The West seems to be living in a constant state of fear of reliance on foreign oil, which led to unjustified spending and unrealistic policies, especially after the rise in oil prices in the seventies during the time when nations worldwide were first starting to consider alternative energy sources.
Shortly afterward, the first Gulf War erupted and reinforced this fear, pushing Western countries to continue their search for renewable alternatives that might have been costly and ineffective. When we look back, we can see that similar fear-motivated policies have been adopted in the past, costing the West billions of dollars. In the past, this fear led to what was known as the Strategic Defense Initiative, nicknamed the “Star Wars program.”
In 1979, a frightening regime came to power in Iran and brazenly declared its animosity towards the West and even called the US the “Great Satan.” A year earlier, dictator Saddam Hussein reached the helm of power in Iraq.
These two countries alone constituted one-tenth of the world’s oil production in a region that constituted a third of the world’s oil production at that time.
After the Gulf War broke out for eight years, and then the invasion of Kuwait, this made the world more fearful of oil dependency and real efforts were directed towards supporting renewable alternatives.
Despite the fall of Saddam’s regime and the abatement of the Iranian military threat to the Gulf countries, major industrial countries remain apprehensive even to this day. This apprehension has driven these countries to enforce a multitude of laws and taxes to reduce the growth in demand and consumption in addition to supporting technological advancements that increase consumption efficiency, as well as investment in oil production outside OPEC countries during the eighties and nineties.
However, during that same period, we witnessed rapid economic growth in developing countries like India and China, which was accompanied by an accelerated growth in the consumption of fossil fuels, specifically coal, the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, which constitutes 85 percent of the volume of greenhouse gases. From there on, interest in global warming began to increase, highlighting the need for addressing the rise in average global temperatures by investing in renewable energy.
Since 2010, the size of annual spending on renewable energy has increased significantly reaching between 320 to 380 billion dollars annually, which is three times the rate of spending on cancer research. However, so far, the size of renewable energy in the energy mix has not yet reached the required level and the technology is not reliable enough to reassure the world to invest more in this area, despite the fact that demand on renewables is expected to double within the next two decades in terms of electric power generation alone.
This prevalent apprehension reminds us of the fear that led to the launch of the Strategic Defense Initiative, nicknamed the “Star Wars program” in the eighties by President Ronald Reagan, which aimed to confront the Soviet Union and increase funding for space research, on which the US government has spent billions of dollars since the fifties due to its fear of the Soviet Union.
Huge sums of the federal budget were allocated for this purpose (in the 1960s, it reached four percent), including funding for a propaganda campaign that extended to cinema and art. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, spending in this regard fell significantly. It was clear that this extravagance in spending was entirely unjustified and it came at the expense of many important things that did not receive enough funding like HIV/AIDS research which was a terrifying epidemic at that time.
Politicians claimed that it was a disease that only afflicted homosexuals while in truth, it killed thousands of American children and families, while the “evil Soviet empire” did not kill a single civilian.
The common factor between the West’s reaction to the Gulf War and the launch of the Star Wars program is fear, whose justifications have disappeared. At this point, the world’s efforts in addressing the issue of global warming must be aligned and realistic, driven by clear motives and not baseless apprehension.
For this reason, the four principles of the circular economy approach that was discussed at the G20 summit in Riyadh recently represent a more reasonable approach to ensure keeping fossil fuel emissions under control and provide the energy needed for civilized growth.
Billions of dollars are constantly being wasted and the media seems to be waging a vicious war aimed at intensifying these fears with no intention of finding real solutions. The issue of climate change and global warming is a major environmental issue that is primarily socioeconomic, and we cannot stand by and refrain from taking the necessary action.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Saudi Arabian outlet al-Riyadh.