T.J. Newton
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Energy and Environment .
Dangerous Profits: Energy, Economics, Environment
T.J. Newton


Nuclear and fossil fuels are dangerous and expensive to acquire, transport, handle, process, dispose of, and clean up, and appear to require a defense infrastructure in certain environments.

There is a lot of truth to the argument that certain interests exercise control over the energy market. However, it also appears that dangerous and expensive sources of energy may be favored by various interests for a number of reasons. These reasons may include a larger stake in matters related to global energy production, including economic matters.

Looking at Energy & Economics 

Oil and Foreign Policy

One of the most interesting aspects of many investigations involving relationships between energy and economics is the range of proposals relating oil and foreign policy. Some suggest that many proposals relating oil and foreign policy do not adequately account for social and environmental factors when applying economic theories to political decisions involving foreign policy. According to some, foreign policy decisions related to global energy production, particularly the production of oil, could be influenced by economic theories that corrupt, or do not include, social and environmental factors.

Securing the flow of affordable oil is a cornerstone of U.S. Middle East policy. [...] Gulf oil was and remains important because of its impact on the global economy... (Fandy pars. 2-3).

The underpinnings of the Bush foreign policy can be found in the national energy policy paper of May 17, 2001, known as the Cheney report. [...] The report says the United States will become increasingly reliant on foreign oil. [...] "Middle East oil producers will remain central to world oil security," it says, but "our engagement must be global" (Klare pars. 2-3).

To the hawks who now set the tone at the White House and the Pentagon, the [Gulf] region is crucial not simply for its share of the U.S. oil supply ...but because it would allow the United States to maintain a lock on the world's energy lifeline and potentially deny access to its global competitors (Dreyfuss par. 2).

World oil markets have become increasingly tight and volatile, and this has become a major potential problem. Several trends are responsible: global supplies have not been growing as fast as demand, key energy producing regions are highly unstable, and there is heated competition for control of oil and natural gas sources (Everest 251).

The Power Industry

The power industry uses the neoclassical economic model as its foundation, with research pointing to the cost of coal and oil as compared to alternative sources. While there are some proposals for lowering transition costs to alternative sources, there is also research pointing to the environmental costs of coal and oil. Economic philosophers promoting the ecological model of economics include the environmental costs of coal and oil when making comparisons to alternative sources. Using faulty economic theories, the power industry has responded by attempting to lower the environmental costs calculated by ecological economists. So according to the power industry, pollutants caused by using coal and oil in power production, as well as the environmental impact of nuclear power, are regarded as having a minimal economic cost, with research pointing to transition costs to alternative sources of energy.

This kind of response is not new. It is the same kind of response used to combat "fears" about environmental dangers that may or may not be related to ecological economics (e.g. "Nuclear power isn't dangerous").

The United States is dependent on coal, nuclear power, oil and gas for its electricity needs. In 2002, the U.S. generated more than 90 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels and nuclear power and less than three percent from renewable energy sources... Coal alone accounts for half of the nation's electricity production. Moreover, with 103 nuclear reactors, the U.S. produces nearly twice as much nuclear power - and radioactive nuclear waste - as any other country in the world (Nayak 6).

The environmental impacts of our reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear power are... serious. [...] [I]ncreased consumption has... [left] the public vulnerable to the severe health and environmental impacts of burning fossil fuels (Nayak 6).

[O]ur energy system has proven unreliable and expensive - unnecessarily costing consumers and the economy billions of dollars (Nayak 8).

Nuclear energy (and foreign policy)

Nuclear power is still considered "expensive" compared to coal and oil, but there are some proposals that attempt to promote it. However, many of these proposals do not include social and environmental factors. Because the economic theories used by some to promote nuclear power appear similar to economic theories used in foreign policy decisions, and because nuclear power and foreign policy have sometimes become related topics in political discourse, it seems appropriate to research relationships between nuclear power and foreign policy.

On the home front, National Guard troops helped tighten security at nuclear power plants and other critical sites after... the national threat level [was raised] to code orange the Monday before the attacks on Iraq began (Haskell par. 13).

"A successful attack on a U.S. nuclear power plant or one abroad would immediately lead to calls for closing down similar facilities..." [...] In addition to the physical damage to the immediate region, "a successful attack of that sort could have horrendous economic implications (Kay qtd. Ackerman par. 17).

If people who are hostile to the United States genuinely fear that U.S. military power can - and will - be turned against them rapidly and effectively, then "you will get people who will walk and talk... I think we can - and the [Bush] administration is starting to - communicate to the forces of evil that we are after them" (Kay qtd. Ackerman par. 35).

Focusing on the Environment 

Most research on the environment indicates that pollution and global warming are serious threats to humans and human society. There is little scientific dispute over whether humans have an impact on the environment. Research that attempted to lower the environmental impact of pollution caused by humans, including pollution related to global warming, did not include the impact of social and environmental factors in discussion about alternative energy sources. Some research suggests that certain environmental risks are not included in some foreign policy decisions related to global energy production. When the risks posed by pollution and global warming are taken into consideration, it appears that interests using economic theories that ignore certain social and environmental factors may favor dangerous and expensive sources of energy, particularly in foreign policy decisions.

There is general consensus amongst scientists about the most likely overall magnitude of climate change and there are good indications about its probable impact. Although we are not yet very confident regarding detailed predictions, enough is known to realize that the rate of climate change due to increasing greenhouse gases will almost certainly bring substantial deleterious effects and pose a large problem to the world (Houghton 227).

Summarizing Research  

The risks posed by pollution and global warming make dependence on dangerous and expensive sources of energy a significant factor in decisions related to global energy production. But these decisions appear to be related to foreign policy, which frequently ignores such risks, especially when certain economic theories are applied to political decisions involving foreign policy. Neoclassical economic theory, the foundation of the power industry, does not include certain social and environmental factors. Consequently, various interests may favor dangerous and expensive sources of energy for reasons that may include a larger stake in matters related to global energy production, including economic matters.


The risks posed by pollution and global warming require a shift in energy production away from dangerous and expensive sources of energy and toward safe, clean, alternative sources of energy. This shift could be related to a corresponding shift in economic theory, which introduces social and environmental factors into economic exchange. The introduction of social and environmental factors into economic theory will affect foreign policy decisions when economic theory is applied to foreign policy. Economic matters related to global energy production appear to broaden as alternative sources of energy become available.

America's current energy choices are compromising public health, costing consumers and industry billions of dollars, and polluting the environment. To address these problems, we need an energy policy that moves away from fossil fuels and nuclear power and toward renewable energy and energy efficiency. ...[S]hifting investment from fossil fuels and nuclear into renewables and energy efficiency programs would have a positive impact on the economy and consumers in the U.S. Enacting clean energy policies would generate new jobs, save consumers billions of dollars, boost the U.S. economy, and reduce air pollution from power plants (Nayak 19).

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Selected works cited

Ackerman, Robert K. (2002). Signal. Magazine. "Free world nations face multifaceted threats."

Costanza, Robert and John Cumberland, Herman Daly, Robert Goodland, and Richard Norgaard. (1997). An introduction to ecological economics. Boca Raton, FL: St. Lucie Press.

Dreyfuss, Robert. (2003). Mother Jones. Magazine. "The thirty year itch."
http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2003/03/ma_273_01.html. 24 April 2005.

Engdahl, William. (2004). A century of war: Anglo-American oil politics and the new world order. Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press.

Everest, Larry. (2004). Oil, power, and empire: Iraq and the U.S. global agenda. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press.

Fandy, Mamoun. (1997). U.S. oil policy in the Middle East.
http://www.fpif.org/briefs/vol2/v2n4oil_body.html. 24 April 2005.

Gelbspan, Ross. (2004). Boiling point. New York: Basic Books.

Gelbspan, Ross. (1998). The heat is on: the climate crisis, the cover up, the prescription. Reading, MA: Perseus Books. 8

Goodstein, Eban S. (2005). Economics and the environment. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Haskell, Master Sgt. Bob. (2003). The On Guard. Magazine. "More than 141,000 guardsman primed for action."
http://www.ngb.army.mil/onguard/common/print.asp?aid1241. 24 April 2005.

Houghton, John. (2004). Global warming: the complete briefing, third edition. Cambridge, England, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hunter, Robert. (2003). Thermageddon: countdown to 2030. New York: Arcade Publishing.

Kirschen, Daniel and Goran Strbac. (2004). Fundamentals of power system economics. West Sussex, England, UK: Wiley.

Klare, Michael T. (2002). The Progressive. Magazine. "Oil moves the war machine."
http://www.progressive.org/June%202002/klare0602.html. 24 April 2005.

Mommer, Bernard. (2002). Global oil and the nation state. New York: Oxford University Press.

Nayak, Navin. (2005). Redirecting America's energy: the economic and consumer benefits of clean energy policies. http://www.uspirg.org. Washington, DC: U.S. PIRG

Simon, Julian L. ed. (1995). The state of humanity. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

Simpson, Struan and Jacqueline Carless. (1997). Business pollution and regulation. London, England, UK: The British Library.

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