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Good read: Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil, by Peter Maass

Peak oil doesn't get near the press that climate change does. I'm not sure why. Perhaps they haven't found their celeb spokesperson yet? But to me, the problems amount to a global catch-22. Which comes first: do we fry ourselves by burning too many fossil fuels; or does our complex globalized and 'civilized' society fall apart because we run out of the cheap oil that fuels it?

As I've written, Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil, by Peter Maass is a fantastic read. I first came to environmentalism after learning about peak oil. While my intro book on the subject, The Long Emergency, was eye-opening, the book has been criticized for the author's ranting on the evils of suburbia and car culture, and ends with dire predictions about what life will be like post peak oil. I've often hesitated to recommend that book to anyone despite having appreciated it. The same author also wrote a novel called World Made by Hand, that paints life post peak oil in a more hopeful, back-to-basics light. If you're into dystopian stuff, it's worth a read.

Maass, a New York TImes Magazine writer, sets an entirely different tone in Crude World. His examination of the oil industry is so grounded, well researched and thorough in it's examination of the effect oil has on our world. Its compelling story unfolds through narratives that take you to some of the far resource-rich corners of the earth: Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Equatorial Guinea, Russia, Nigeria and Equador, among others. And let's us meet the varied players of the oil world: soldiers fighting for freedom and mineral rights, rich OPEC officials, 'have-not' jihadists, greedy oil execs, peakists, Russian billionaires, bankers, royalty, CEOs, lawyers, and environmental activists. He shows us the bounty that oil provides the few and usually corrupt, and the devastation its mining creates in the land, and for the livelihood of indigenous peoples.
"Ironically, oil's impact can be harshest on the communities where it is located. Instead of becoming rich and moving to mansions in fancy towns, as the fictional Clampett family did in the 1960s sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies, the people of the Niger Delta became poorer, watching as their land and water became polluted by an industry they did not own, had no control over and derived almost no income from. In the delta, once a vibrant marine habitat, fish died off and crops wilted. There was little compensation."
In many countries, having oil is called the 'resource curse.' I had no idea that an industry of such worldwide importance would create so few local jobs, yet at the same time destroy the industry that had sustained the country prior to the discovery of oil. In the typical scenario, big oil swoops in and cuts a deal with the host country to do most of building and managing of the oil extraction and refinery, and importing whole foreign communities to do that work:
"A core feature of the resource curse, as we've seen, is that although the oil industry dominates an economy, it creates few jobs. High-tech refineries can cost billions of dollars to construct, but once they're up and running, perhaps a few hundred workers are needed to monitor them."
Coming back to the twin problems of global warming and peak oil, their solutions go hand in hand (conservation, alternative energy, enforcing existing laws, etc.). Yet the will of the big oil players is to defend the status quo, and deny peak oil as deftly as the global warming deniers:
"Two things can ruin Saudi aspirations for another fifty years of financial windfalls. Global warming has fomented worldwide efforts to discourage the use of fossil fuels and develop alternative forms of energy. For Saudis, this is akin to turning their gold into dust. But it is not just a warming planet that is scaring away their customers. Rising prices drive them away too. The more oil costs, the more incentive consumers have to use less of it -- and that explains why Americans, when the price of a gallon reached $4, finally began to cut back on their driving. The last thing Saudi Arabia wants is for its clients to conclude that they must find other energy sources because oil is running out and prices for it will only get higher."
I'm not sure if I did this compelling book justice. While reading, I book-marked at least a page in every chapter where I found a quote I'm dying to share! Crude oil touches every life on this planet, and we owe it to ourselves to better understand what Maass calls our 'addiction to oil.' Please read this essential book.


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