Beware of the political dog that (still) does not bark

Beware of the political dog that (still) does not bark

Editorial Staff
The campaigns for the 2016 US presidential elections have, for the time being, failed to dwell specifically on the energy issue. A choice made by the candidates for the nomination that refers to the internal scenario of a country that has undergone profound changes in recent years

Sherlock Holmes, the famous English detective, once solved a mystery by noticing that a dog did not bark in the night. Energy, the political dog that has barked in every US election since the OPEC oil embargo in 1973, is not barking in the 2016 presidential election. This in itself is newsworthy and deserving of exploration. There are several new realities that account for this.  The first is worldwide overproduction of petroleum products and growing surpluses driving gasoline prices down dramatically in the US. Citizen consumers outraged at high gasoline prices 4 years ago, and demanding a political solution, now find themselves with the lowest prices in years. The second factor is, of course, the shale gas boom of the last several years based on new fracking technologies releasing oil and particularly natural gas from previously locked in and inaccessible giant shale formations. This, in turn, has led to the United States becoming an energy exporter rather than the heavy energy importer that it was for decades. This has led to a third new reality - much less dependence on sources of oil in the Middle East and a major shift in American foreign policy in the region. Just a few short years ago the United States could not have undertaken nuclear negotiations leading to the lifting of economic sanctions against Iran for fear of alienating the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, upon which we have been so dependent for oil supplies.

A change of front in the Middle East

This new reality continues to alter foreign policy calculations throughout the Middle East in a number of countries in ways still not clearly understood. But the demise of energy dependence is a dynamic new economic and geopolitical reality. Though energy price and supply as a major issue in U.S. national elections is the current dog that has ceased to bark, it has re-emerged in a different form - climate change.  Except for a shrinking die-hard band of climate deniers, the long-term impact of fossil fuel combustion on the climate is essentially an established scientific fact and a political reality. Still there is little discussion, at least at this early stage in the long, drawn-out presidential selection process, of the 2 most discussed major policy remedies: carbon tax and cap-and-trade. National candidates, including the 2 Democratic ones, seem to see this as a dangerous political third rail best left untouched. Despite increasing numbers of stories and pictures of glacier erosion and polar bears isolated on floating ice chunks, systemic change in petroleum pricing, with the threat of macro-economic impact, is largely avoided by the 2 Democratic candidates and completely ignored by the larger array of Republicans. Additionally, sharply lower oil prices have economically undercut the slow but steady emergence of alternative, renewables such as solar and wind. This is seriously unfortunate.

The risk of a lack of attention to energy

Thus, petroleum oversupply, dramatically reduced gasoline prices, shale gas and energy exports, liberation of American foreign policy in the Middle East, and avoidance of leadership on climate economics account for the energy dog not barking, politically at least, in the 2016 presidential contest. Arguably, this is the greatest shift in national campaign politics in the US in almost 5 decades. The issue that dominated the last 10 presidential campaigns has gone silent - at least for now. That is unfortunate because the climate continues to warm, consumption is still wasteful, and promotion of a shift to renewables has gone quiet. In the short term, all of this may seem to be to the good. But the failure of long-term thinking and planning, especially regarding the impact of fossil fuel consumption on the global climate, represents a dog that may start barking, sooner rather than later.