What the world needs now is Arctic oil… like I need a hole in my head


Since we can cut projected U.S. oil use in half over the next 20 years, I couldn’t help but think of Cracker’s irony-laden song, Teen Angst, when I read this piece at Grist about the potential for a “Cold War” over oil in the Arctic. The piece, and the New York Times and Wall Street Journal articles it references, talks about efforts by several countries to take advantage of climate change-driven melting of Arctic sea ice.

What could be more self-destructive than nations risking conflict in the formerly frozen north to get MORE of the fossil fuels that are driving climate change, especially when there’s a solution that could reduce conflict, save consumers money, AND help cut global warming pollution?

“Cold War” references are no joke

Don’t be tempted to write off the use of “cold” as just a turn of phrase that works because we’re talking about Arctic oil (though it IS that as well). An article in the Guardian a few months back looked even deeper into the military buildup in the Arctic this summer as sea ice receded. The countries involved in the buildup include Canada, Norway, Russia, and the United States plus NATO. Meanwhile, China is building economic ties and good will to create a foothold in the Arctic.

All of this is a natural expansion of the role global militaries and politics have played in oil for much of this century, either directly securing oil resources at times of war or supporting stability in oil-producing nations. The same kind of role that U.S. military exercises are currently playing in the Strait of Hormuz—one of the world’s most important choke points for oil supply.
Oil, the U.S. military, and a new battlefield

The U.S. military is also playing a different role when it comes to oil: finding ways to use a lot less. As my colleague discussed a few months ago, the U.S. Air Force and Navy are looking to biofuels to cut our exposure to the risks of oil. The U.S. Army is supporting research to boost fuel economy in troop transports and improve efficiency in tanks. And the U.S. Pacific Command began operating a fleet of fuel cell electric cars this year.

Retired military leaders are also playing an important role by highlighting the need to use a lot less oil. Last year, the CNA’s Military Advisory Board called for a national goal for a major reduction in oil use. This year, in the Energy Security Leadership Council (ESLC), a group of retired leaders from all branches of the military and from several major U.S. corporations, issued a report on oil use and solutions. The ESLC, a project of Securing America’s Energy Future, was very clear that reducing the risks of oil, “…can only be accomplished by reducing the role of oil in our economy.”

Half the Oil: Half the headaches, half the carbon

My hope is that the ESLC’s conclusion is not too surprising to you. If you’ve read our Half the Oil plan, you know that the simplest and most effective way to insulate our economy from the risks of oil use is to use a lot less. It is also the most effective way to cut carbon emissions from oil.

Which brings me back to the irony that started this conversation: We’re only talking about a potential “cold war” over oil in the Arctic because fossil-fueled climate change has contributed to Arctic sea ice receding to its lowest extent since scientists have been keeping track. So, whether you are frustrated about oil because of its military, climate, economic, public health, or other risks, please do your best to cut back on your own oil use and help us encourage the President to put the nation on a path to Half the Oil in 20 years.

David Friedman is an engineer with expertise on fuel efficiency, alternative fuel, battery, fuel cell, and hybrid electric vehicle technologies and the policies needed to turn them into real solutions for U.S. oil dependence, air pollution and global warming.