The oil industry, climate change and poverty

Global warming is a health issue and it is important that we are aware of the activities of the oil industry that maintains our present way of life.

It might be stating the blindingly obvious, but even the doubters now recognise that the underlying reason for the war on Iraq was to secure oil for the United States. The evidence that includes the preparation for this war some years ago, seems overwhelming. How intelligent man can go to war for a resource that is set to destroy us through climate change is bewildering.

I think you would be enlightened by an article in the Guardian Weekly of May 21 by Gary Younge entitled AXLES OF EVIL. It describes the surge of sales of sports utility vehicles (SUVs) in the USA fostered by macho image, individualism and nationalism invoked by the makers. We are told that Arnold Schwartzneger has 5 different models and Mike Tyson has 4! These huge passenger vehicles guzzle 4 times as much petrol as a saloon car.

A battle has broken out between the owners (a powerful lobby ‘SUV owners of America’), manufacturers, government and media personalities on one side and environmentalists on the other, who are worried about global warming but are labelled as envirocrazies by the SUV owners’ lobby. Evangelist Jerry Fallwell denies global warming exists because “God would not let it happen”. This probably reflects the view of the fundamentalist Bush cabinet.

Oil confers personal power in the USA where the oil companies exert enormous influence on government with which they are deeply entwined. Governments everywhere, including our own, listen diligently to these companies for they make huge donations to political parties and because the price stability and availability of petrol are essential to electoral success. It is important therefore to look at the overall contribution of these companies to humanity.

I refer you to a report just published by Christian Aid www.christian-aid.org.uk “FUELLING POVERTY, OIL, WAR AND CORRUPTION. The report reveals how oil wealth has more often than not, lead to greater poverty and a high likelihood of war and corruption, rather than peace, wealth and prosperity in developing countries. Christian Aid is calling for accountability. It may well be that the culture of these companies is no worse than that of many big Australian companies in recent times. However this culture in oil companies can do much greater damage. I commend this report to you; it is 50 pages long but it will give you an insight into a world that is the antithesis of your world of care for individuals. In addressing this scene it is important that we understand the motivations and psychology of the leaders of these companies. This is described in a recent book, Empires of Profit; Commerce Conquest and Corporate Responsibility, published by Texere. The author Daniel Litvin writes from inside—he worked for a multinational resource company.

A crucial recommendation of Christian Aid is the establishment of Foundations into which payments are made by the oil exploration companies. These monies are used for community development under the management of a non-government organisation formed by the local community. Statoil, a Norwegian company, is leading the way by doing this in the region of Nigeria in which they are operating.

However despite the occasional good news story, exploring these issues leaves one with a sense of impotence. What can we do as individuals? Consumers collectively have power. We can review our own use of fossil fuel and that of our practices. We can move to fuel-saving cars if we can afford them. A multitude of non-government organisations and church charities are now pursuing these issues and you can support them. And you have choices at the ballot box. We have to climb a huge mountain if we are to stem climate change but there’s no point sitting at the bottom waiting for a lift.

David Shearman 3.6.03