The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The hidden cost of the Iraq War.

Everyone knows that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have proven costly. Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize Winner, puts that cost at over 3 trillion dollars, in a Washington Post article, The true cost of the Iraq War, here:

What people don’t know – including Joseph Stiglitz – is that the true cost is the opportunity cost of what might have been done with that 3 trillion dollars, instead. I would like you to consider an undeniable fact and an uncomfortable one: it is undeniable, that the Iraq War, was largely over the control of oil. Had Iraq no oil, it would also have had no war. It is uncomfortable, for many of us, to also note that the world’s oil is running out. There are arguments over how long the oil will last – but it cannot be denied, except by the insane, or oil company propagandists (the same thing), that oil is finite and running out fast. Typical estimates are that we have no more than 40 years left at present rates of consumption before the end of oil. Without replacement energy sources, advanced human civilization will, thereafter, be impossible. Sadly, not enough is being done to prepare for this eventuality. The world’s politicians, as usual, lack foresight – or perhaps just don’t care about such seemingly distant events.

Now, at present, the world consumes about one cubic mile of oil per year, and another two cubic miles of oil energy equivalent, per year, for a grand total of three cubic miles of oil per year. See this Wikipedia article for these facts:

Thus, one third of the world’s total energy comes from oil. Without it, modern civilization would look a lot like the 18th century or so – with no energy for the machines of the Industrial Revolution and beyond. One would have thought that this future inevitability (if nothing is done about it) would occupy the minds of our leaders. Unfortunately, that assumes that our leaders have functioning minds – but close observation puts this in question.

I was struck, on reading the Wikipedia article, by an interesting coincidence. The estimated cost of creating a cubic mile of oil energy equivalence, from wind power, is 3.3 trillion dollars. That is about the money spent on the Iraq War. Now, the Iraq War was about securing energy, as oil, for the USA (whatever else they might say it was about, that was, of course, the true motivation). The USA was so concerned about its energy future, that it decided to kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to secure more oil supplies. It also thought it worth spending 3 trillion dollars to do so. Curiously, that 3 trillion dollars was about the cost of one cubic mile of oil, at 2008 prices (120 dollars per barrel). So, the Iraq war has cost, so far, enough to buy the world’s entire annual oil production for one year. It has also cost enough to create an independent alternative energy source, from wind, equal to one cubic mile of oil per year, for the lifetime of the turbines (20 to 30 years).

Thus, it can be seen that, had the American leadership been intelligent and wise, they could have foregone the Iraq war and spent the funds they would have spent on it – 3 trillion dollars – on creating energy independence for the United States, such that the United States would have no need for an external energy source, ever again.

The decision to go to war in Iraq was not a rational one. It was one derived from very narrow thinking, that did not see the broad context in which the decision was embedded. Nor did it see the alternative means of achieving the ultimate goal – energy security – that existed. It is clear that little intelligence was applied to the decision – no-one paused to reflect on whether there was an alternative way to achieve the unstated goal: energy supply for the USA.

I wish to propose a general principle: The principle of irrational resource wars:

Wars over oil or any other energy source are irrational, since the cost of the war, is always going to be greater than the cost of creating an alternative energy source by investing some of the funds that would have been spent on the war.

America could have secured the energy equivalence of 20 to 30 cubic miles of oil (the lifespan productive capacity of the wind turbines they could have built), for the cost of the Iraq war. I do not think that Iraq’s total oil reserves are likely to amount to as much as this, since the total world reserves are not going to be much greater than that. (Proven oil reserves are at 43 cubic miles of oil…after that runs out, we are in a post-oil world). Indeed, this article in Wikipedia: suggests that Iraq has just 8.26% of the world’s oil reserves. That would be equivalent to just 3.55 cubic miles of oil. America could have secured 8 and a half times as much energy, for the same investment, as it did in Iraq – and at the cost of no human lives at all.

From this analysis, it can be seen that the Iraq war was irrational – it had great cost in financial and human life terms – yet, there existed an alternative that would have secured permanent energy independence for the United States, had it been implemented.

Never forget this: War is dumb. There are always more intelligent alternatives, to achieve the same ends – unless the end is death itself.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:06 PM 


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