Earth Hour Hellas

GIVING OUR POWER AWAY

Giving our power away by Jair Robles

July 1, 2008

Πηγή: SuperConsciousness Magazine

The price of our lifestyles has caught up with us. Escalating consumption of fossil fuels has led to the environmental havoc created by global warming. Recent ecological disasters, combined with a steep rise in fuel prices, have caught the world’s attention and are forcing us, maybe for the first time, to seriously question how we became so absolutely dependent on oil and who is responsible.

The media reports that high fuel prices are caused by the instability in the Middle East, the war in Iraq and terrorist attacks at oil facilities around the world. Some credit the rapid development of countries like China and India with making the demand for oil grow faster than the current ability to produce it. Governments are often blamed, especially the current US administration, when policies favor industry, making it harder for alternative sources of fuel to be competitive in the market.

Despite evidence supporting these views, we’re overlooking a key cause of our current situation: rarely do we bring the responsibility back to ourselves. We have become complacent towards our dependence on fossil fuels and the oil based products so prevalent in our everyday lives. How did we arrive here and what can we do to regain the power that drives our lives? The first steps are being informed, understanding what is really at stake and most of all accepting our own responsibility in having created this.

Let’s start with the history of how we got here. Since the beginning, humanity has always endeavored to find methods to facilitate our survival and better means to control our environment. Agriculture and animal herding and domestication were the first two advances that created significant advantages for early civilizations. As more food was systematically produced, more people could survive and more animals were fed. At the time, these were the two main sources of the energy used for labor. This was how most civilizations developed and grew throughout the world.

But even then, it was evident that we would comply with the abuse of power and destruction of others if that would allow us to improve our lifestyles and increase our capacity to produce more. As an example, until the last century, slavery was generally accepted and used as a source of energy for labor.

With the Industrial Revolution and all the technology that has been invented since, the steam engine, electricity and the internal combustion engine, the need for animals and humans to be the main source of energy was displaced by an increasing reliance on natural resources, primarily fossil fuels like carbon and oil. These new inventions exponentially increased the need for raw materials to produce all kinds of objects that have made their way into houses and workplaces, making our lives more convenient and comfortable. They also have allowed us to travel around the world in ways that only a century ago most people couldn’t even imagine. Yet there is always an engine or machine somewhere, consuming some kind of fuel to create the energy that makes all this possible. We have overlooked the growing dependency on those corporations, be they private or public, domestic or international, that have the rights and technology to extract and produce the fuels necessary to support our current lifestyle.

Such dependency has created not only some of the greatest fortunes in the world but also the largest corporations in the New York Stock Exchange. It has also allowed some of the most authoritarian regimes in existence to maintain power and increase their control. This is the reality in which we are immersed today.

With rapid development occurring in countries like China and India, which together account for two-thirds of the world population, the demand for energy is increasing faster than the ability to produce it. There is also a debate about whether oil production has reached its peak. Therefore, economics are not on our side if we think that we, as consumers, can force the price of fossil fuel energy to go down, especially when our options for alternative sources are scarce and inefficient. This situation is affecting the standard of living of people worldwide. Some of the largest economies in the world are entering a recession, while energy-producing corporations are gaining record earnings each quarter. More than ever, we can perceive how unjust and uneven this system is.

The development of new technologies and infrastructure to replace fossil fuels, primarily oil, as our main source of energy requires the decisive involvement of governmental institutions to implement policies that will accelerate their development. Unfortunately, the political picture is not much better than the economic one. We have been dependent on fossil fuels for so long that the special interests of corporations are deeply imbedded within our political systems. It has become practically impossible to distinguish between our government officials and industry CEO’s, since they have become almost interchangeable.

Some of the most prominent examples come from countries under supposedly different political systems. Within the current U.S. administration, the participation of the Bush family in the oil business is no secret. Vice-President Dick Cheney came into office after leaving his position as CEO of Halliburton, the largest contractor of services to the oil industry and also of the US forces in Iraq. Before coming to office, the new Russian President Dimitri A. Medvedev was the CEO of Gazprom, Russia’s largest oil and natural gas producer. Former president Vladimir Putin is now the Prime Minister, while the former Prime Minister is now the new CEO of . . . yes, you guessed it: Gazprom.

In Mexico, oil production is run by a state company and President Felipe Calderon was the head of the energy ministry during the last administration. His Minister of the Interior was his chief advisor and his family owns one of the largest fuel distribution companies in the country. It is no surprise that Calderon has submitted a proposal to the Mexican Congress that will allow private companies to associate with PEMEX (Mexico’s state oil company) and share the profits of the current oil market.

Around the globe we have given our politicians free reign to suppress human rights in the name of cheap energy. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman refers to the «first law of petropolitics: as the price of oil goes up, the pace of freedom goes down.» He also refers to an organization called Freedom House which tracks trends and elections around the globe. According to Larry Diamond, a Stanford University political scientist, «There are 23 countries in the world that derive at least 60 percent of their exports from oil and gas and not a single one is a real democracy. Russia, Venezuela, Iran and Nigeria are the poster children for this trend.»

With the price of oil rising beyond $120 per barrel, authoritarian governments with large oil and natural gas reserves are redefining geopolitics around the world. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s influence amongst Latin American countries has become increasingly more evident and acts as a counterweight to the influence of the US. Part of Chávez’s popularity stemmed from the Petrocaribe Initiative that Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA, signed last June with thirteen Caribbean and Central American countries. It codified a scheme, dating back to October 2000, which gave the signers up to 15 years to pay for Venezuelan oil with a nominal two percent interest at $20 a barrel, one-third less than the prevalent price of $30. The updated scheme enabled the signers to pay only $40 a barrel instead of the market rate that shot up to nearly $70 in October.

On the same front, Russia has taken advantage of its neighboring republics’ dependence on oil and natural gas by threatening to cut off their supply, particularly during the winter. This serves to increasingly recover its dominance in the region and pressure those most loyal to western influence.

Nigeria and Myanmar, both dictatorships, have been getting away with some of the world’s worst violations of human rights while being protected at the United Nations by China and India, who have struck deals with their leaders in order to exploit their energy reserves.

Political leaders all over the world have a mandate to raise living standards and facilitate the economic development of their countries, which are currently heavily dependent on fossil fuels. As Dilip Hiro , a contributor to the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization notes, «Ever since 1932, when American oil companies acquired a stake in the oil resources of Saudi Arabia, Washington’s policies have been geared to securing Middle East oil at the expense of all else – including human rights and democratic regimes.»

If we want a reality check on how much influence the American President has over oil producing countries, even those considered allies of the West, this headline from a May 17, 2008 article in the New York Times will give us a better picture: Bush Rebuffed on Oil Plea in Saudi Arabia. The ensuing article details President Bush’s failed second attempt, via a private visit to King Abdullah’s ranch in Riyadh, to persuade the Saudi government to increase oil production.

As a species we have always been willing to overlook the consequences of our actions and lifestyles as long as we were able to enjoy convenience and comfort. Yet today, they are impossible to ignore. To think that market forces or a new administration and congress are the solution to high fuel prices and global warming is once again to make someone else responsible.

We must ask ourselves some basic questions: are we willing to take responsibility for our complicity? Are we willing to change? Certainly creating new technologies that can supply all of our energy needs without harming humanity or the environment is possible. Understanding how we have created this problem is the first step in taking back our power.

Thomas L. Friedman, «The Democratic Recession,» New York Times, May 7, 2008

Dilip Hiro, «The Power of Oil: Scramble for diminishing resource shapes global relationships» YaleGlobal Online, http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/display.article?id6761, retrieved May 13, 2008

Sheryl Gay Stolbert, «Bush Rebuffed on Oil Plea in Saudi Arabia,» New York Times, May 17, 2008

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