Running The Numbers – Bending Swords Into Wind Turbines

It so often seems that our government is not using its resources efficiently, everyone has heard of the thousand dollar toilet seats, and the wasteful government contracts. However the Iraq War has been one of the most colossal wastes of money this country has ever undertaken. Not to mention the horrific lose in life, both American and Iraqi, a loss more grave than any amount of money. But what if we could get that money back? What if we could use it for something that would benefit humanity.

Several groups have attempted to quantify exactly that. The National Priorities Project has done a great study of what exactly a half of a trillion dollars would buy for America and her people. They break it down by state for instance in Massachusetts they have the following.

cost of war in ma

The site has more, and I recommend you check it out.

Much more below.

Another person who has done an interesting calculation is Paul Gipe (if you are involved in wind power you will know that name, Gipe has written some of the best educational texts on wind power). Gipe has decided to see how much renewable energy that amount of money could have got the nation. The most shocking finding is that with half a trillion dollars you could build enough wind turbines to produce almost a third of all the energy used in the Untied States (!). Gipe uses some fairly conservative estimates, and the results are still pretty stunning.

cost of Iraq war in wind turbines

With the current high cost of solar energy(estimated to become cheaper than carbon based energy by 2014), the “war panels” would only produce about 1-3%, which while small is still a lot of energy that would no longer require coal oil or gas to produce. He estimates that you could put a 2.5kw system on 18% of American homes with that kind of money.

cost of Iraq war in solar power

More significantly, such a large-scale development program, reminiscent of Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, would push America to the forefront of solar photovoltaics technology, enabling us to not only meet our own needs for clean, renewable electricity, but also enabling us to ship panels to distant–shall we say “foreign” lands–to help them meet their more modest needs.

Perhaps in the future we can ship wind turbines and solar panels to the Persian Gulf instead of our sons and daughters.


I really like the idea of fighting wars over oil with renewable energy. Paul Gipe is an amazing man, and you should pick up any of his books on wind power to quickly get up to speed on the science and technology behind wind power today.

The New York Times also did a piece on how much the money from the Iraq war could have gotten us.

cost of war

(be aware this graphic was done in January)

They place the cost of the war at a staggering 1.2 trillion dollars. Paul Gipe’s estimates above were assuming a direct cost of half a trillion, if we combine the two we could estimate that as much as 60% of our energy could be produced from wind (a high estimate). So lets say that we get real conservative here and say that 10-30% of our nations energy supply could have been from renewable sources right now, had we invested all the money from the Iraq war into renewable energy. What would a nation like this look like?

Well for one we would have a lot more jobs. Someone is going to have to build, ship, install, and maintain all those turbines and panels. I know that in the part of the Midwest where I grew up there is a massive lack of manufacturing jobs. There is a large pool of skilled labor just waiting for a crack at working in a wind turbine factory, or a solar panel plant. This influx of new jobs would help drive more economic growth.

We would also have a lot smaller carbon footprint. Not only because we were using more renewable energy, but we would also have avoided the massive amount of carbon emitted by the war itself. War machines are not known for their fuel efficiency, a hummer started off as a Humvee, armor plate a hummer and see what kind of millage you get. Not to mention the massive amount of co2 released flying and shipping all the troops and equipment back and forth to the other side of the Atlantic ocean on a daily basis.

There would also be the issue of international diplomacy. The Iraq war was the turning point. After 9/11 almost the entire world was sympathetic to America. Willing to help us out in anyway we needed. When we decided to go to war we ruined all that. If instead we would have responded with a massive renewable energy campaign (perhaps also with a ratification of the Kyoto protocol) we could have capitalized on that good will to show the world the way forward.

I understand that we can’t change the past, but looking backwards with some amount of contemplation can show us the road forward. If instead of spending another half trillion dollars over the next 4 years on the war we instead invested in our infrastructure (schools, health care, renewable energy) we could reap the rewards we have missed out on.

24 thoughts on “Running The Numbers – Bending Swords Into Wind Turbines”

  1. Nice to see in numbers the true financial costs of the war – the lost opportunity. The U.S. could have been well on the way to being free of dependence on foreign oil, but instead….

    Had the U.S. focused on Afghanistan and spent the same amount of money there that was been wasted in Iraq, Afghanistan would now be a healthy and safe democracy, not the world’s largest opium supplier.

  2. During the recent energy hearings that were aired on C-Span [ not the ones earlier that were held in secret over Cheny’s desk] all the conservatives came with maps of the potential oil reserves off our East and left coasts. Not much interest in the potential wind energy.Then later during the Senate energy debate Sen. Warner of Virginia tried to introduce an amendment to drill for natural gas off the Virginia coast. He was ignored.The Senate shuold have bargained with him. Three wind turbines for every one gas rig. Whada ya think?

  3. While I agree with most of your post, I have to protest your claim that using the Iraq war money on wind turbines would have created more jobs. After all, those bombs & bullets don’t grow on trees, and the military industry would have a lot less jobs without the war.

  4. I like the comparisons but remember that Wind is unpredictable and as such can only provide about 15-20% of the total power on the grid. Any more and the fluctuations would not be absorbed.

  5. Interesting article, but as I live in MA and watch how it is impossible to build a wind farm almost anywhere due to conservationist, naturist, NIMBY fellowship, animal rights groups, and even our Senator Kennedy (Cape Wind). I love the premise but you need to purge Washington off ALL the paid off representatives and senators before the plain truth ever reaches our leaders.

  6. “Brian Cameron”

    Then it’s a good thing the US went to war.

    Think of all the unpredictability that decision saved!

  7. 10% of interest on debt is one thing – just imagine what happens when the lenders call in their loans.

    Industrial governments will NEVER change the priorities on spending because it would mean changing the priorities of the dominant culture, and that would mean people being allowed to finally think for themselves rather than being hoiked from one crisis to another for the sake of keeping the powerful in power.

  8. It would not matter if the Iraq war cost 10 trillion dollars.

    Government does not cater to the whims of peoples needs but instead politicians spend for frivolous pork to get themselves reelected.

    The money would never get to the masses where it would do the most good.

    Politicians should be hung by the neck until dead

  9. If you ballpark the Iraq war’s cost at $650 billion, that’s $100 for every man, woman and child on the planet.

    If you take a more realistic estimate of $1.3 trillion, that’s $200 each.

    That’s enough for shelter and basic survival systems for the entire world.

    Do the math a different way. 20 million Iraqis, so that’s about $32,000 each, or roughly equivalent to 10 years salary.

    Dumb dumb dumb. But most of the money goes to the defense contractors and halliburton, so it’s just transferring wealth inside of America, from the taxpayers to the corporations.

  10. How about the economic costs of all of the people who have died?

    I mean, it’s a bit crass not to think of them, so let’s just go the whole hog and consider how much wealth is foregone by not having them around anymore.

    Oh, and I’m not talking about the paltry “Coalition” deaths. I’m talking about the Iraqis.

  11. @Dude

    It’s true that the military industrial complex would have generated less money through less jobs. Do you really mean to say that it is more economical and ethically defensible to be employed in the industry of war which, through its very nature, requires people in large quantities to die? Is humanity here so that the military industrial complex has something to kill?

    Would it really be worse for people to have a job that would have a meaningfull impact on the eco-footprint of humanity?

    War is an old solution, we need new solutions. -If- and only if you really, absolutely, can’t-do-it-any-other-way, have to have a war then at the very least it should be executed well. And this war has not been executed well.
    It still means wasting a lot of money and countless lives to serve someone’s ambitions. I question the sincerity of the ambitions that absolutely require the death of many hundreds of thousands of people.

    You may be of a different opinion.

  12. You know what really pisses me off, everybody comes to these sites and Bitch about all this, but nobody does anything about it after you are done writing your little grip then you will go about your bussiness.
    You see what happened was we the people of the United State Of America gave all the problem to the goverment, and now they run the show and we let them. We will never stand up and sat enough is enough, and Bush want’s another 50 Billion for the war and I bet he get’s it, while we complain about it on sites like this, and do nothing.
    and we never will, and Haliburton what a joke, did they not leave this country to avoid Taxes.

  13. We didn’t win cheap oil from Iraq. They are not grateful enough to say thank you for killing their despot. Now we have to solve our own energy problems. Desert solar support for our inefficient power grid infrastructure and battery cars just aren’t Macho-American, lets go destroy an oil country we can beat!

  14. that’s really a fantastic post ! added to my favourite blogs list.. I have been reading your blog last couple of weeks and enjoy every bit. Thanks.

Comments are closed.