Nov. 3, 2019

Money does more than talk

The politics of oil emerged in the 20th century as one of the most critical dimensions shaping domestic and global life. Oil is a commodity that has proven central in affecting issues of global poverty and economic growth, war and peace, terrorism, democracy, global power politics, global climate change, the rise of new great powers, and the decline of actors that used or pursued oil unintelligently. All of these dimensions constitute the politics of oil, a commodity that, perhaps like no other, has shaped global life and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future.

Oil is Power! I don’t just mean power as in energy for electricity and transportation, I mean power, as in being a primary factor in the process of asserting and maintaining political dominance and control. Oil is needed to grow food, build infrastructure, advance technology, manufacture goods and transport them to market. It lubricates the mechanisms of both national and international politics. Those who can consistently get their hands on the most oil, at the best prices … will rule!

So there is no surprise just how much international, geo-political concern and conflict arise regarding oil and the companies that supply it around the globe. Over the years we’ve witnessed numerous rows being raised on the international scene, some merely escalating into confrontations quelled by “quid pro quo” agreements while others have led to boycotts, United Nations censures and in some cases invasions and all out wars! Let's be real about our interference in the middle east. 

Many of the most prosperous countries also tend to be those countries who have made arrangements to consistently receive large supplies of life giving oil, at reasonably low oil prices, for an extended period of time. These entities that HAVE quite naturally don’t want to go without and will often be willing to use whatever political might they find necessary to protect their position of prominence.

Here in American, the political influence of oil companies is insidious. For example, over $350 million was spent by big oil, gas and coal by over 800 lobbyists in the 113 Congress. In return, over $41 billion was given to these companies in subsidies. 

It would seem obvious that one of the most profitable industries on the planet does not still need subsides designed to benefit emerging companies. However, with the influence of money as we’ve described, rational fixes will not be forthcoming. And this same kind of corruption due to the deep pockets of the petrochemical industry, is even more insidious in small countries. A few benefit greatly from the oil money, but the people deal with environmental degradation and poverty.

Small countries that have oil resources are vulnerable to the influence of the politics of oil. The countries that appear most immediately vulnerable to internal instability are Venezuela, Ecuador, Nigeria, Brazil and the Central Asian producers like Azerbaijan.

From the very beginning of modern environmental protection in the United States, the oil and gas industry has been able to circumvent or weaken the laws and regulations intended to protect our natural resources and public health. The legacy of oil and gas influence on environmental laws is corrosive, even impacting our landmark protections. In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). But the final law contains curious language in Section 1421 (b)(2). The section effectively states that any regulations developed as a result of the act intended to protect groundwater from contamination must not “interfere with or impede” oil and gas activities. Oil is considered to be more important than water. This is obvious by the priority on pipelines that do not benefit our people or even our nation. They are built to export.

One particularly egregious subsidy is the allowance to deduct the cost paid for pollution cleanup on corporate taxes. This worst-practice scenario encourages risky environmental operations while shifting the pollution burden onto the public.

The oil industry is also responsible for disseminating the majority of misinformation regarding climate change. But the corruptive influence of petroleum has always been thus, since the very beginnings with Rockefeller and Standard Oil. He flourished in the lack of regulation of those times and the oil companies today are still flourishing, beyond flourishing because this industry is sucking the life out of our economy, our environment and our democratic process.

I’m not saying that using petroleum products is a terrible thing, it is actually almost impossible to avoid the industry in any developed nation. It is so entrenched in our lives, heat for the home, and gas for the car, plastic in so many products. But the uber rich corporate leaders have a stranglehold on our politics and therefore our policies. This is why I have come to think that we live in an oligarchy, ruled by big oil/corporate money. Congress and even the judiciary (Citizens United) no long work for the common citizen.

Big oil is also influencing regulations on sustainable energy to slow it down. They cannot figure out how to centralize sustainable energy because it is best done locally. They can’t figure out how to squeeze profits from the sun and the wind. They need our dependence on fuel. So moving toward sustainable energy is the way toward ending the stranglehold the oil companies have on our world, our politics, our economy, our air, our water, climate change and our future.