Energy and Security provides a definitive account of the Washington consensus on the energy-security nexus. It argues that energy policy of the last half century has produced excessive dependence on unstable and repressive governments, has failed to redress the environmental consequences of energy consumption, and has failed to invest adequately in technology that would reduce strategic vulnerability and environmental degradation.
It sounds convincing—until one asks the question of cost. The last fifty years have also been a period of unprecedented global prosperity, and low-cost energy was no small part of the reason. In that time, energy consumption has exploded, as electricity has been brought to billions, and transporting goods and people across vast distances has become commonplace. Those who would change direction on energy policy should acknowledge that thirty years ago, in response to the oil crisis of the 1970s, the best and brightest made many of the same recommendations repeated here, and the result was a waste of tens of billions of dollars on inappropriate technologies and complicated regulatory schemes. It is disheartening to see such prominent experts so quick to skip over the errors of the past and so little interested in the dollars-and-cents implications of their recommendations.
That said, the twenty-two essays have much useful information and many important insights. The globe is covered in twelve essays grouped in four regions with a commentary section for each: Russia, the Caspian, and European gas; the Persian Gulf, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa; China, Japan, and southeast Asia; and North America, South America, and the North Atlantic (i.e., North Sea). A major theme is that energy resources are abundant—few serious experts have much patience for resource pessimism so often trotted out by certain engineers and environmentalists—but that there are serious questions about the framework of government policies for making use of those resources.
Another set of essays paints the global framework, such as the role of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the International Energy Agency, and commodity exchanges. The essays in the final section look at public policy issues such as climate protection, environmental sustainability, technology development, and strategic reserves. The authors do an excellent job of describing the issues as seen in Washington, including analysis of the debates about what should be government policies. That is a welcome contrast to the shrill tone and extreme positions staked out by many authors addressing these matters.