The end of the oil world as we know it – by Jeffrey Simpson (Globe and Mail – November 21, 2012)

Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

The International Energy Agency’s report ricocheted around the world last week, and nowhere more so than in Canada.

The United States will become the world’s largest producer of oil by 2020, predicted the IEA, and North America will become a net oil exporter by 2030. So much for foolishness about the end of oil. So much for the comfortable assumption in Canada that the U.S. would always soak up every drop of oil we could export to them.

Hidden in the report, however, are two other implicit assumptions of immense importance for the future. First, for the first time since president Franklin D. Roosevelt made cozy with the Saud dynasty, the United States will not need, let alone be beholden to, oil-producing countries in the Middle East. Second, the international target of holding the increase in global temperatures to two degrees Celsius is a forlorn hope.

It would be simplistic to say that oil alone has driven U.S. interests in the Middle East, but it would also be simplistic to ignore that oil imports from that region have been critical for the U.S. economy. And with economic realities have gone geopolitical interests.

Oil helped to link the interests of sheikdoms and autocracies to the consumers of the United States – and through them to their democratically elected government. U.S. administrations have been keen to promote human rights where it suits, as President Barack Obama has just done in Myanmar and Cambodia, but they have also remained largely silent about abuses in oil-producing countries of the Middle East.

Instead, as the decades unfold, it would appear that the oil producers will be forging links with oil-hungry places such as China, whose own respect for human rights mirrors their own. No longer needing Middle East oil will likely cause the U.S. to lose a little of its interest in the region, although the resolute defence of Israel, right or wrong, and concerns about terrorism will keep the U.S. involved.

As for climate change, countries negotiating under the aegis of the United Nations agreed to aim for a maximum increase of two degrees Celsius in global temperatures. Anything more, they understood, would lead to serious disruptions in climate patterns beyond those already experienced.

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