Oil and Racism
It is customary to run into brazenly racist commentary coming out of the U.S. liberals and right-wingers alike, especially when it comes to the question of oil. Besides the occasional surreal headlines about congressional members suing OPEC, it is normal to read headlines urging OPEC member countries to increase production. It is as if we were at a restaurant, trying to get more service. ‘Hey waiter! More drinks over here!’
The more liberal ones, of course, take it to another level. In the context of ‘oil shortages’, when the right wingers assert that more internal exploration/extraction is needed, the inevitable liberal knee-jerk reaction is, ‘Of course not! Leave our wildlife alone!’
Shocking bulletin to Western ‘environmentalists': ‘Oil Producing’ countries too have environments.
As it relates to the issue of oil, there is proliferation of a language and mentality that is racist to the core. The two variations, militarism and capitalistically defined ‘environmentalism’, are espoused by the right and the liberal wings respectively. The line of thinking starts out with something like this: Those damned Ay-rabs (say, Saudis) are holding us hostage (or, insert any other OPEC member the State Dept and media lackeys are bullying that day); and concludes with: So, we must reduce our dependence on foreign oil (with the adjective ‘foreign’ intoning a four-letter word). By all means, do!
But … Hostage to what? Hostage to our needs, hostage to our way of life. That’s about the gist of it. The attitude is as narcissistic as it is racist.
Is There a Shortage?
A component of the liberal racist argument is the quantitative comparisons of proven worldwide oil reserves. In an inverse pissing game, they paint a picture of an abundance of oil those, say, Saudis are ‘sitting on’ (260 billion barrels), compared to the measly sum available underneath the U.S. (a mere 21 billion; weep, weep!). This ’21 billion barrels’ is the figure usually given for the amount of oil available in the U.S.; Wikipedia gives this number, as do numerous mainstream and even some leftist journalists and writers. However, this is an erroneous figure.
According to a report prepared by the Dept of Interior, for the U.S. Congress, dated February 2006, the amount of actually recoverable oil available to the U.S. exploiters is more than five times the ‘official’ 21 billion barrels. "The total endowment of technically recoverable oil and gas on the [U.S. Outer Continental Shelf] is comprised of known resources—i.e., cumulative production, and estimates of remaining proved and unproved reserves and reserves appreciation—plus estimates of undiscovered resources. The estimate of the total hydrocarbon endowment … is 115.4 billion barrels of oil (Bbo) and 633.6 trillion cubic feet of gas," (from the Executive Summary, p. vi-vii, emphasis added).
For comparison, the current proven reserves the Iraqis are ‘sitting on’ is likewise 115 Bbo.
Additionally, according to a 2004 report prepared by the Dept of Energy’s Office of Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves, "The vast extent of U.S. oil shale resources, amounting to more than 2 trillion barrels, has been known for a century. [...] The huge resource base has stimulated several prior commercial attempts to produce oil from oil shale, but these attempts have failed primarily because of the historically modest cost of petroleum with which it competed. With the expected future decline in petroleum production historic market forces are poised to change and this change will improve the economic viability of oil shale," (emphasis added). The market forces clearly are a-changing, so shale oil is no longer such an uneconomic energy source after all.
There are therefore vast amounts of available oil that consumers in the U.S. can start tapping into, thereby cutting their urge to wage wars of possession for energy resources of others. As you see, you do have your own oil, and lots of it, too. Just dig it up!
So, why is all this oil kept underground? As relates to oil, what are the strategic interests of the U.S. ruling classes? The view from the Third World is not complicated. The good singer once sang: God blessed the child who’s got his own. Well, the U.S. ruling classes sure have got their own, but what they really want is to keep their own. And the reason for that is: If the resources of other societies in the periphery are depleted first, the center can continue to hold its central place, strategically. It is really very simple.
Other understated facts:
1) Non-OPEC countries produce 60% of the oil available on the world market. Canada, for example, is the biggest exporter of oil to the U.S. Yet, do you ever read any headlines demanding the Canadians increase their oil production, or threatening to sue Canada for withholding higher levels of oil production and driving up the prices? Not very likely!
2) The real demand for oil has not increased at the same rate (or, in proportional percentages) as the increases in oil prices. Even given the increased demand (due to ‘insatiable appetites’ of the economies of India and China), surely the global gross output of products cannot have jumped by so much as to explain the rate of the increases in oil prices. The world aggregate production is the key, not merely the Chinese and Indian GNP growth. The production sites for specific commodities may have changed locations, hence the increase in demand for oil in some locations, but the world capitalist system as a whole has not increased its production levels by an amount that can explain the rise in energy costs.
3) Most oil companies secure their inventories through long-term contracts, such as five, ten- to thirty-year contracts, and at set prices. This means that the handful of monopolies that control about 70-80% or more of the distribution networks (the key element in control of oil prices) are getting their supplies mostly at prices set ten, twenty or even thirty years ago.
From the above, you can easily guess what shall be concluded: the oil price rises are a classic, right out of the playbook, gigantic scam.
Smile for the cameras, you’ve been had!
But what really and truly tortures millions like me is the racism in not seeing the adverse environmental effects of oil exploration/extraction in Third World countries, particularly in the Middle East.
Since the Americans do have their own oil to the same extent that the Iraqis got their own, why is it that oil companies don’t extract that oil? Environmental laws? Well, again, other people too have environments. You’ve destroyed theirs for about the past one hundred years, why not carefully and selectively disturb some of yours for the next century? Why are environmental concerns deemed so supreme in some habitats, and not relevant at all in other habitats? Do western environmentalists believe that the ‘environment’ stops at their national borders?
The mass media, such as the TV, is a good indicator of how the popular imagination is shaped. As regards reporting on environmental concerns of the lesser peoples, the singular instance of ‘coverage’ of such issues that comes to mind is when the mainstream media in the U.S. was particularly concerned about the effects of the Iraqi oil dumped into the Persian Gulf by Saddam Hussein; showing us what horrible monster Saddam was, dousing those poor birds! (Or, was the real outrage over all the oil not directed into engines?)
Since very little else is reported, we must assume that all the daily drillings and extractions going back a century; the fumes and the poisonous discharge from the wells and from the refineries and petrochemical plants lining the waterways of the Gulf; all the thousands of oil tankers, cargo ships and aircraft carriers — all that activity must be causing a lively proliferation of the most magnificent array of wildlife in the Gulf!
All manner of colonial carving up of our region has taken place over the last century. Vast amounts of wealth have been outright stolen from our societies. Just for one count, in 1901, William D’Arcy, a "millionaire London socialite" (according to Wikipedia), negotiated an oil concession that basically gave him the rights to explore, extract and take out whatever amount of oil he liked, from anywhere in Iran. Not bad. He extracted this ‘concession’ from a hugely corrupt, unpopular and in fact illegitimate absolutist monarch on his way out.
Under the auspices of the said ‘concession’, the British oil giant BP got its start; back then it was called Anglo-Persian Oil Company, and it made the first discovery of vast oil fields in 1908 in Masjed Soleiman, southwest of Iran. For the next forty-some years, this oil company was getting its oil supplies (with only a slight exaggeration) mostly for free. That’s the way you do it, not through ‘free market’! Money for nothing!
[Incidentally, the Iranian government would get itself a world of good publicity internationally and domestically if it stopped pursuing nuclear technology (which only introduces into our people's environment the most noxious toxins, capable of extreme radioactive toxicity for thousands of years, in the best case scenario), and instead pursued an actionable lawsuit against BP for historical reparations.]
So, in lay language, we in the Middle East have been bucked again and again and again, in one form or another, for the past one hundred years. And all that, for what? For oil. And for all those one hundred years, our environments have been subjected to all those nasty damages that make American environmentalists cringe when any mention is made of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Isn’t one hundred years enough?
Here is another angle on the environmental nightmares people in the Middle East are currently subjected to, as a result of the American Way of Life: Uranium-enriched munitions used in the war of aggression against the Afghans and the Iraqis alike.
The U.S. Dept of Justice accused, jailed and tortured Jose Padilla until he went insane, for a probable fleeting thought at which he may have smiled, about possibly it would maybe not be such an evil and insane idea after all, in a hypothetical kind of way of conjuring a fantasy, that maybe if some asshole found a way of letting off a ‘dirty bomb’ … you know … What would it be like?
So, setting off dirty, radioactive bombs (even the thought of it) is very bad, a supreme crime even, right?
Well then, why is it that these same high-ranking authorities, along with thousands of other co-conspirators are in the open and official business of enabling and facilitating the obliteration of Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s environments with hundreds (by now perhaps thousands) of tons of radioactive dust produced through the use of uranium-enriched munitions, the tips of which explode upon impact into millions of highly radioactive and poisonous particles. These highly radioactive uranium dust particles then either remain in the air that people breath, or enter the water they drink, or go into the soil in which food is grown. And the half-life of uranium is four BIOLLION years.
Could it be that Henry Kissinger’s recommendations — regarding the imperialists’ need for the elimination of millions of people in the Third World — are being enacted?
Peak Oil is a scam. When looked at superficially and if one’s outlook is that of the status quo, it sounds logical: when you have a finite resource, and your way of life burns that resource much faster than your way of life can replenish it; and once you get past the halfway point of what remains of that resource, your access to that resources will go into decline. Common sense enough. But, common sense is not always the best sense. In this case, the explanation provided doesn’t even add up to common sense.
Here is the real common sense, which the Peak Oil people pass right over. If, as these good folks tell us, we have already gone through about half of the stuff, then there is still half of it left! The first half took us through one century, so we have about another century to figure something out. OK, maybe less than one century because population has increased, world aggregate production has gone up, etc. But, in the meantime, other energy sources with related technologies are being developed, too. So, why so bleak?
Even this common sense is not a true sense. Peak Oil folks, to base their predictions of the looming doom, are using figures that are simply not correct. The very low estimate of 21 Bbo of available oil in the U.S. is one example. When actual figures are known, we shall see that the protests by the Peak Oilers may have been the smoke and mirrors necessary to actually foment more racism toward the people whose natural resources Uncle Sam is eyeing.
Also important, the Peak Oil people use capitalist vocabulary, while trying to shoehorn quasi-non-capitalist semantics into those bourgeois concepts. If they were to use their vocabulary correctly, they would say the following: The remaining oil is not as easy to get to as was the first half, so it will not be as profitable to dig up as the first half. The resource is there; it’s just not as profitable as before.
Rude bulletin to the Oil companies: Well, mother suckers, you have enjoyed gluttonous, astronomical profits for an entire century, it’s time to settle for a smaller take.
What the Peak Oilers never ask is: for whom is it not profitable to extract the oil? They don’t ask such questions because of where the answer may take them. Extracting oil may not be as profitable as before for those who seek to maximize their profits, but it can remain highly ‘profitable’ for a very long time for those who are concerned with meeting a need.
Another thing Peak Oilers forget about capitalism is that, according to capitalist logic, exactly in such conditions as exist right now in the ‘market’ those who want to maximize their profits actually have an incentive not to extract more oil. If a commodity is precious and rising in value, you can help the value rise further by holding onto your precious goods. It’s called hoarding; as old as capitalism.
Besides these lesser objections, the fundamental question not addressed by Peak Oilers is ownership relations. Maybe there is something fundamentally wrong with the proprietary relationships, especially over natural resources, dictated by the capitalist system.
We need to change our practices fundamentally and look at the concept of ‘resource management’ as one in need of social re-solutions. For example, let’s ask naive questions: Do these privately owned corporations, five or six of which control a majority of the vast worldwide oil resources, actually ‘produce’ the stuff? Of course not! They employ a bunch of available machinery (and in a truly free market, such machinery would be available for rent/lease/etc. to any entity) to drill large, sometimes vertical sometimes diagonal, sometimes short sometimes long holes that reach this resource just sitting there underground, and then to get the oil/gas out of the ground, bottle it up and present it in a form that can be used on a daily basis. Technically speaking, any group of people with the relevant knowledge and the necessary human-and-machine-power should be able to gain access to this oil.
So, the relevant and truly meaningful solutions to the riddle of oil must start out by questioning the legitimacy of private ownership over a natural resource that humans didn’t create; i.e. private property rights over things that came with the planet. If we accept private ownership over a natural resource such as oil, what objection can we raise to the privatization of the air we breathe?
Even assuming that a peak has been reached with regards to oil and we are past the 50% point of what remains, our answer to those who consider the remaining oil as not profitable is simple: by all means please step aside! We propose socializing this natural resource and digging it up ourselves.
The End of the World as We Know It? You Bet!
Here is some added motivation to go in the direction of socializing all natural resources. Some historians have described the big shifts (or quantum leaps) in the successive hegemonic structures of the world capitalist system as characteristically accompanied by particular industries/capitalists taking the lead in shaping each particular era (see, for example, Giovanni Arrighi’s The Long Twentieth Century).
One possible conclusion we can reach concerning the current round of historical events is that those with the greatest economic and political power to shape the next hegemonic structures are the military-oil-finance capitalists, who are unilaterally trying to rearrange the world into something resembling their wet dreams.
The outlines of such a possible future (if unchallenged soon) are already in place: permanent wars for decades; the intensification of the one-sided class warfare worldwide and at home; complete dissolution of civil liberties; extremely heightened levels of incarceration and proliferation of prison camps; increased poverty for increasing portions of the human species; the eventual depletion of most major energy resources of the Third World countries; and by the end of the process, a world fit for the lifestyles of only the wealthiest.
All these elements of a fascistic state must give the working classes a tremendous amount of substance against which to organize. In organizing a counter-offensive, any organization or political activist who wishes to advance the sovereignty of people and workers, must demand the socialization of all natural resources. It is time people realized that capitalism’s answers to questions of resource management have been utter failures on all key counts: socio-economically, politically and environmentally.
As explained above, there is no shortage of oil, and it is not disappearing that fast, and all the frenzy about its disappearance is covering up something more sinister, especially since the people most worried about the depletion of energy resources also have problems with ‘world population trends'; by which they mean there’s too many people in the Third World. Their rhetoric provides smooth winds for the sails of those who want to wage wars of possession over the resources of other peoples.
Henry Kissinger is well known for explaining that a fundamental problem facing imperialist planners in the U.S. is world population, particularly the Third World population. Capitalist world system’s capacity to feed and house does not cover more than an optimal number (which number falls far below the current population levels). As this system ages, it will be even less able to house and feed, and the leaders of the current world system know this too well. They have peered into the future and seen too many pissed off humans, which cannot be a pleasant prospect for the rulers. So, dissolution has become the solution.
For a declining world power with enough arms and weaponry to destroy the world many times over, what better way to remain powerful than to destroy others? One way of destroying is by bombs and bullets; and while you’re at it, use uranium munitions, hence besetting others’ environments with radioactive poisonous material that burns cancers into cells for thousands of years.
Another way to destroy others is sucking up all their resources.
But, just as important, if not more so, is the ‘others’ within: the U.S. ruling class can no longer provide even a modicum of a half decent existence for tens of millions of the citizens under its legal and formal jurisdiction, and the rulers have no intention of doing anything to better people’s lives. Meaning, tens of millions (and counting) of unpleased humans live here at home. And the rulers seem to think that it will get far worse; if the suspension of habeas corpus is any indication.
In U.S. history, the only other time that habeas corpus got suspended was during the Civil War (which, incidentally, means that this time around, it has been suspended for longer than it was during the Civil War!). In this light, it is easy to fancy that for the ruling classes in the U.S., a civil war is already underway. We the People have been ambushed. When will the people fight back? That is the question.
REZA FIYOUZAT can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org