Many people seem to be under the impression that if the United States could attain energy independence, we could stop worrying about the war on terror/militant Islam because without our petrodollars, the mullahs would be out of cash. Would that it were so. Leaving aside the moral implications of abandoning a third of the world to rot under an oppressive theocracy, it’s not likely that the Islamic world is going to become economically incapable of bringing the war to us any time soon.
If we get rid of our dependence on foreign oil (a good idea on its own merits, so don’t think I’m arguing against that), we free up room in the consumption pipeline for Africa and Asia to increase their use of cars and other oil-burning technologies. Saudi Arabia is likely to stay rich no matter what we do; we might just make the multitrillion dollar investment to move America to renewable sources, but we certainly aren’t going to make the megatrillion dollar investment to turn China, Africa, India, and Indonesia (to point to the first four billion people who would like cars now, please) into Ecotopia.
So they will have leverage, despite the fact that we hypothetically-don’t need their oil anymore, because they will still have money and power. And quite likely nukes, since for some strange reason, President Obama’s hypercharisma has failed to convince Iran that they don’t need nukes because the community organizer has their best interest at heart, and we all know he doesn’t have the clankers to go after Iran in any effective way. Nuclear-armed states don’t need us to need their export products for us to be embroiled in conflict with them; the USSR had nothing that we needed.
And even if tomorrow morning Al Gore wakes up with a ready-to-go patent application for the Galt Engine and we all start generating a personal terawatt using nothing more than the morning dew, mild sexual desire, and bits of yarn, all THAT will accomplish is to launch the biggest boom in plastic production since Pamela Anderson went shopping for new boobs. Oil price crashes, plastic starts costing eight cents a ton to make, and we all start building plastic houses – and oil ramps right back up to $30/barrel. Plastic houses would be cool and all (I personally want them to make giant Lego bricks about 3′ long that people can snap together to build their own structures because that would be awesome) but would leave the ayatollahs with plenty of cash on hand.
In the long run, readily-extractable hydrocarbons will always have significant economic value, even if nobody would dream of setting them on fire.