Mankind’s Latest Addiction?

Just last night I heard another pundit talking about the US “addiction” to oil.  Of course the comment morphed into another lecture on green energy and the need to live on those windmills, solar panels and electric cars.   One wonders if those devices are windmills of the mind and how long they can be sustained with huge subsidies from the taxpayers (which is only about 50% of the wage earning population).  But those concerns are for another day.   Naturally these hand-wringing Jeremiads were directly prompted by the tumult in Libya and the general unrest in the Middle East.

We have had various “addictions” for all of recorded history.  Heck, gold is an addiction.  From the earliest graves and tombs we have found gold jewelry and throne embellishments with the buried.  We still crave gold for its beauty.  I would posit that an addiction is an unnatural attraction to any object that can’t be resisted with normal will power.   Gold is at an all time high in recent history and yet it has a purpose because of its luster and allure for our ornaments.  Is the desire for ornaments an addition?   Oil is a commodity and there have been many others over the millenia that man has sought relentlessly and even fought over.

Salt, that most mundane and common of resources has been valued very highly in times past.   It was used to enhance the flavor of foods and to help hide the pungent odor of some that had gone a bit off.  It was also the most widely used of preservatives for centuries before refrigeration.  Remember those salt mines that Barabas was sentenced too in the movie?  I can think of no great wars fought over salt but there were certainly many a battle fought over access to the salt from the most primitives times to the Roman Empire.

The great majority of people around the world live within 30 or 40 miles of an ocean, sea or great river to one of them.  That is true today and has been true since we came out of the trees or wherever.  Those ships and moving goods and commerce by water has been vital to the existence of civilization.  It still is today.  Centuries ago the great powers from every era needed access to the right kind of trees and timber to build the ships and to construct the masts and spars for those ships.  Wars and battles have been fought over those timbered lands.  Just read some of your Old Testament and other ancient histories.  In more modern times, the British Empire and other great European powers needed this access.  The US was blessed during the period with vast forest lands with plentiful supplies.  But as the West expanded throughout the world they needed these trees.  The islands near Australia were prized for their trees as was certain areas in Brazil and the for east.

Then is was coal.  When the ships of the world moved from sail power to steam engines in the 19th century the quest was for coal resources and reserves around the world.  The great navies needed constant and dependable access to coal.  With the expansion of the various empires anc colonization of the world the coaling station was vital.   They needed hundreds of them around the world and at home to fuel the industrial revolution.  One of the prizes for the US in the Spanish-American war was several coaling stations scattered in the oceans and seas of the Far East.  Coal burned pretty dirty but the energy it brought also lifted millions out of poverty.  Merely recall the scenes of London from the time of Dickens until after WWII.  It was used not only to power the steam engines and then electric power plants but as a source for heating.  The air was thick and dingy.  Not any more.  We moved on from that era for the most part.  Now coal is only for power production and that is steadily declining with other sources like natural gas coming on-line.  How many people do you know who have coal delivered to their house to fuel the boiler these days?  It was common only a couple of generations ago.

Then at the beginning of the 20th century the world moved to oil. Again it was the navies that first demanded huge quantities of the fuel.  The ships had greater range and manoeuverability with bunker oil in their tanks.  It required less volume.  Then the explosion of the combustion engine and the autos and trucks that led to an incredible increase in the standard of living throughout the Western world.  We wanted oil and needed oil to fund and ever-increasing standard of living.  There still exist and direct correlation between energy consumption and standard of living–the more energy the better the people live.  That fact can’t be denied even by the Luddites.  They may have an ideological argument but not an economic one.  So we want and need access to the oil supplies of the world.  Everyone does.  It isn’t just some desire of the US but China and Europe and now South America.  

The day will come when oil will not be the major fuel of the world but not in the next generation.  We can and should do more to increase our domestic production now to assure adequate supplies of the vital resource.  Our biggest problem at the moment is ourselves as Pogo would say.  We have increasingly placed a web of regulatory nightmares on this industry.  Those need to be eliminated at the Federal level.  All the states have more than adequate regulators who know and understand this business and the safety and environmental needs.  There is no organization better than the Texas Railroad Commission for controlling this industry.   The oil will continue to flow from Libya no matter the outcome of the current unrest.  However that civil war turns out the winner will want to market their oil.  They will sell it to someone and at the market prices.   We need to look to our own shores for energy security more than we need to worry about events on the North African coast.  I don’t think the Marines need to have another “shores of Tripoli” moment.

“A gentleman of our days is one who has money enough to do what every fool would do if he could afford it: that is, consume without producing”  G. B. Shaw.  Is this where our growing Nanny State is taking us?

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