recharge stations.
The Mother Of All Oil Embargoes would also spark a US revival of energy conservation and the construction of energy-conserving and energy-generating buildings and towns. Given that the Iraq War lasted three months shy of nine years (March 2003 to December 2011), and the Afghanistan War continues after more than eleven years (since October 2001), one could guess that a war against Iran, which is larger, more populated, technologically advanced, and has its own highly-developed armaments industry, would take at least a few years to conclude, but might conceivably throttle the export of Persian Gulf oil for a decade.
Few nations are entirely self sufficient, and so most trade on their strengths to then import what they need to compensate for their deficiencies. It is the day-to-day business of diplomats and trade representatives to moderate the unending conflicts that arise from the spillover effects onto the rest of the global community of each nation's economic activity. Much less tolerable is the spillover, or conscious displacement, of political violence arising from a nation's internal conflicts. Israel is in a perpetual state of violent spillover where a war in Gaza, or the West Bank, or Lebanon, or now Iran is pursued as a necessary adjunct to the capturing and retention of power by a political party. Israeli war-making is a symptom of its pathological denial of the need to resolve its internal contradictions, (5) the ultimate source of its wars and occupations. The United States has also been a source of too much destructive spillover. Launching a war on Iran because of Israeli-prompted US objections to Iran's development of nuclear technology (even if with nuclear bombs) would be another terrible spillover of unnecessary political violence.
The carbon dioxide emissions from the United States in 2010 were essentially the same as in 2008; they were 3.6% lower in 2009 during the period of deepest recession after the 2008 economic crash. From the perspective of reducing carbon dioxide emissions so as to limit climate change, an economic collapse is an environmental gain in the absence of conscious efforts to rebuild an economy to minimize the burning of fossil fuels.
If maladroit political managers (perhaps a 2013 Republican administration determined to impress Bibi Netanyahu) carry the Iran War posturing beyond a hysterical public distraction (from the continuing expansion of Israeli apartheid settlements in the West Bank, and the walling off of Palestinians from their own land) into an actual war against Iran, then the consequent economic catastrophes will motivate a popular trend of adopting solar energy technology and of conserving energy. After a significant portion of the US population has experienced the benefits of solar energy (reliable energy wherever the sun shines, conceptually simple and low-hazard technology, recovery from the Mother Of All Oil Embargoes) and adapted to its quirks and maintenance needs, then the psychological barrier of climate-change denial in the U.S. will have been ruptured and this mighty nation can become a leading contributor to a just and intelligent global response to climate change. And, that is what will save the world.
The switch in mentality from climate-change denial to climate-change acknowledgement would be consistent with an attitude of renovating the US economy to operate with as little petroleum and coal as possible, and of stopping the many political and military schemes, like the Iran War, that arise out of the obsession to control global access to fossil fuel resources. Of course, we could achieve the same ends without experiencing the agonies of an Iran War if we were willing to acknowledge facts and accept Nature's message (global warming).
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About the Author
Manuel García, Jr. on Swans. He is a native of the upper upper west side barrio of the 1950s near Riverside Park in Manhattan, New York City, and a graduate engineering physicist who specialized in the physics of fluids and electricity. He retired from a 29 year career as an experimental physicist with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the first fifteen years of which were spent in underground nuclear testing. An avid reader with a taste for classics, and interested in the physics of nature and how natural phenomena can impact human activity, he has long been interested in non-fiction writing with a problem-solving purpose. García loves music and studies it, and his non-technical thinking is heavily influenced by Buddhist and Jungian ideas. A father of both grown children and a school-age daughter, today García occupies himself primarily with managing his household and his young daughter's many educational activities. García's political writings are left wing and, along with his essays on science-and-society, they have appeared in a number of smaller Internet magazines since 2003, including Swans. Please visit his personal Blog at manuelgarciajr.wordpress.com. (back)
2. Olga Bonfiglio, "Some Sociological Explanations for Climate Change Denial," olgabonfiglio.blogspot.com, 16 March 2012. Thanks to Gerald Spezio for this reference. (back)