Oil is more than an economic issue, or even an environmental one, says Anne Korin. Oil is a national security issue.
“Deeply embroiled in a struggle against radical Islam, nuclear proliferation, and totalitarianism, the U.S. faces a crude reality: While its relations with the Muslim world are at an all-time low, more than 70 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and over a third of production are concentrated in Muslim countries,” said Korin in testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on the subject of rising oil prices and their effect on national security in May, 2008.
But Korin, co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, based in Washington D.C., sees a solution.
Rather than continuing to keep oil as a strategic commodity necessary for transportation throughout the globe, turn oil into “just another commodity, like salt.”
“Turning Oil into Salt” is the title of Korin’s recently published book. She will give a free talk on her theories on Sunday, January 10, at 1 p.m. at the Princeton Public Library as a part of the library’s annual Environmental Film Festival. Her talk is co-sponsored by the American Jewish Committee of Central New Jersey.
The festival, runs through Sunday, January 17. Dozens of films on environmental issues will be shown daily throughout the festival. Many of the screenings will be followed by talks by the filmmakers themselves. All of the events are free. For a schedule of the films and guest speakers go to www.princeton.lib.nj.us/.
Along with her position with IAGS, Korin chairs the Set America Free Coalition, an alliance of national security, environmental, labor, and religious groups promoting ways to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil. She appears in the media frequently and has written articles for Foreign Affairs, the American Interest, the National Review, Commentary Magazine, and the Journal of International Security Affairs.
She holds a bachelor’s in computer science from Johns Hopkins University and is working toward a doctorate at Stanford.
She has advised numerous high tech companies and politicians on Capitol Hill, and has worked on projects for corporations including Exxon, KPMG, and Goldman Sachs.
Mistaken beliefs. Many Americans mistakenly believe that much of our electrical and heating production is based on oil, but that is no longer the case. “Only 2 percent of our electricity comes from oil,” Korin says.
Half our energy, in fact, comes from coal, and most of the other half from a mix of natural gas, nuclear energy, and hydro. Currently our electricity comes from a variety of sources.
However, 97 percent of U.S. transportation is based on petroleum while two-thirds of all of our oil is imported. “As long as our cars run only on gasoline, we will be held hostage and our country’s foreign policy decisions will be based on oil,” she says.
This makes oil one of the most strategic commodities in the world; much like salt was before the advent of alternative methods for preserving food.
“Before freezing and canning, salt was a strategic commodity, one of the most important in the world because it was necessary in food preservation,” she says. Wars were fought over salt preserves.
But when other methods of food preservation became economically feasible, salt lost its status as a strategic commodity and became a regular commodity. Korin wants to see the same thing happen to oil.
Paying taxes to foreign governments. “The very same Shi’a and Sunni theocratic and dictatorial regimes that most strongly resist America’s efforts to bring democracy to the Middle East are the ones that, because of the market’s tightness, currently drive the world oil economy, Korin says.
While the U.S. economy bleeds, oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran — sympathetic to, and directly supportive, of radical Islam — are on the receiving end of staggering windfalls.
In 2006 the United States spent about $260 billion on foreign crude oil and refined petroleum products. This year, with oil hovering around $125 a barrel, the figure could surpass $500 billion, the equivalent of our defense budget.
“At today’s prices, foreign oil producers are extracting a tax of more than $1,600 a year from every American man, woman, and child,” Korin said in her 2008 testimony before congress.
Finding alternatives. It is not a technical hurdle that we must overcome, Korin says. It is a political one.
Her model is Brazil, where 90 percent of the cars and trucks sold are flex fuel vehicles. Flex fuel vehicles are designed to run not just on gasoline, but also alcohol-based fuels derived from corn and sugar cane. The cost of making current gas-only vehicles flex fuel ready is only $100 per vehicle, Korin says. And the cars sold in Brazil are not different makes or models from those sold in the U.S.
“GM, Ford, Toyota — every car that they are selling in Brazil is a flex fuel vehicle,” Korin says. “Why shouldn’t we make this feature standard here, just like seat belts?”
In 2008, when oil prices rose dramatically, “everywhere in the world but in Brazil consumers had no choice but to reduce their driving. Instead, drivers there switched to ethanol made from sugar cane.” As prices fall the trend might reverse, but at least there is an option. “They are able to play one commodity against the others.”
Adding electricity to the mix. Were cars manufactured with the ability to “plug in” to the electric grid to recharge, the cost per mile for fuel could be reduced significantly. “Electricity costs 1 to 3 cents per mile versus 10 cents per mile for gasoline,” Korin says.
The biggest roadblock to alternative fuels is the lack of availability at gas stations. It is a chicken and egg syndrome. Why should a gas station owner put in a pump for ethanol when so few drivers can use it? And why should someone buy an alternative fuel vehicle when it is so difficult to find fuel?
Flex fuel vehicle would make it viable for people to begin driving cars with an ethanol alternative while still being able to easily fill up their cars with gasoline. Gas station owners, in the meantime, would find it more economically viable to consider adding ethanol fuel pumps.
So what can the average person do? Korin suggests that education is the first step. “Focus on what makes a difference. Be in touch with your elected officials. “Speeches aren’t enough,” she says. “We need to develop an open fuel standard in this country.”