I want My Country back from Big Oil

I want my country back. I want back the country of Teddy Roosevelt, who cared about our natural environment. I want back the country of Harry Truman, who wasn’t afraid to give em hell. I don’t want an administration that authorizes offshore drilling to make political deals with the most despicable forces in American society. I know that Big Oil is making billions in untaxed profits that it uses to buy my government so that it can despoil America the beautiful, and I want my country back.

Do you doubt the reality of global climate change, caused by human beings pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere? You are the victim of propaganda and foot-dragging by big oil corporations. Virtually all the peer-reviewed academic articles published on global warming acknowledge carbon-fuelled climate change,, but a majority of press reports quite a scientist on “one side” and another on the “other side.” The “other side” is bought and paid for and lacks a scientific leg to stand on– the equivalent of the “scientists” who denied that smoking causes lung cancer.

Just as Big Oil has attempted to muddy the waters (so to speak) on the dire environmental threat of climate change, so BP actively lobbied the US government against putting in the kind of engineering safeguards that could have forestalled the worst of the present disaster in the Gulf. A whistle-blower now says that more BP drilling platforms are at risk of producing such disasters because the company hasn’t carefully kept the technical information on these platforms that is needed. BP officials are accused of initially lying about the likely impact of the spill and failing to act swiftly to contain the disaster That Drudge and CNN (!) managed to switch the conversation to how fast the White House could respond to BP’s screw-up tells you everything you have to know about corporate propaganda in this country.

The attempts at Gulf oil spill cover-ups track with attempts at climate change cover-up by big Oil. These corporations are not charities, they are not acting in our interest. They are about making money in the short term, and often are willing to take short cuts that are ruinous in the medium to long term. We need to take back our government from them.

As much as 25,000 barrels a day of petroleum is now pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, damaging shrimp and other wildlife beds, ruining beaches, destroying fishing, tourism, livelihoods at a time of 10 percent unemployment over-all. There is a real danger that the slick will get into the Gulf Stream and attack America’s Atlantic beaches, as well.

Why? Because the US transportation system is run wrong. 70 percent of petroleum fuels automobiles. First of all, we should be sending most goods around the country on trains, not trucks. There are all kinds of hidden government subsidies for trucking, including the millions spent every year on rebuilding inter-state highways, which are constantly torn up by those huge trucks. But the trucking industry pays only a fraction of that cost. Train transport of goods is many times more efficient, but because government subsidies are harder to hide in that industry, you always have a lot of yahoos complaining about socialism (and usually they get money from concrete and oil interests). And, we should be subsidizing city subway systems and trying to put residential skyscrapers in the downtowns of cities, in hopes people will move back from the suburbs and live near where they work. Washington DC, which is the world’s worst traffic mess, needs what Vancouver has. (Siting skyscraper condos downtown actually reduced real estate costs for residents).

We need to end the hidden government subsidies for fossil fuels and make sure their true cost, including climate change, is built into them.

Moreover, we should be generating electricity from alternative sources or natural gas (of which we have a lot) and then moving to electric and hybrid automobiles. (Natural gas burns cleaner than petroleum or coal and is probably a necessary bridge fuel to the alternatives). Going to electric vehicles powered by natural gas, wind and solar plants would be cheaper than rebuilding all the gas stations in the country. Coal should be banned altogether and its use made a hanging crime.

And, we should be matching every penny of the cost of the Gulf clean-up with a huge government Manhattan project on solar energy.

The environmental and economic costs of the oil spill are enormous, but they are tiny compared to the costs of actually burning the oil and spilling more masses of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If you’re not alarmed about your future, it is because you have bought the cover-up of climate change, just as Obama bought a cover-up when he believed what he was told about the unlikelihood of oil spills from ocean platforms.

21 Responses

  1. “While Roosevelt hoped for peace among the Great Powers, he did not include “states so backward that a civilized community ought not to enter into an arbitration treaty with them.” (Roosevelt had declared British poet Rudyard Kipling’s call for the US to take up “the white man’s burden” to be “rather poor poetry but good sense from the expansion point of view.”)” wsws.org

  2. great discussion on trucking and commuting – 2 more gas guzzlers – wars and air conditioning (this is hell had an interview last week with stan cox who reports that 75% of the fuel imported into iraq by the US goes to air-conditioning

    and then there is industrial agriculture, especially production of red meat…

  3. You’ve got a reasonable position there professor except for one thing. The problem isn’t really Big Oil or some other imaginary demon. It’s the guy you see in the mirror in the morning when you shave. Him and his neighbors.

    Most of your ideas are good enough if sometimes a bit naive. But you need to understand that fixing the US energy mess is almost certainly a thirty year or more process. It’s a huge problem that requires planning, dedication, thinking and maturity — none of those things being characteristics of modern Americans. In the meantime, you are going to have to learn to tolerate petroleum even while it is phased out over decades, build a lot of nuclear power plants, and even burn a lot of coal. Sorry about that, but it’s the way things are.

    Don’t blame me for this mess. In 1980 I voted for Carter who wanted to address the problem. The majority of my countrymen voted for Reagan who wanted to address the problem with faith based policies.

    One final thought. For the most part, Big Oil doesn’t care where you get your energy from. Whether your car and home run on gasoline, CNG, nuclear, solar, wind, hydro, they are going to make money. Being a lot smarter than Reaganites, they are in the energy business, not just the oil business. You don’t have to like them, but they are the drug dealers and they don’t actually care all that much which potion you prefer or even how much. You and I are the addicts.

    • Interesting criticism, however I have one major point which I’d like to raise with your analysis. While you may (and probably are) be correct that resolving the current energy fiasco in the US is going to take a long time, I can’t help but point out the real world implications of publicly stating that the problem is unresolvable in a much shorter period of time. That point emerges out of an inherent reality of politics – especially in a system such as ours which was designed from the outset to prevent rapid change – thus setting a goal of 30 years to revitalize our Energy system will only result in disappointment as delays occur and the process gets sidetracked.

      Rather, what’s needed is something akin to the massive docket of environmental legislation which was passed in the 1960s to 1970s, a single moment of rapid governmental action which immediately shifts policy in somewhat unrealistic degrees. Why aim for unrealistic goals? Because by shooting for the stars we might just be able to reach the moon. And everyone knows that the moon has a much lower specific gravity then the Earth, making the second step of the journey that much easier.

      Also, one concluding point, if I may. While it’s certainly true that Big Oil doesn’t care how they produce our energy needs, they will certainly want to get all that they can from their existing developed resources and avoid the costs associated with the construction of additional infrastructure for as long as possible. I think what’s more important then anything else in this issue to take away is that just as in the industrial era when it was first assumed that workers would be able to gain sufficient rights by themselves through market forces, yet the evolution of society saw the emergence for the need for government regulations to be put in place to give certain rights to workers; with Big Oil similar steps need to be taken, as our social knowledge evolves about the effects which oil consumption has upon our climate and geopolitics, government forces need to act to both create incentitive to move to cleaner fuels and toooooo……….. F it we’re addicted to oil let’s just admit it.

      Sorry if this seemed like a rant against you or your viewpoints, please take this extensive comment as both a compliment to your comment as well as, of course, professor Cole’s ability to inspire discourse and intelligent thought.

  4. All too true.

    A better global warming comparison was the debate over clorofluorocarbons (Freon refrigerants and spray can propellants) and depletion of the ozone layer and its impact. Industry fought it tooth and nail. Now there is no debate about the reality of ozone depletion and its linkage to skin cancers; the hole is tracked and relatively well understood, and we can see changes and improvements tracking well with scientific models.

    If we moved more of our freight by water and rail, and limited truck and air shipment we would be doing ourselves an enormous favor. I’ve seen studies that place the roadway damage produced by one semitruck fully loaded as equal to that
    of one thousand cars. While trucks pay more in taxes, licenses registrations and other fees than cars, it is nowhere near that – closer to 10x than even 100x the average car. Increasing aviation fuel, gasoline and diesel sales taxes would be the simplest and most rapid way to rationalize our transportation system, but politicians run scared of the voter and industry backlash they think it would provoke.

  5. ref: “That [political pundits] and [corporate media] managed to switch ‘the conversation’ [ = news narrative from OIL] to “how fast the White House could respond to [a Katrina Hurricane-scale debacle in the Gulf of Mexico]” tells you everything you have to know about corporate propaganda in this country.” HehHehHeh ~ and quite an effective bit of diversionary spin this faux-narrative has been, eh? A petroleum consumption culture so pervasive and presumptuous in The States that we begin to see bizarre Op-Eds & Essays such as NYTimes : “But whatever the magnitude of the spill… 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, it is unlikely to seriously impede offshore drilling in the Gulf: The country needs the oil — and the jobs.

  6. Prof. Cole:

    Well said (and I’m a wind weenie if you recall). What you outline can be done if the people want if badly enough to overcome the media and industry propaganda. Such changes are needed to mitigate climate change, too. Coal combustion contributes twice as much carbon to the atmosphere as natural gas, making that a great transition fuel. Can out coal state senators realize this? As Dr. Jim Hansen says, climate change action is a moral imperative.

    Thanks for your thoughts and efforts.


  7. I’m trying to imagine the kind of political change necessary in the US for us to, say, price the environmental and military costs into oil through some kind of tax. I just can’t see it. I can’t see either party proposing, say, an extra dollar or two a gallon of gas to cover the damage–it’s too easy to attack anyone who proposes such a thing, and those attacks actually seem to work pretty well for getting elected. For the same reasons we’re not going to get our budget deficit under control (accepting pain today to avoid possible disaster tomorrow is bad politics), we’re not going to sensibly address global warming (accepting even more pain today to avoid a bigger possible disaster tomorrow).

    In some fundamental way, our political decisionmaking mechanisms are broken. I don’ t know how to fix them; most obvious things we might try would probably make them worse. But there are a lot of issues like this that I just don’t see us tackling.

  8. Ah, nuclear power . . . This technology keeps getting brought up over & because it is ‘carbon-free’ & pollutionless. Except nuclear reactors release xenon, krypton, & argon gases as they operate. Except uranium fuel is formulated with CFCs, & the main plant in the US where this occurs is powered by coal plants(and it leaks the afore-mentioned CFCs.) Except the NRC says that each 20year reactor term will cause 12 cancer deaths (coal causes 30000 per year, & wind none.) Except that build nukes to fight global warming would take too long & cost too much according to Environmental California link to environmentcalifornia.org. I mean, look at the Finns.

  9. The Indigenous want their lands back too. The “Doctrine of Discovery” took them away and is currently being very closely examined by the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. This forum has released its preliminary study (DOC format), which is a very good historical review that would make any professor smile as it expands his/her historical understanding and is adaptible it for use in classes other than US History.

    It appears that Halliburton is at fault for the blow-out:

    “Giant oil-services provider Halliburton may be a primary suspect in the investigation into the oil rig explosion that has devastated the Gulf Coast, the Wall Street Journal reports. Though the investigation into the explosion that sank the Deepwater Horizon site is still in its early stages, drilling experts agree that blame probably lies with flaws in the ‘cementing’ process — that is, plugging holes in the pipeline seal by pumping cement into it from the rig. Halliburton was in charge of cementing for Deepwater Horizon.”

    My analysis of the historical background that has led us to this point in US History exposes the very deep flaws in the 1787 constitution and suggests we will not “get our country back” without its being drastically changed–as much of a change as the 1787 constitution was compared to the first constitution, The Articles of Confederation.

  10. When I served in Vietnam in 1971 I think I saw three air-condtioning units. Two were for the 1/7th Cav’s CO (a colonel) and the XO (a major). They both had trailers brought in so they could be comfortable. I also remember somebody burned down one of the trailers. I still think energy independence is possible in maybe 10 years. What everybody needs to eventually have is at least a hybrid for driving. (Sort of a cash for clunkers.) I hate to say fat chance, though.

  11. Argh. Unclosed html tags or whatever. The addition of a preview function to this blog would be appreciated.

  12. And the place, again, for investigating specific high GG-producing power generating plants around the world is


    (this time I’m not going to muck around with trying to use html tags).

  13. Whenever talking energy the facts of this lecture should always be kept in mind:

    link to youtube.com

    In the desperate scramble for energy resources–and other resources–going into this century, the nations of the world are not going to be nice at all. Alternative energies as they are understood now have no potential to replace fossil fuels. Price is going to affect demand, and the standard of living will go down significantly for everyone in the industrialized nations. That’s how the energy problem is going to solve itself. The diplomatic problems caused by the scramble will probably solve themselves in a much less pretty fashion.

  14. I want my country back from the military industrial complex. I want my country back from both democrats and Republicans – including President Obama – who serve the interests of the military industrial complex. Watching Obama joke about the drone attacks at the Correspondence Dinner made me want my country back.

  15. We knew of this problem 30 years ago. Why should the next 30 years be any different?
    We have seen the enemy…

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