By Reza Fiyouzat
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Jun 30, 2008, 00:18
There are many problems, of the conceptual and political
kind, with the explanations by the proponents of the idea that the current oil
prices and the ongoing wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan are the direct
results of having reached a peak in the worldwide oil production. In what
follows, I will list five fundamental shortcomings of Peak Oil explanations.
1. Racist thinking:
Here is a challenge for all American environmentalists: Find
any utterance made by any environmentalist in the U.S. that falls to the left
of the following quote from an
article by the certified right-winger, Charles Krauthammer:
"Forbidding drilling [in the Arctic refuge] does not prevent despoliation.
It merely exports it. The crude oil
we're not getting from the Arctic we import instead from places like the Niger
Delta, where millions live and where the resulting pollution and oil spillages
poison the lives of many of the world's most abysmally poor" (emphasis
A very kind and well-informed person provided me an insight
regarding the difference between the 'profitability of extraction' as opposed to
the 'required energy needed for extraction'. It was pointed out that
profitability of oil extraction should not be the key consideration. Instead,
the most important consideration should be how much energy is put into the
extraction process v. the amount of usable energy dug up (in the form of oil).
Fair and well. And I would add that the amount of energy input required to get
the oil must also include the 'cost' of basic human life.
Myriad forms of socio-historically necessary labor-hours go
into creating the material conditions in which to exploit the energy hidden in
a natural resource (say, oil). If we only look at a tiny slice of this huge
spectrum of energy-types spent over many decades and even entire centuries --
i.e. if, out of a miles-long chain, we only look at a few chain-links
pertaining to the drilling/extraction/distribution -- then of course we end up
with a limited understanding of the larger chain of events.
For example, consider how long (i.e., how many human labor
hours) it takes to build a school. If it takes a crew of 100 people one year to
finish this school, that's 200,000 human hours (assuming work week is 40 hours,
and work year 50 weeks). Now, consider how many different types of expertise go
into building such a school. Now add to that the many millions of human hours
spent on raising (feeding, housing, healthcare) and educating this 100-person
Then, enlarge the picture: think building roads, bridges,
factories, other needed buildings, stores, farms, sewage systems, houses,
universities, hospitals, theaters, concert halls, sports facilities and
stadiums. And then what about training and professionally nurturing the
teachers, doctors and nurses, carpenters, plumbers, factory workers,
shopkeepers, engineers, writers and journalists, trade unionists, film makers,
painters, poets? How many billions and billions of human-hours does it take to
build a city, a working government?
Now answer this: Do all the billions of hours of
materialized human labor that have historically been destroyed by Westerners in
the Middle East enter the equations telling us how many energy units are
needed, under the current market conditions, to produce the equivalent of one
BTU (British Thermal Unit) of energy?
The fact that mainstream publications screaming about peak
oil (when talking about the 'cost' of oil) never take into account the
obliterated billions of human labor-hours spent developing the societies in the
Middle East is proof enough of the racist thinking common among the western
powers and their media. [That some leftists
get starry-eyed by the unscientific numbers presented by Peak Oilers says more
about the sorry state of affairs in the so-called American Left, than it says
about the persuasive powers of the 'explanations' presented.]
We can find it justifiable to exclude human lives and the
'cost' of their socio-historical accumulations, and instead concentrate only on
technical side of capital's operational costs exclusively connected to
extraction/packaging/distribution, if and
only if other peoples' lives have no value.
When discussing human-created problems -- particularly
pertaining to exploiting natural resources through socially organized
activities -- any proposed 'cost analysis' that excludes historically
accumulated human social labor is not an a scientific explanation. Further,
such a perspective is racist since the only human life worth its consideration,
implicit in its tenets, is the ethnocentric, western self.
Just the amount spent on the destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan is in the trillions of dollars.
How many tens of trillions of dollars worth of human creation has this war
actually destroyed? Do these destructions enter American environmentalists'
2. Warning sign is
all they are; panic is all they breed:
In a global social system run by imperialistic capitalism,
the key factor is profitability, and nothing else. For those who wish to
maximize their profits, panic may be induced regarding the slower rates of
discoveries of easy oil; not 'peak'
Peak Oil hysteria -- and it is hysteria, since it comes with
no realistically thought out solution plans -- in this context, only feeds the
ideological ruling paradigms, which translate the supposed shortages into a
need for more severe wars of possession for natural resources. This is so,
because in the metropolises of the world capitalist system, it is only the
right wing that wields real power, and right wing solutions are the only ones
with buyers. (Which incidentally is exactly why the Democrats must remain very right wing if they want to
find any buyers for their ideas.)
In the context of the really existing capitalism, Peak
Oilers are therefore basically a warning sign, which has been flashing on and
off since the 1970s, and still decked in the same 70s accompaniments:
intensification of the oppression of the Palestinian Arabs; high oil prices;
high inflation; and a rising trend toward higher unemployment rates.
Peak Oil's flashing sign is old, certain wires hanging loose
disconnected, at times zapping itself; consequently, it needs artificially
enhanced energy. The current war, like a lovely dose of Viagra, has given its
arguments excessive blood and vigor. Just as heart-throbbing the effects are of
the elixir of manhood, hold on to your hats boys and girls, for you'll be
hearing the siren songs to the tune of the equivalent of a 6-hour hard-on: very
excited and energetic commentary-pronouncements running on feverishly for a
long time, warning of how fucked up the situation's gonna get, then, WAM, heart
attack! On the background wall to the stage on which this stupidity performs,
the sign flashing: Tank Half Empty! Tank Half Empty! (Brain Half Dead!)
Peak Oilers are very much like the local evening news: A
house/office building/mountain burned down; shootings at a high school, in
neighborhood X, mostly poor, police say the gunmen are still at large, motive
unknown; 53 arrested after police broke up a high school brawl involving 300
students, reasons unclear; man/woman/child killed, police interviewed the
neighbors, motive unknown; local convenience store held up, the cashier
unharmed/was gunned down, police have no explanations.
Now, we know that even in the worst locations on earth
(except war zones) those fires, shootings, school fights due to hanging nooses,
teachers and priests having sex with students/believers, and all the millions
of miles of footage on this or that celebrity seen locally (or anywhere) were
obviously not the only things happening within the local universe in the
24-hour interval between last night and tonight. Some selection has clearly
taken place, which is of course what 'news' organizations do to prepare their
programs. This carefully produced selection, when repeated daily and over the
decades, keeps the public on edge on two levels: envious of the rich and the
famous and, more so and more importantly, scared and insecure about their own
lives. And that, not information
sharing, is the rhetorical agenda of 'news organizations': Danger creeps around
every corner! Put your trust in the authorities! State violence is your only
Peak Oil serves exactly the same rhetorical purpose in a
more nuanced way, with regard to the 'energy crisis': it keeps people revved up
and on edge about the coming doom regarding oil and 'our way of life'. And who
to trust to solve the problem? Since Peak Oilers don't say, the actually
existing answer is provided happily by, who else, the western corporations, the
global 'free market' and the first world governments.
disappearance of American oil:
Since this has been dealt with to some degree in a previous article,
the actual estimates for how much oil (in different forms) is available in the
U.S. are presented for the reader in two documents that were prepared for the
U.S. Congress (see here,
These two documents make it clear that the U.S., including its outer
continental shelf, contains, just in terms of crude oil, about 115 billion
barrels of crude oil (not 21 billion,
as is widely circulated in the mainstream media). Additionally, the U.S. also
has a huge reserve of oil shale, from which at least tens of billions more
barrels of oil can be had.
Further, as has been thoroughly explained by William Engdahl
60 percent of the current price of oil is caused by the futures traders in this
commodity, and has nothing to do with supply shortages. In fact, there is too
much supply for the actually existing capacity of refineries to refine the
available oil fast enough!
So, 'shortages' have nothing to do with the oil prices, and
there is plenty of American oil still
available for American users. So Peak Oilers must be experiencing a severe case
of 'Thou panicketh too much!'
disappearance of American culpability:
Since Peak Oilers work with capitalist vocabulary, their
solutions will never have anything to do with a fundamental reconceptualization
of property rights, and no form of socialization of natural resources will
enter their platforms.
Their remedies are limited to suggestions regarding
consumption patterns purely. So, let us take them seriously, and consider the
consequences of their recommendations for change of consumption patterns.
According to Wikipedia, "Energy
demand is distributed amongst four broad sectors: transportation,
residential, commercial, and industrial. The sector that generally sees the
highest annual growth in petroleum demand is transportation, in the form of new
demand for personal-use vehicles powered by internal combustion engines. [ . .
. ] This sector also has the highest consumption rates, accounting for
approximately 68.9% of the oil used in the United States in 2006."
Let us now praise and appraise the big, blue and purple
elephant sitting in front of the TVs of all Americans still in their homes: the
North American urban planning.
Apart from New York City, Boston, Chicago, Detroit,
Philadelphia, San Francisco, Portland (OR) and Seattle and a few other
metropolitan centers, which together comprise a small percentage of the land
mass of the country, in all the rest of the U.S. you pretty much must have a car to get around; or else
it takes you about three times as much (if at all) to do anything. A large
percentage own two cars per family.
This is because of the city planning, which imposes such
conditions that you cannot simply walk
or take a bus to school, or to work, or to the grocery store; or walk to the
drug store, the cobbler (seen any of those around lately?), or to buy a
newspaper, a pack of cigarettes, a loaf of bread, some eggs, some cookies. No.
You must drive! You must start up an internal
combustion engine, and burn up thousands upon thousands of additional
calorie-equivalents of energy unnecessarily spent for doing tasks that can be
done far more efficiently, in the same amount of time; like they're done in
about all the other countries in the world.
So, what do Peak Oilers suggest we do about this very
fundamental, and very large, part of the American
demand side of the 'oil crisis'? Nothing short of a social revolution can solve
this specifically American problem. Are the Peak Oilers advocating a new American
revolution and preparing for it? That would be the politico-logical thing to
5. The real cause of
the U.S. direct military attacks:
Peak Oil explanations, having done their job of delivering
baseless warnings, stop way short of seeing the historical evidence in any
meaningful manner. For example, they either do not want to account for since
they just cannot, or see no significance in the fact that ever since the
beginning of the last century, Middle Eastern societies have been under attack
because of their large quantities of oil. This oil had been secured and readily
available at handsome profits to western corporations and their governments
without any need for direct military interventions, until 1990-91. The Peak
Oilers do not draw any conclusions from this fact. Because they have not seen
militaries moved into an area, they assume that no attacks had been launched.
But, they must understand and draw some political conclusions from the fact
that Middle Easterners have for a century
been under western attack for their resources.
Only recently, did direct military interventions in our region become necessary for the U.S.
Other kinds of attacks have been launched numerous times and periodically. The
amount of remaining/existing oil has made no difference in the strategic
designs of the western imperialists when it has come to securing their
'interests' in our region.
So, it is clear to most people in the Middle East that the
supposed peak in the 'Peak Oil' has nothing to do with the current U.S. military
invasion of the greater Middle East. The invasion has had something
tangentially to do with oil per se,
as this commodity has for a century
had something to do with how westerners have approached us.
The real reason Saddam Hussein had to go has far more to do
with the fact that he stopped being a stooge and was acting too independently,
and challenging the set-up favored by the U.S. and Israel. The real
political-economic causes in this case were more political than purely
Unlike the German and Japanese imperialists, whose
post-World War II interventions into Third World countries have been through
economic levers, the U.S. is a world imperialist power that historically has as
often projected power through 'civil' means (corporations and financial
institutions) as through state violence (coups, bilateral security agreements
previously, and now open military interventions). For this type of imperialism,
local or regional powers willing to and capable of acting independently and
wielding power are not desirable, unless (as with Israel) such a local power is
in a fundamental fashion (existentially?) dependent on Washington's patronage.
Once Saddam Hussein practiced his right (common among
thieves) to claim a larger take, the U.S. had to step in, to teach the uppity
Ay-rab (and others by extension) a lesson. A tiny little, 'backwards', third
world nation that people educated in the U.S. cannot even spot on a map, not
only gives the finger to Uncle Sam but slaps him in the face, too! Uncle Sam did
not have a choice; but in that very act of showing that Uncle Sam did not have
a choice, he also proved his relative (and fast increasing) impotence in the
new 'world order'.
The military invasions of the greater Middle East have
everything to do with a quick-you-missed-it's-dead hegemonic structure that was
set up after World War II. In that structure, the U.S. could simply tug at some
economic strings here and there, call in an ambassador or minister or two, pull
off some custom made precision covert actions, and the local regimes would
either dance accordingly or change (their behavior, or physically) as desired.
The fact that the U.S. now has to
intervene militarily is proof that the old system has vanished, and the U.S. is
in a scramble to make something, strategically, out of the chaos of its own
making. But, in this scramble, there are far more unknowns than there are known
factors! Which is why people in the Middle East can and will defeat the
The Arabs, I believe, will
free themselves of imperialism in the long run; as will everybody else. The
Middle Eastern cultures run thousands of years deep. Nothing can destroy this.
I have no doubt that the Americans, too, just like the Persians, the Romans,
the Mongols, and the Turks, will eventually have to creep back to where they
came from, and in their case to face their true selves: neurosis-filled,
self-indulged. And maybe, just maybe, when they do face themselves as
societies, they can figure out a thing or two about how to enhance the human
species not corrupt and destroy it. The only problem is that until then, there
will be lots of nastiness going around since the American imperialists, like
the Mongols, just can't create anything other than total destruction.
Fiyouzat can be reached at email@example.com.
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