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by James Cooke
Thursday, Jul. 06, 2006 at 9:16 AM
Among the many shouts of warning from environmentalists about global catastrophes, ‘Peak Oil’ stands out as the newest and most imminent. The issue has gained special acceptance from different sections of the left, who have chosen it as their primary concern – aside from of course, defeating Bush. Peak Oil and other environmental issues, such as global warming, have created important political questions that need to be addressed; the following is an attempt to analyze the different political considerations that arise when one discusses the topic of Peak Oil.
For those who are unaware, Peak Oil is typically defined as follows: the oil supply on earth is of a limited nature; when the supply of oil sinks below the ever-increasing demand, prices will surge, and chaos will ensue. Thus, a good place to begin is by asking: why has the mainstream media and politicians virtually ignored environmental issues, preventing any possible strategy to avert them, and how can this be changed? In asking these questions, ‘green’ radicals have found few answers worthy of optimism, creating the current state of indifference and outrage that is often the result; the activist is thus reduced to concluding, “If there is an inevitable peak-oil crisis, and no one in power is preparing for it, then nothing can be done”. This seems to be the mentality of many of those who have grown to resemble Christian fundamentalists— waiting for the inevitable apocalypse while, in the meantime, contenting themselves with a passive, self-righteous criticism of all things wrong.
How Peak Oil will play out, and what the full consequences will be, are yet unknown. Will the world’s economy suddenly be crushed, with all oil-dependent devices becoming obsolete? Or will a gradual raise in oil prices eventually lead to depression, the result of which will be indefinite? In either scenario, or in the plethora of other predictions that range from less-severe to even more apocalyptic, political solutions are lacking. To those most obsessed with peak oil, the general sentiment appears to be sternly defeatist. This group’s answer to the peak oil question lies somewhere between nuclear warfare preparedness and a wholesale rejection of civilization. The typical adherent to this perspective is an avid reader of Daniel Quinn and Derek Jenson, and limits political discussions to the topics of ‘sustainability’ and ‘buying locally’. Before one falls into the abysmal pessimism that apocalyptic thinking inevitably leads, other approaches to the problem should first be considered
At this point it can be stated with confidence that peak oil is a real phenomenon, but how one defines ‘peak oil’ is itself an important issue. Many point to the increase in gas prices during the last year as verification of the above-mentioned definition. In order for one to accept this particular viewpoint however, ‘supply and demand’ must be viewed from a strictly orthodox perspective; this implies a freely functioning ‘market’, meaning, that the there is a fixed supply of oil that responds ‘naturally’ to the demands of consumers around the world. The mistake in this explanation should be obvious: most of the world’s products do not function in a hypothetical ‘free market’, and especially not oil. Instead, the world’s commerce is at the mercy of import and export taxes, various state-sponsored subsidies, a stock-market induced speculation, war and ‘nation building’, regional monopolies (Exxon) and international cartels (OPEC). In reality, the free-market will be subverted whenever a powerful group desires a rise in profits. Just recently Exxon has announced quarterly profits of 8.4 billion; while their CEO was given a raise any Pharaoh would be envious of— these are significant obstructions to the ‘free market’. However, oil is still a finite resource, and although the above ‘market failures’ create artificially high prices and stifle supply, fixing them will not ultimately solve the larger issue.
In further thinking out the problem, one might ask the following: what various phenomena around the world put the largest, unnecessary strain on oil supplies? A simple brainstorm should make the necessary point: extraordinary military expenditures (tanks, aircraft carriers, f-16’s, etc), irrational transportation systems (a focus on single automobiles as opposed to public transportation), gas-guzzling luxury items (yachts, mansions, SUV’s, motor homes, private jets, etc), the giant manufacturing energy used to meet the often shallow demands of our consumer culture – one could go on. The point is that the above list is only valid within the context of a profit-driven economic system, i.e., capitalism. Warfare is needed to insure markets and raw materials, public transportation was destroyed to increase demand for oil, wasteful luxury items exist only where there are gross inequities in society, and a culture based on vulgar materialism happens to be extremely convenient for corporations.
In short, those fixated on the Peak Oil problem cannot see the economic and political context of the issue. The above phenomena, whether it be cartels or warfare, significantly affects the oil supply of the earth: Peak Oil is not a ‘natural’ event that cannot be planned for, although the above products of our economic system have created and exasperated the problem to the point where it is becoming an imminent danger. However, the problem cannot be solved by those who have caused it. Our leaders continue to represent the interests of those that benefit from the manufacturing of tanks and SUV’s; a world without speculation and profits is unthinkable to them. A political solution to this problem must come from the class of people unconcerned with corporate growth rates, that is, the majority of people in the U.S., not to mention the world.
There are some interested in Peak Oil that see the necessity for a political solution, and unfortunately put their energy into the Green Party. Those who seek salvation this way often argue that ‘an alternative economic system’ is needed, usually based on local production, sustainability, and decentralization, i.e., feudalism. Aside from the fact that such a system has already came into existence and passed away (making it the worst kind of conservatism), such a vision would be devastating to the third-world and beyond, resulting in millions –if not billions— of people starving to death. There are other problems too. The most prominent of these is the simplest: enacting an alternative economic system implies extreme resistance from those who benefit from the current one. The history of capitalism has been the methodical destruction of all independent persons, cultures, and economic systems. Most people advocating a ‘radical green’ perspective usually ignore the inevitable ‘coming to power’ that their ideas imply, since there is no other way to implement their vision; this failure to grasp the obvious makes the Green parties long term goals seem forever out of reach, and will most likely result in the worst kind of reformism, the likes of which we’ve been subjected to already, when ‘pressuring the Democrats’ was used as the Green battle cry during the last two presidential elections. Such political tactics cannot be called revolutionary. They are at best misled, but more realistically they are props for the current order, diverting important outrage into predictable dead-ends.
Yes the Peak Oil problem is both caused and sustained by the profit-system; alternative energies, rational planning, conservation, demilitarization, and any other sound solutions to the problem remain utopian babbling within the framework of capitalism. In the realm of short-term profits, words like sustainability become meaningless; unending economic growth is itself a foundation of capitalism which all environmentalism becomes dwarfed and marginalized: the profit system insures that nature will be exploited without any regard to future generations, livability, or imminent catastrophe.
Luckily, the majority of the earth’s population would support measures that could start to improve environmental conditions quickly. As to avoid high-sounding, ambiguous phrases like “justice” and “equality”, and instead focus on real, practical matters, our solutions should rely on the materials currently available, and what could be done immediately. The quickest way to nullify the profit motive that strangles all forms of progress is the nationalization of all banks, large corporations, transportation, communications, etc. In one stroke, all the conspirators of greed will have been displaced. Destroying the systems motivational impulse and removing from positions of power those who have lived lives in its shadow are necessary first steps towards organizing society with people, and the earth, first in mind.
A rationally planned economy means that problems like Peak Oil, hurricanes, and earthquakes are taken into consideration. For the first time, ideas about sustainable living and conservation could be debated and enacted, rather than the previous custom of being labeled ‘unpractical’, or dropped because of ‘lack of funding’. The phenomena of Peak Oil would not disappear, but instead would seem less dire, since the above oil-vacuums would be liquidated, and oil-wells could be drawn from beyond their ability to reap profit. The remaining oil reserves could be directed to where they could be best utilized, such as feeding the starving, alternative energies, production of oil efficient automobiles, bicycles, etc. Society’s resources could be finally directed towards sustainability, without the worry that such programs will be unprofitable.
The only thing preventing such a vision from occurring is the lack of a political movement; the resources available for such a world are already at hand, and are waiting for the masses to demand there use for practical purposes.
The public of the United States is rightly disillusioned with politics; the two-party system has created a monopoly of democracy, using its corporate might to crush all opposition. When popular discontent mounts, a left-leaning figure emerges that seems to represent popular opinion, only to show his true colors later. This exemplifies the necessity for a political party that has at its foundation, a strict opposition to capitalism, so that not anybody can make vague proclamations for progress and equality while intending to climb aboard the corporate gravy-train.
Without the firmest of political principles, a party is subject to the intrigues of international finance— a ruthless and indefatigable adversary. To insure that a party represents the needs of people— as opposed to business – it needs not only to be principally sound, but to be practically tested. The test is simple: Any policy that favors the elite instead of the masses is a betrayal, pure and simple. A leader who betrayals his constituency must be replaced immediately. The political parties of big business are recognizable by their institutionalized deception and consistent treachery. Behind such coded terms as ‘being practical’ or ‘realistic’, and always stressing the need for ‘compromise’, the interests of the average person is constantly surrendered to the demands of business. A political party is nothing but the organization of a class of people; the working class has currently no representation. No matter how much the Democrats claim that they are the ‘people’s party’, they cannot escape the obvious results of their policies: the working class is being devastated, while a small class of millionaires, and a handful of billionaires are flourishing.
In conclusion, Peak Oil cannot be solved without true democracy, since only the majority of the citizens have an interest in changing the status-quo; in fact, the majority of people have no special interest at all, aside from taking what they themselves have built. The problem is that Democracy, like sustainability, is impossible under the current arrangement. Democracy cannot exist in a country where 45 million live in poverty, while one man has 45 billion dollars.
Democracy cannot exist without Socialism; although hardly a cure all, it is a necessary first step. Since men have entered civilization, it has been under a class-system: a minority of men have benefited from the work of the overwhelming majority. Socialism is the people gaining control of their fate; it is an instinctual force in us that cannot be destroyed by the elite’s economists, philosophers, or historians, who claim that such an idea would be impossible to implement. There is absolutely no reason why man cannot organize the tools at his disposal without the bureaucrats and billionaires collecting their enormous tributes. We have been force fed lies about ‘human nature’, vague notions of the inevitable corruption of ‘authority’, and thousands of other excuses that prohibit the current system from ever changing. The realization of true democracy is perhaps the most difficult thing for humanity to achieve, but has never been as necessary. Although problems will certainly persist under socialism, the blind domination of profits over human relations will cease, and a world unpoisoned by slavery can begin.
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