Ugo Bardi: “Energy Dominance,” what does it mean? Decoding a Fashionable Slogan

Preface.  A very good article about energy and war, explains a lot about how the world really works.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Ugo Bardi. 2019.Energy Dominance,” what does it mean? Decoding a Fashionable Slogan. Cassandra’s legacy.

“Now, I know for a fact that American energy dominance is within our grasp as a nation.” Ryan Zinke, U.S. Secretary of the Interior (source)

“All Warfare is Based on Deception” Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

Over nearly a half-century, since the time of Richard Nixon, American presidents have proclaimed the need for “energy independence” for the US, without ever succeeding in attaining it. During the past few years, it has become fashionable to say that the US has, in fact, become energy independent, even though it is not true. And, doubling down on this concept, there came the idea of “energy dominance,” introduced by the Trump administration in June 2017.  It is now used at all levels in the press and in the political debate.

No doubt, the US has good reasons to be bullish on oil production. Of the three major world producers, it is the only one growing: it has overtaken Saudi Arabia and it seems to be poised to overtake Russia in a few years. (graphic source).

This rebound in the US production after the decline that started in the early 1970s is nearly miraculous. And the miracle as a name: shale oil. A great success, sure, but, if you think about it, the whole story looks weird: the US is trying to gain this “dominance” by means of resources which, once burned, will be forever gone. It is like people competing at who is burning their own house faster. What sense does it make?

Art Berman keeps telling us that shale oil is an expensive resource that could be produced at a profit only for market conditions that are unrealistic to expect. So far, much more money has been poured into shale oil production than it has returned from the sales of shale oil. “Energy dominance” seems to be just an elaborate way to lose money and resources. Again, what sense does that make?

But there is a logic in the term “energy dominance.” It has to do with the way slogans are used in politics: a slogan is not just a compact way of expressing a certain political concept, it is often a coded message that hides much more than it says. So, we know that “bringing democracy” to a foreign country means to bomb it to smithereens. “Make America great again” means subsidizing the fossil fuel industry. “The Indispensable Country” means, “The American Empire.” And more.

There is nothing wrong in using coded slogans: you only have to know how to decode them. So, “energy dominance” has to be decoded and turned into “military dominance.” Then, things start making sense.

One quick note before you accuse me of being a conspiracy theorist: I am reasonably sure that there is no “control room” in a dark basement of the Pentagon or of the White House deciding long-term economic and military objectives. The decision mechanism of modern states is collective and networked. It is akin to that of anthills: there is nobody in charge, plenty of people push in different directions and, eventually, the giant structure may start moving in a certain direction.

So, the fact that so much money has been directed toward the exploitation of shale oil and gas doesn’t mean that someone at the top decided that it was the thing to be done. It is simply, that investors tend to direct their financial resources where they think they’ll have returns, and that may well be the result of a collective hallucination. Investing in shale oil is, basically, a Ponzi scheme but if Ponzi schemes exist there is a reason for them to exist. Even if investing in something doesn’t generate overall profits, it moves money, benefits contractors, raises the GDP, and the more money is invested the more expectations of profits grow. And so it goes until the bubble bursts, but that may take time.

But there is more than that in this story: it is the military side. We all know that wars are won by the side that can pour more resources into the fight. It was in this way that the first and the second world war were won: the allies could produce more energy in the form of oil, coal, and gas. And, with these energy sources, they could produce more stuff: planes, tanks, cannons, bombs, bullets, and more stuff that was thrown at the Germans until they gave up. Matthieu Auzeannau gives us plenty of examples of this mechanism in his book “Oil, Power, and War.” The Germans were always lacking enough oil to power their military machine and that’s why they were doomed from the beginning.

For the military, the lesson of the past world wars is that wars are won by the side which has the largest oil supply. And they remember it. So, if you want to attain military dominance, energy independence is not enough, you need to attain energy dominance.

Everything makes sense also in view of some recent results on the statistical patterns of wars. Wars, it seems, are correlated to the thermodynamic phenomenon of entropy dissipation in complex systems. The more energy there is to dissipate, the faster it is dissipated. And if this dissipation is really fast, it may take the shape of a war — war is the fastest way to destroy (dissipate) accumulated resources. But, in order to dissipate resources, you need to accumulate them first, and that’s the role of shale oil in the current situation.

Which means that shale oil is not a natural resource, it is a military resource. As such, it doesn’t matter if it brings a profit or not for the investors. What matters is how it can be used to maintain and expand that gigantic social and economic structure that we call “Globalization” (another slogan that can be decoded as “the global empire”).

As long as the production of shale oil increases, we face the risk of a new, major world war. We can only hope that the shale bubble bursts by itself first. One more good reason why a Seneca Collapse of oil production would be good for all of us.

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3 Responses to Ugo Bardi: “Energy Dominance,” what does it mean? Decoding a Fashionable Slogan

  1. Excellent analysis of why shale oil, which seemingly makes little economic (let alone environmental) sense, is still being produced; and of its mutually reinforcing entanglement with empire.

    My only disagreement is with the last paragraph: “We can only hope that the shale bubble bursts by itself first.” Activists can intervene to douse the fire of the shale oil industry. We needn’t passively wait for the destruction to end, and especially given the risk Bardi highlights of shale oil feeding a new world war, we can’t afford to rely on hope.

  2. When he writes, Ugo always holds his pen from the middle, and who blames him!

    The bottom line is that “No Energy store holds enough Energy to extract and collect an equal amount of the Energy it stores” (The Fifth Law).

    The primary function of what is called the Shale Oil Industry is to provide the hope humans have always tirelessly worked for since the antiquity – conquering the supreme Laws of Physics and the natural forces behind the phenomenon of Energy scarcity.

    Calming down humans living the reality of rapid resource depletion with hope today, avoiding mass panic and keeping the status-quo of the Industrial Revolution going – is a priceless psychological military-grade operation, brilliantly performed by the agency of Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand of Economics, indeed.

    Apart from that, there is no any real oil in Shale Oil, at all!

    Actually, if we reconcile all conventional, gold-grade, once-only oil and other fossil fuels supplies expended in the process of Shale Oil production, adding to it the Energy consumed in repairing the industrial-base against wear and tear and the Energy sustaining all humans involved in the process – with the actual Shale Oil supplies produced – barrel to barrel and Unit of Energy to Unit of Energy – Shale Oil proves an Energy sink, if not an Energy black hole!

    Is producing Shale Oil and Tar-Sand oil the only energy-sink operation out of all fossil fuels production? Is nuclear, fusion, solar, wind or hydro power production any better than Shale Oil?

    No, extracting and producing any form of excess Energy is an Energy-sink operation, and that what is going on since the early steam engine in 1700s Britain – by Physics!

    Classic EROEI studies are flowed;

    Humans have never managed and will never manage to extract/produce one unit of excess Energy by expending less than one Unit of Energy in the process, due to wear in tear internal to matter.

    The classic EROEI calculus is hypnotic, as it fails to identify where the 1 in its infamous 1:4, 1:15 or 1:100 has come from? Has it come from filling a jar with gasoline at a street gasoline station?!

    What makes matters even worse with shale oil is that gold-grade fossil fuels are now needed to produce a subclass fuels that justify printing and centralising the distribution of Money.

    If I was Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand, I would keep the gold-grade conventional oil supplies a side untouched, and fake shale oil production, leaving trucks running but idle, barely move and empty, rigs turn but not drilling and people shouting and jumping around but doing nothing for real, yet financing the process is kept escalating higher and higher.

    The higher they escalate, the more reports come out intense on doubled, tripled and four-times more shale productions.

    Ugo needed to conclude: “Energy dominance? It is not a property of nations, groups or individuals, but Physics, !”

  3. Sheila Chambers says:

    Our unelected ‘rulers’ must know that these fossil resources are TEMPORARY! So why on earth are they extracting it as fast as possible? What is plan “B”?
    Why do they lie to us about “renewables”, how can they not know that we cannot replace declining resources with a resource dependent technology?

    So for now we boast we are domenent in energy just because we can extract it faster than anyone else.
    Does a person who drills more taps into a beer barrel have more beer than the guy who doesn’t?
    Same for oil.
    They must think we are all profoundly stupid & from what I’ve been reading, they could be almost right.
    As countries try to integrate “renewables” into their grid, they are running into insurmountable problems & are ending up burning more dirty fuels & charging more for their “renewable” electricity.

    What is plan “B” for when the coal, oil & natural gas is gone & all they have left is generators that only produce when the sun shines brightest at noon, sometimes, when the wind blows, sometimes & that will leave most of us in the dark most of the time.
    You can’t support a civilization like ours or 7.6 billion humans, with just electricity, sometimes & we will have far less in accessable resources.

    This ‘bubble’ called civilization is set to pop, is it possible to prepare for world wide collapse of both our civilization & ecosystem?
    We will find out soon enough.

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