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The Geopolitics of Renewable Energy

by John Brian Shannon | January 19, 2015

What’s lacking in the world these days is a grand overriding global vision, one that large numbers of people can buy-into.

"What if we don't change at all... and something magical just happens."

The entire world bought-into Perestroika and Glasnost, culminating in the end of the Cold War and the only reason it ended, is those policies appealed to large groups of people worldwide.

The imagination of the global public was captured *and only thereby* did the Cold War end. Ergo, voters put the people into office who shared their dream of ending the Cold War.

Similarly, did South African apartheid end.

Someone created a vision to which many millions of South African and global citizens could buy-into and people voted into office those who would carry out their wishes on the matter.

So many other examples exist; ‘The New Deal (FDR), Victory in WWII (Churchill), the Moon Shot (JFK), civil rights (MLK), Playing the China card (Kissinger), the PC (Steve Jobs / Bill Gates), I could go on at length. But you get my point.

Stifling individual visionaries is non-productive. Yet it seems to be the new norm.

Not all visionaries are perfect, not all visions are inspired, but it was a visionary who created the wheel, not an incrementalist. We can all see the profundity of that vision.

He or she, may not have created the best wheel at the time, but the manifestation of that vision has moved our civilization by orders of magnitude.

Under the umbrella of a grand and popular vision, the will of millions (perhaps billions) of citizens can be galvanized toward a common cause. The Moon shot is a great example of this — but in the absence of a grand overriding vision, civilization eventually falters. Everyone on the planet can be ‘part of the solution’. Unless we bungle it, that is.

Presently, the grand overriding vision is to attack suspected terrorists and to degrade the status of ordinary Muslims in our own, and their own, countries. That’s not a vision. Nor is it wise.

And slamming Vlad Putin in the media is not visionary.

“Demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.” — Dr. Henry Kissinger

What we need now is a real vision that most everyone can buy-into. We need ‘Larger than Life’ stuff — not this B-movie script stuff.

One script that millions and perhaps billions of people could buy-into, is an accelerated change-up to renewable energy and high fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks.

For example, 50% of all electricity produced in the world by 2020 should be sourced from renewable energy. And a 95 MPGe standard for new vehicle fleets.

Let’s not fool ourselves, doing so would NOT be as difficult as the Moon shot, NOT as difficult as ending the Cold War in practically a matter of months, and NOT as difficult as ending South African apartheid within a handful of years.

Energy consumption by energy type. Image courtesy of EIA

Energy consumption by energy type. Image courtesy of EIA

Still, it would be a grand enough and difficult enough vision to capture the world’s attention and galvanize people towards a unifying and noble cause.

Reaching 50% of our energy needs with renewable energy is a vision and a goal that everyone could feel good about and thereby want to buy-into.

We can take a profound step towards this worthy goal by acting on one of the following choices:

  1. Remove the $600 billion dollars of annual fossil fuel subsidies over 10 years
  2. Dramatically ramp-up renewable energy subsidies to match fossil fuel subsidies
  3. Institute a carbon tax that reflects the actual cost to society of fossil fuel use

Any one of these plans would work.

I favour the (2) option — “Dramatically ramp-up renewable energy subsidies to match fossil fuel subsidies” — with equal subsidy amounts for renewable and non-renewable energy in every year to 2050. To be followed by complete cessation of ALL energy subsidies (renewable and non-renewable) on January 1, 2051 for a truly level energy playing field after that date.

We’d be leaving a cleaner world to our future generations and saving our economies trillions of dollars in environmental costs and healthcare costs.

And all that’s stopping us from that worthy and noble goal is a lack of vision and will.

Carbon dioxide emissions by region. Image courtesy of EIA

Global CO2 emissions by region. Image courtesy of EIA

In 20 years, wouldn’t it be great to look back and say;

‘By replacing fossil fuel use with renewable energy, billions of people are now breathing clean air, enjoying increased lifespan and quality-of-life, and we’ve saved trillions of dollars in carbon/climate mitigation costs.’

And those old enough at the time could say; ‘We built that.’

Syria: Can the ‘New Coalition’ Win Against ISIS without Syria and Iran?

Syria: Can the ‘New Coalition’ Win Against ISIS without Syria and Iran? | 15/09/14
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

‘Elusive at best’ might be the proper terminology to describe the chances of winning against ISIS without the cooperation of Syria and Iran.

Think about it for a minute. If WE don’t make friendly with the Syrian leadership and the Iranian leadership, then perhaps ISIS will.

If you look at a map of the region you will see that both Syria and Iran border Iraq, both have large populations, both are almost 100% Muslim nations and both have trust issues with the West that go back decades.

Not only that, but both Syria and Iran do billions of dollars of business with Russia every year. And, therein lies the story.

Caspian Sea region. Image by Harvard University

Caspian Sea region. Image by Harvard University


The Syrian port of Tartus hosts a Russian Navy facility (Tartus port). During the Cold War it was a massive base which you can still see today as you fly into Tartus. Many former Russian citizens live in Tartus and many Russian sailors lived with their families their entire navy careers. Except when they were at sea, or called to Russia for training, some Russian sailors had never been anywhere else in their young lives (back in the 1980’s when that base was going full tilt). Russia’s Mediterranean fleet operated out of that base and it was also the refueling base for the Black Sea fleet. Inside the sprawling Syrian federal government buildings in Tartus all the signs were written in Arabic and Russian, for obvious reasons.

When I was there a couple of decades ago, a Russian officer told me that 100,000 Russians lived in Tartus and that they easily outnumbered the Syrians, although most of them give up their Russian citizenship to become Syrians at the end of their Russian Navy career. Some of them take on Arabic-sounding names to better blend in. I verified that with at least one taxi driver and with the concierge at my hotel. It certainly seemed like it could have been true at the time. Retired Russian Navy personnel often worked as Tartus traffic cops — apparently, that’s the job to have. Nice weather, and at the end of your working life, two pensions — one from the Russian Navy and one from the Tartus police. Not a bad post-Russian Navy gig for those Russians who don’t want to move back to 8 months of bitter cold every year.

Tartus port, Syria

These days, “Officially” the Russian Navy base at Tartus, Syria is closed — or only has an official staff of 20-50 people. It depends upon whom you ask. As recently as 2012 however, Russia spent millions to dredge the Tartus harbour to allow its largest military ships to enter the port and Russian aircraft carriers and other capital ships have docked there since the dredging operations completed. Image courtesy of Google.


Iran shares a peaceful maritime border with Russia which goes back centuries. The newest Iranian nuclear power plants are of Russian design, the Russians built them with Iranian labourers for the non-technical parts and all the spent nuclear fuel is required to be returned to Russia for disposal. In fact, the Iranian’s don’t get their new nuclear fuel rods until all of the returned spent fuel is carefully weighed and examined, so that the Russians can account for every gram of nuclear material that goes into or out of Iran. (Russia has this arrangement with other countries too)

Iran Update:

As of September 15, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Iran to discuss the building of 8 new Russian nuclear power plants with the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin discuss oil-for-nuclear-power-plants in this AP photo from September 12, 2014.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin discuss Oil-for-Power policy during the SCO conference in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. RIA Novosti/AP photo dated September 12, 2014

Sometimes it isn’t all about you — or who you want on your team — it’s about preventing the other team from signing them

Unless you want them playing against you. Does everyone get that? You may not like a certain all-star NFL player and you may not want him on your team, but do you really want to get flattened by that guy every couple of weeks? Say a guy who would be the size of the great ‘Refrigerator Perry’ of Chicago Bears fame.

“Uh, welcome to the team, Mr. Perry. Take my seat!” — See what I mean? SO MUCH BETTER than getting flattened, and the food is better at home anyway. Even though some people claim that they like hospital food. Whatever.

If we don’t work it out with the Syrians and the Iranians, then the Russians will. Do we really want to drive the Syrians, Iranians, and Russians together to the point where they feel compelled to team-up to offer mutual aid to each other? Is that in our best interest?

That’s simply not in the West’s best interests and we have to find a way past it. That’s what diplomacy is all about and Western diplomats are supposed to be the best. Well, let’s see it then!

If the United States feels that it must not back down from its stance on the Iranian nuclear power file, that’s almost understandable. The Iranian nuclear ‘problem’ represents a low or non-existent risk to the Western world for the next 10 years — while clearly, ISIS represents a clear and present danger to the West over the next 10 years (if they’re not dealt with now) which means it’s time for the West to re-prioritize.

If America doesn’t feel comfortable with it, then surely some of the well-known European diplomats could assiduously work to craft an agreement between Iran and the Europeans, that would eventually become detrimental to ISIS. Even securing landing and refueling rights within Iran for Western aircraft delivering aid to Kurdistan (for example) would be a start. Similar could be done by the Europeans with regards to Syria — maybe landing rights aren’t the issue, but the ability to overfly parts of Syria is the issue. Or something like that. We have to start somewhere as the present situation will increasingly work in favour of ISIS, Syria, Iran, and Russia — and not the coalition.

For now, we’re off to a great start to tackle ISIS, but two of the major countries in the region aren’t coalition members. And that does not portend a successful outcome.

But Russia thanks us for our efforts to drive Syria and Iran even further into the Russian orbit.

Signed, the 98 Percent

by John Brian Shannon

Many people in this 21st century would be surprised to hear that they are deeply immersed (and some would say, horribly stuck) in 20th century thought, a century where for ninety of those hundred years, an endless game of nation-state vs. nation-state played out, and often played with severe brutality. Nation against nation, democracy competing with communism and authoritarianism, freedom vs. repression and ‘the West’ against ‘the East’, or, ‘North’ against ‘South’ — these were the headlines of a turbulent century.

All these battles were fought diligently, usually for valid reasons (but not always) by nation-states, their citizens, and soldiers, all over the world from about 1914 onwards.

In terms of the success against such social ills as world war, small hot wars, the Cold War, fascism, tribal wars, poor governance and even poorer economics, plus a low global standard of health care, we have come far in the past 100 years.

The problem is, some just don’t realize how far we have come and are still ‘fighting the last war’ to use a military euphemism.

The last war is well and truly over. Unfortunately, some have utterly missed that, profound as it is.

Illogically, many of these people are still holding onto positions of power, and for now at least, continue to call the shots for the rest of the world.

A world of change has occurred, and yet many of those holding either political office or powerful unelected positions are completely blind to it, as their hatred for their former enemies burns so bright.

In the West, for just one example, most citizens are pleased that Vladimir Putin is running Russia. We all know that Russia is experiencing the problems associated with a former Soviet-era economy, but that they are recovering nicely from it. We also know that they are dealing with incredibly rapid economic growth – which is a great problem to have! If your country must have a major problem to deal with, that’s the one to have.

And many people in the West and around the world, socialize with Russians every day, online, in the workplace or at universities around the world. Everyone is getting along just fine, thank you.

Спасибо, очень понравилось! (Which is Russian for, “Thank you, very much!”)

But are Western political office holders or powerful unelected leaders happy about any of that? For the most part, NOT! And therein, lies a tantalizing clue about what ails the geopolitical world in this century.

The people in (elected and unelected) positions of power in the West today are the same generation that taught us to fear, hate, and fight, the Soviet Union at all costs (one of those costs being lessened Western civil liberties from the onset of the Cold War right up to the present day) — and the fact that the Soviet Union no longer exists and communism in modern-day Russia is about as important as it is here (it’s not) does not decrease their deeply-held hatred of our former enemy.

The better the Russian economy does, the more they hate Russia. The more Russian citizens smile on TV, the more they castigate Vladimir Putin. As Russia became the 13th most powerful economy in the world, some in the West were tearing their hair out. Russia is on-track to become the 10th most powerful economy in the world within the next decade. Can’t wait to see the contorted faces then!

And it is getting increasingly difficult for certain Western news outlets to show recent pictures or videos taken in and around Moscow, without the many Mercedes Benz and BMW cars and SUV’s driven by ordinary Russian citizens ‘crapping up the frame’ – thereby completely contradicting the verbal op/ed piece.

No! All those Mercedes and BMW’s are NOT driven by “filthy rich Russian oligarchs with ‘dirty money’ or high ranking KGB officers that hate Fox News… er… America.”

That was LAST century.

The real story, in case you missed it, is that it is no longer about nation-state against nation-state (although, some people are desperately trying to make it ‘still that’), nor is it even, democracy standing strong against practically all other forms of government (although, some people are desperately trying to make it ‘still that’), nor is about some well-intentioned fight against horrible social ills such as apartheid, which is mostly won at this point (although, some people are desperately trying to make it ‘still that’).

What it is about, is that 98% of the world’s citizens want their governments to stop fighting the last war, to cease with the old hatreds and prejudices and get on with clearing a path for citizens, so that they can progress — financially, socially, and for those who want it, spiritually.

Feudalism was replaced with something better (from the point-of-view of 98% of the civilized world population back in the day) which manifested itself as freedom and democracy in half the world, while the other half endured communism. Which was still a lot better than feudalism for most citizens. The governance systems in use in the 21st century are mostly democratic ones — and the ones that aren’t, are reforming at different speeds towards democracy anyway — whether we bomb them or not.

Our representative governments must begin to focus on what democracy was originally created to achieve. Can anyone even remember what this was, this far out from democracy’s beginnings? In general terms, it was to bring freedom, the rule of law, education, economic prosperity, and the pursuit of pleasure to the vast majority of citizens (the 98%) living within that voluntary state of governance.

But truth be told at this point, citizens around the world would settle for this generation of powerful elected and unelected people stuck in their 20th century mindsets, just getting out of citizens’ way and letting individuals and families solve their own issues and get to their goals, themselves. Eventually, a new generation will take the reins.

In the meantime, try not to blow up the world with your 20th century thinking. Thanks.

Signed, the 98%.

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