Monday, July 11, 2005

Energy and the War on Terrorism
In the wake of the London terrorist bombings a spate of op-eds such as this one from the Detroit Free Press are suggesting that energy independence is the key strategy for winning the war on terrorism. The author cites Tom Friedman's Geo-Green editorials and endorses hydrogen as the ultimate answer, in spite of substantial remaining uncertainties about sources, storage and delivery methods. I truly wish it were that simple. I rarely make firm predictions, but I feel safe stating that the War on Terrorism will be over before the US achieves energy independence. As daunting as it seems, dealing with Islamo-fascism and the Al Qaeda death-cult will probably turn out to be the easier of the two tasks, besides being more urgent.

In addition, recent events have undermined the suggested linkage between Middle Eastern oil and the wellspring of terrorism. Trickled-down oil money--and the degree to which it was either sanctioned or ignored by our Middle Eastern allies--may have been a vital ingredient in launching Al Qaeda, but the London bombings, like the Madrid attacks before them, are indicative of more of a "retail model" of terrorism. It draws on grassroots support from a minority of radicalized Moslems in Europe and elsewhere. You don't need oil billions to fund this kind of terrorism, and this fact makes it look somewhat naive to think that putting downward pressure on oil prices will somehow lower the "terrorism index."

Rather than chasing the the chimera of energy independence, there are a host of things we can and should pursue to make our need for imported energy more manageable within a few years, rather than decades. We need to promote energy efficiency, stimulate new energy technologies, and lower the barriers for implementing many projects that require only permits, not R&D. But switching to a hydrogen economy, along with the transformation in primary energy this would require--hydrogen is only an energy carrier, not an energy source--hardly constitutes a quick solution. It could easily take 20 to 30 years, and if the terrorists aren't all in early graves by then, we will have much bigger problems to contend with than a conventional attack on London's mass transit system or the other tactics we have seen so far.

No comments: