« Drilling Offshore in the Age of Hurricanes | Main | By Protecting Utilities, We Make Communities Vulnerable »

Telling the Truth About Oil, Wind, and Water

With the news these days dominated by Michael Phelps winning Olympic gold medals, John Edwards confessing to marital affairs, and Paris Hilton deciding to run for president, I barely even want to know the details of Russia’s recent invasion of Georgia – its neighbor to the south. Russia isn’t even a super-power anymore, and from what I hear, they’re just acting out some leftover anger from the Cold War days. It’s not like Georgia has any oil, does it?

Well, it turns out that underneath the story we’ve been hearing about Russia’s invasion of Georgia, there’s another story. It’s a story about a couple of oil-thirsty countries – the United States and Great Britain, and their plan to loosen Russia’s grip on the rich oil reserves beneath the Caspian Sea. President Clinton, working with Bechtel, British Petroleum, the World Bank, and others, created a plan to build an oil pipeline connecting the Caspian Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean. The idea was that the 1,100-mile pipeline across Georgia would bypass Russia. Well, Russia wasn’t too happy about that, so we gave Georgia hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid, and promised that we would back them if they ever got into trouble. So, here we are, two years after the pipeline began operating, trying to convince Russia not to bomb it into oblivion.

Somehow, with petroleum, we always seem to tell a story that’s not quite the real story. Like when we set out looking for weapons of mass destruction, and came back with a bunch of no-bid oil development contracts. Or when we claimed that the rise in oil prices was just “speculation”, and never mind the fact that after 100 years of pumping, the world’s oil wells are getting kind of tired.

Our habit of not telling the real story isn’t limited to petroleum – it’s rampant throughout the energy industry. Like when T. Boone Pickens, the legendary oil barren, tells us about his plan for wind power but neglects to mention that the transmission corridors for his power lines are really intended for water pipelines. See, he’s got another plan (one that doesn’t have a website), in which he drains the Ogallala Aquifer and pipes all that water to Dallas and other cities in Texas. I can’t really blame him for not talking about it…nobody would ever approve condemning land and seizing it through eminent domain so that a billionaire can create a monopoly on drinking water!

Typically, when someone repeats a pattern of not telling the real story, it’s a sign of addiction. But even as we admit that we have an addiction, we aren’t being completely honest. We’re not addicted to oil, we’re addicted to all the things that oil lets us do—like, live way out in the suburbs and drive into town whenever we need anything. With oil, we don’t even need to talk to one another. The main thing that petroleum gave us was freedom from the responsibilities of community. In a community, we all agree to provide for one another’s needs. You grow vegetables, I’ll harvest firewood, you weave fabric…oh, to hell with all that…we’ll just get it all from Trader Joe’s.

So here’s my proposal: instead of telling stories about all the great new energy technologies we’re getting, let’s talk about how we are going to implement them in ways that rebuild community, and recreate local self-reliance. If we don’t approach it that way, we run the risk of ending up just as dependent on the same big-moneyed, outside interests that dominate us now – only, it’ll all be powered by solar and wind. Big deal!

The real opportunity of the new energy paradigm is that building it can bring us back together as a community. But for that to happen, we need to build it with local resources, and employ locally owned, independent energy businesses. Then we can proudly tell the real story of how it all happened, instead of making up stories about Paris Hilton running for president.

This commentary aired on KUNM on August 18, 2008. To listen, click here.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.
Member Account Required
You must have a member account on this website in order to post comments. Log in to your account to enable posting.