What’s wrong with Oil?

Obviously there is nothing intrinsically wrong with petroleum (crude oil); it’s what we choose to do with it that is wrong. This is easy to say, but is proving very hard to act upon. I think I touched on the reason in one of my first posts on this blog back in August, when I suggested that the failure of the European Union to stop importing Syrian crude oil showed that we are far too dependent upon it. But that too is very easy to say; and not so easy to do anything about. As the old saying goes, “where there’s a will, there’s a way“. Therefore, it must be the will to solve the problem that is missing. If so, the interesting question becomes is it the political will or business will that is missing? When I am feeling generous, I may concede that the majority of politicians are not power-hungry selfish people; they enter pubic service because they are convinced they can make the world a better place (at least I would like to think that is the case). I can’t see that they do it for the money (unless they live in Singapore); and I don’t think they do it out of a desire to be famous. However, I am not able to be so generous about the big names in the business world: With the exception of the great philanthropists of this world such as Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, business people are generally in business for one thing – to make money. This is where the problem lies. I accept that finding, extracting, refining, and selling fossil fuels is big business but, so is growing opium poppies! Worldwide fossil fuel use is a legalised form of drug abuse; and most of us are hooked. Seen in this light, the oil companies are no better than drugs cartels selling a product nearly everyone has become dependent upon in order to make their life more bearable (or so we have been made to believe). However, what these fossil fuel drug barons desperately do not want us all to realise is that, no matter how unpleasant going “cold turkey” might be, we would be so much better off if we could kick our filthy habit. Unless we stop it, continued burning fossil fuels will almost certainly bring about the eventual extinction of all life on Earth. However, just as tobacco executives knew for decades that their product was killing their customers, I believe that the leaders of Fossil Fuel Lobby accept this scientific prognosis for the planet but do not care about abstract concepts such as the environment or the rights of those as yet unborn because they are living purely for today. This is because making money is all that matters to them. After all, as Keynes said, “in the long run we are all dead…” This is money fetishism allied with utilitarianism; and it matters not to them that Keynes would probably have been horrified that his words could be used to justify such a selfish hedonistic business strategy. Nevertheless, this willful pursuit of unsustainable development, which Herman E Daly once famously described as treating the Earth as if it were a business in liquidation can only be explained by one thing – greed. Unfortunately, as any Occupy Wall Street protestor will tell you, the fictional Gordon Gekko could not have been more wrong, greed is not good. Greed is the ultimate problem. The rest, as they say, is history. For all of the above reasons, we need to do what Greenpeace suggest – and Go Beyond Oil.

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About Rick Altman

Possibly just another 'Climate Cassandra' crying 'Wolf' in cyberspace. However, the moral of the old children's story is that the Wolf eventually turned up!
This entry was posted in Climate Science, Consumerism, Ecological Modernisation, Economics, Energy Crisis, Environment, Ethics, Fossil Fuels, Greenpeace, Modernity, Money Fetishism, Philosophy, Politics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to What’s wrong with Oil?

  1. Donald says:

    I can’t say much about transportation, but when it comes to producing energy through the burning of fossil fuels … it is no longer required, if it is still happening it can only be because of greed. http://www.coastalwatch.com/news/article.aspx?articleId=279&cateId=3&title=Port%20Kembla%20wave%20power&display=0

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  2. Donald says:

    One more thing … I think what we all need to do now is to continue picking on the bad points of fossil fuel burning while “at the same time” offering new ways to generate electrical power.

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  3. Donald says:

    Here is a link for the company, Rick. they have the solution for at least 50% of our problems yet continue to be ignored by major companies who should be sponsoring them; poor blokes are at the end of their wit knowing what they have yet unable to do more. http://www.oceanlinx.com/

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  4. Rick_Altman says:

    Thanks for all of these comments, Donald. Finally, tomorrow, I will tackle the more-obvious alternatives. I wrote it earlier this week (before Climategate II – The Squeakwell opened at a Russian cinema), I hope you like it!

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  5. pendantry says:

    Great quote: “I accept that finding, extracting, refining, and selling fossil fuels is big business but, so is growing opium poppies!” I must remember that, the next time a free market fanatic tries to persuade me that pollution is simply a cost of doing business (an externalised cost, naturally, otherwise the cost would — surprise, surprise — be too great to make the activity profitable in the first place…). I do have a problem with your beginning sentence: “Obviously there is nothing intrinsically wrong with petroleum (crude oil); it’s what we choose to do with it that is wrong.” The way that people read things, this will be understood by many as simply “Obviously there is nothing intrinsically wrong with petroleum” — ie without the caveat you’ve appended. The truth is that while there is ‘nothing wrong’ with petroleum that is safely locked underground, and allowed to remain there, there is plenty intrinsically wrong with the petroleum that is, by our actions, allowed to escape into the environment and pollute it in the form of oil spills, toxic waste from processing (and ‘normal’ use!), and in other forms (see for instance the five gyres). The eskimos have how many words to describe snow? We wouldn’t even have a word for ‘oil’ had we never dug it up…

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    • jpgreenword says:

      I liked that quote too! Whenever I hear a member of the Canadian Federal Government talk about the Alberta Tar Sands and it’s importance to the economy, I think along the same lines… And this idea that something is good for the economy, therefore we must keep doing it, drives me nuts. It’s as though there is no other way for Canada (or any other country who’s economy is “lubricated” by fossil fuels) to have a prosperous economy. How narrow-minded.

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