Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Oil: A World in Short Supply

Did you catch Michael Klare's talk on extreme oil? It is part of the Minerva course called " Oil: A World in Short Supply". Below you can get a quick look at some of his ideas. 

On May 11 Michael Klare, Five Colleges Professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College, came to Union to speak about the era of extreme energy, America’s continued reliance on foreign oil, planning green cities, and rethinking what the good life means in society today. His talk was entitled “The Perils of Extreme Oil: Extractive Strategies in the Twilight Era of Petroleum”.

Klare described how the world’s energy demand will rise by 50% in the next twenty-five years with much of the world depending on the oil coming from Saudi Arabia. He talked about the obstacles of relying on other sources of energy such as the mounting evidence of risks with drilling for shale, the growing environmental effects of extracting coal, and the shaky future of nuclear power. More and more energy will come from extreme energy options like the in Arctic, from deep water sources, from politically hostile environments, and from war zones. The United States has increased imports from Canada and Nigeria. This is problematic because the tar sands from Canada are dirty, pollute drinking water, and release more CO2 emissions than oil combustion. Then there is the reliance on Nigerian oil which pollutes the water in the Niger River Delta and promotes military violence. Three wars have resulted from reliance on oil extracted from the Persian Gulf. There will start to be competition for oil in which countries like China are willing to use military power to take control over the resource. There is no way to make oil safe; society must make a major transformation that requires a rethinking of what the good life means. This talk was certainly worthwhile. Klare is a knowledgeable and fiery speaker. 


Oil: A World in Short Supply

The latest speaker in the Minerva course "Oil: A World in Short Supply" was Tariq Ali. Read a summary of his talk below!

On May 16 the writer, filmmaker, political analyst, and historian from London, Tariq Ali spoke at Union about the history of imperialism in the Middle East, how oil creates unpleasant regimes and war, The Great Transformation, and the growing economy and competition from China. His talk was entitled “The Oil Wars and World Politics”.

            Ali talked about the history of the Arab world and how European imperialism divided up the once open world into nation-states. In 1951 there was a democratic revolution in Iran; the people wanted the oil found on their land to be used to develop their country instead of England. The British crushed opposition through torture, repression, and crushing unions until all the educated people fled the country. Ali spoke about The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi; in the 1940s, the author predicted the choices that would be made in the economic world. Polanyi spoke of labor, nature, and money as fictitious commodities created by capital. One must create social states to control the elements of environmental destruction, the use of labor as a commodity, and the production of money to make more money. In today’s economy, one sees the opposite. That is, workers must put up with slave like conditions and societal advances come at the cost of humans and the environment.
Ali says that the single most important development in the 21st century is the fact that the center of the world market has shifted eastwards towards China where commodities are produced cheaply due to poor labor conditions. Cars are selling like crazy in China who is catching up to other developed nations with extraordinary use of fossil fuels. He states that America should reduce dependency on cars and create a high speed rail system like that in Europe; however, this will only change through mass demonstrations and if the citizens are willing to give up their life for the cause. Finally he talks about how Americans think that Muslims don’t want democracy when in fact they are willing to die for it.

            Tariq Ali is a highly intelligent and articulate speaker. He talked about the wars fought over oil in a way that Michael Klare did not; he looked at the bigger picture in the world and from an insider perspective as he is from Pakistan. Ali didn’t state that oil itself as a commodity was the problem; rather, the war fought over oil is the real issue. 


Oil: A World in Short Supply

Did you hear Riki Ott's talk as a part of the lecture series accompanying the Minerva Course "Oil: A World in Short Supply"? Here's a summary of what she said!

On May 4 marine toxicologist Riki Ott, PhD, spoke about the transition from oil as society’s main energy source, the BP oil spill, and how the US government protects profit over democracy. Ott travels the country to speak about the Exxon Valdez and BP oil spills. Her talk was entitled “From Exxon Valdez to BP Disaster: Changing the End Game”.

Ott described how oil dependency is linked to consumerism, commodification, privatization, globalization, and militarization. She believes that society must change its main energy source as well as its lifestyle, culture, and economy. She talked about the similarities between the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and the BP oil spill. The effects of the Exxon spill were much worse than scientists had thought, but the laws haven’t changed since. She discussed how BP saved millions of dollars by spraying a chemical dispersant to hide the magnitude of the spill. Ott described how surprised she was that the BP spill didn’t rally support from the public. She talked about how democracy was hijacked at first by the railroad companies then later the corporations. Corporations don’t have to follow certain laws and are protected by constitutional rights through courts. Finally, she stressed the importance of creating a self-reliant community. 

Riki Ott is very knowledgeable about both the Exxon Valdez and BP oil spills. She is an interesting and energetic speaker. Ott really understands the secondary and tertiary effects of the spills on the environment and the people who make those places their home.