Violence and destruction where the oil lies

Posted February 25th, 2006 in Blog Comments Off on Violence and destruction where the oil lies

With the news of this past week, I think about how many conflicts in our world are in the same places where the oil lies “ violence in the Niger Delta has claimed scores of lives in the past few days; Iraq is sinking rapidly into the sectarian strife predicted by so many before the US war began; tensions are rising between the US and Iran; the battle of wills between the Bush administration and the Chavez government in Venezuela continues and escalates.  Russia plays oil games with former Soviet republics, generating more animosity and political tension.

Foreign policy is not the only political sphere where the thirst for oil and natural gas plays itself out.  From debates about offshore drilling along the California and Florida coasts, to drilling in pristine wilderness in Alaska, to opening the vast lands of Wyoming to gas exploration, to taking off whole mountaintops to get to the coal in Appalachia, and more, we find that our US “way of life” is causing unprecedented natural destruction at home and fueling violence around the world.  

We US Americans have this insatiable appetite for fossil fuels based on a way of life so dependent on cars and airplanes, truck transport for our consumer goods (including things as basic as food, which is less and less locally grown), air conditioning for homes in hot climates, and so much more, that we don’t know how to live without them.  An economy built on the use of fossil fuels means we are now completely dependent on them, and thus on this destruction, to function in our daily lives.

This ensures that our future will continue to be entangled in violent international conflict and cause incredible destruction to the natural world upon which we depend for our survival.  While this consumer way of life may have dulled our most basic instinctual knowledge of the kinds of beings we are, the reality is that we are biological beings dependent on the life systems of this earth for our existence.  We cannot destroy earth’s living systems and survive, because we come from them, are of them.  They are the stuff of which we are made. 

At the same time, we may be coming up against the limits of oil and gas extraction.  While there is debate about when the world will reach peak oil production, it is approaching, probably within this generation.  And the price of ensuring our access to it will be continued war, a far more dangerous world, growing resentment towards the US, sharp increases in the price of energy (scarcity makes prices go up) with profound effects throughout the economy, and more severe environmental destruction. 

We could have prepared for this.  We have had the knowledge about the looming crisis of our fossil fuel-based economy for decades.  But when energy companies control the political debate (and, at the moment, the executive branch of government), it translates into a lack of political leadership on these most critical issues.  And then few cultural leaders are prepared to go out in front of the public and tell people that we can’t live like this anymore.  

We are not being prepared for the difficult time that is coming.  There are no plans right now for energy sources that can simply replace what we now have, and certainly not in time to avoid the crunch.  There is a deception being perpetrated that we can be weaned from oil, have it replaced by something else, and simply go on about our lives. 

If leadership will not come from above, we in our various communities need to start thinking about how to reorient our lives in a new direction, one in which our quality of life depends less and less on consumption of material goods, in value systems that equate wealth with happiness, and more in the values of solidarity, community, simplicity, in the quality of our relationships and our natural environment. We need to get back in touch with something basic about what it means to be a human being on this earth.  We need to get œun-numbed, to find again a framework of meaning formed by what promotes human dignity, enhances rather than destroys the precious complexity of the earth’s living systems of which we are a part, and restores values of shared sacrifice, shared communal life, sharing of goods, living with a lighter footprint on the planet. In so doing, we may also find that we contribute to reducing the violence in our world.



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