Oil and Trouble

I remember being startled to read in a science fiction novel that, in its imagined future, oil long since had been abandoned as an energy source because of the unacceptable risks involved with its extraction, transport, and burning.  Just like that.  Too bad such irrefutable logic escapes us still (the book was written in the 70′s), as we watch in horror as the planet is ruined six ways to Sunday by our addiction to oil.  The roots of our current travails are, as Scooter Libby would say, connected underground, and they have nothing to do with simple logic and everything to do with money.  No, Virginia, it isn’t the principle of the thing.

As was visibly and perhaps too inspiringly revealed in the “Beverly Hillbillies,” oil is about the closest thing to instant undeserved wealth our overtaxed earth has yet to produce, and, like waving a twenty dollar bill in a trailer park, it attracts thieves and charlatans like shit attracts flies.  Better yet, the instant riches created a class of welfare queens more demanding than the world has ever known, who’ve spent more than a hundred years manipulating the modern world into absurd, abject dependence on its tainted product.  Cities across the world, but especially in the US, remade themselves to accommodate excessive oil consumption, a thoughtless crime for which history will condemn us, that is if there even is such a thing.

As an energy source, oil is indeed a necessity of modern life; no less damaging or more sustainable replacement of oil for, say, jet fuel, may ever be harnessed.  But using such a precious and finite resource for such a mundane thing as personal transportation, which in itself destroys and impoverishes communities with publicly-funded pavement everywhere, is plain nuts.  As we’re seeing, the relentless and entirely preventable clamor for more oil that has made the most harebrained schemes for its extraction seem not just reasonable but a dire necessity, has put America in a fix any crack whore would be sure to recognize, ruefully.  We’re hitting bottom, in more ways than one.

Since there simply are no more places to get oil that make any sense, we have resorted to waging wars, destroying the biosphere, and generally making asses of ourselves to delay the inevitable for a few more years, while we mindlessly waste oil for such shoddy ephemera as a drive to the outlet mall or a crappy bag that will barely carry our purchases to the parking lot, but nonetheless will eventually form continent-sized messes in the ocean. Governments all over the world, but particularly here, have made such profligate waste a way of life; damn the consequences.

Shortly after 9/11, I decided to move downtown and get rid of my car, once and for all; I couldn’t stand knowing I was helping finance the Bush/Cheney regime with every tank.  It wasn’t all that difficult for me, since I’m a single adult who loathes driving and Portland has great public transit, but for most Americans such a choice is all but impossible, so successful have the oil/automobile industries been in eliminating all alternative forms of travel.  Even here, there are few family-sized apartments and no schools in the easily walkable downtown core, and the costs would be prohibitive if there were; like everywhere else, the older, outlying residential neighborhoods built around transit have long ago had the tracks ripped up, with no realistic attempt to replace them.  In other, more enlightened countries like Switzerland and Spain, heck, even China, massive investments are being made to take freight and personal travel off the highways in favor of high-speed, electrified rail.  Here, we fall asleep to the lullaby of “Drill, Baby Drill” in our cul-de-sacs, all the while spending thousands of dollars a year on our automobile habit, money that could go toward almost anything better, but instead enriches the very interests that made the mess.

Sadly, perhaps only a disaster like the one unfolding in the Gulf has any chance of redirecting us from the cliff we’re about to leap, but here it is.  What will we do with it?


  1. michlib says:

    Indeed, it’s not only our transportation needs, but the array of other modern goods made possible by petroleun – plastics, petrochemicals, many pharmacueticals. Obviously we’ll be living with oil for the forseeable future. The sanest medium term goals should be development of renewable sources for transportation and energy needs, and at the very least a plan b would be nice should accidents happen, as they tend to in the extractive industries. That these operations are not as fail safe as humanly possible speaks volumes about corporate cost cutting and capture of regulatory authorities.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Exactly. We need oil, but we have to be more realistic about its costs and, well, lack of future. If there were anything like a “free market,” it would cost as lot more and we wouldn’t waste it so.

  2. nailheadtom says:

    This jumble of vowels and consonants may very well be the most illogical, incoherent and irrelevant thing that you’ve ever produced. Congratulations on breaking new ground in literary failure.

    “. . .the instant riches created a class of welfare queens more demanding than the world has ever known, who’ve spent more than a hundred years manipulating the modern world into absurd, abject dependence on its tainted product. Cities across the world, but especially in the US, remade themselves to accommodate excessive oil consumption, a thoughtless crime for which history will condemn us, that is if there even is such a thing.”

    Evidently, you feel that the people that find and produce petroleum receive government payment for doing nothing, which would be the ordinary definition of a “welfare queen”. That’s preposterous, of course. Oil companies travel to the farthest reaches of the planet and operate in the most inhospitable conditions and faithfully deliver their product to the consumer. A gallon of gas from the coast of Nigeria costs about the same as a gallon of milk out of a cow just down the road. And that’s bad? The “manipulation of the modern world” is called supplying a product that people want, something that makes personal and commercial transport convenient, economical and safe. And how will “history condemn us”? History already happened. Those in the future might condemn us, though it’s doubtful they’ll give it much thought, but for the commentators of the past, history, they’ve said what they’re going to say. You really do need some remedial education.

    • cocktailhag says:

      “Produce?” You really need to adjust your medications. Oil extraction is nothing but plain robbing from both the past and the future, and to call such theft “faithful” is about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. 40,00 people are killed each year in US automobile accidents… this is “economical and safe?” Sorry, but only someone as addlepated as you would ever find heroism in oil extraction. Have you noticed that in these tough economic times created by your version of utopia, only absurdly well-connected interests like oil, military, and banking types still enjoy outlandish “profits,” while the rest of the world starves?
      I bet you think you could also win at three card monte.

  3. michlib says:

    ” A gallon of gas from the coast of Nigeria costs about the same as a gallon of milk out of a cow just down the road. And that’s bad? “. In a word, yes. What may seem like the magnificent bounty of laissez-faire business practices are in fact cartel driven fantasy figures. That price at the pump comes nowhere near reflecting the military costs incurred in safeguarding the shipping lanes and sources of petroleum. The shotgun diplomatic weddings between the U.S. and the most despotic, backward regimes on earth. The lobbying by oil industry and symbiotically related auto companies for idiotically low fuel standards for auto and truck fuel economy. The human cost to indigenous peoples in Nigeria, Iraq, and, yes, Louisianna.
    The era of cheap oil is over – the sooner we wise up and adjust our consumption patterns and develop sutainable alternatives, the better. Convenient ? Ask those in most transit poor areas about convenience. Economical ? Until Goldman Sachs smacks its lips and wants some ” arbitrage ” capital. Safe ? Air bags were invented in the 70′s, it just took them 15 to 20 years to deploy. And extracting oil and coal still costs lives – only more with our captured regulators since ’80.

  4. nailheadtom says:

    “40,00 people are killed each year in US automobile accidents”

    “Miles driven by U.S. passenger and commercial vehicles for the 12 months ended in October fell to 2.930 trillion from 2.941 trillion in the same period a year earlier.” These figures are supplied by the Federal Highway Administration. What that means, for you who apparently slept through elementary arithmetic if you ever actually attended school, is that for each traffic fatality in the US, a motor vehicle travelled over 6 1/2 BILLION MILES. That’s equivalent to 35 round trips from the Rose Garden to the sun. For each traffic fatality. At 65 miles an hour, if you started on the first day you were eligible for a driver’s license, you’d be 11,431 years old by the time the circuits were completed. No wonder people have to be coerced into wearing seat belts.

  5. mikeinportc says:

    Re Nigerian oil, when the workers tried to strike for better pay & working conditions, our great patriotic oil companies brought in mercenaries to put them in their proper place. (I.e. , as cheap, disposable parts in the profit machine. )

  6. Ché Pasa says:


    The Soviet Union needed electricity like we need oil, and nuclear power was the way of the Future, even if the Chernobyl plant was an anachronistic throwback to early nuclear technology. The point was that the Soviets were nearly the equal of the reactionaries in the West when it came to being modern and shit.

    And then, Wham! Bam! The mess is going to outlive many generations. And the Soviet state couldn’t deal with it successfully. I’m convinced that Chernobyl was the death knell for the Soviet Union.

    Which would cease to exist within five years. Gone. Poof! Almost as if it never was.

    What happened at Chernobyl was unprecedented on that scale, though there had been plenty of nuclear accidents in the Soviet Union and elsewhere through the years. The scale of Chernobyl and the spectacle of it was something new.

    The Gusher in the Gulf is being treated like it’s the first time anything like this has happened. It isn’t. I’m so old, I remember the Ixtoc I catastrophe. It went on for ten months. Gushing just as much gunk into the Gulf every day as the current gusher is. The consequences were awful along the Texas coast, but how much worse must they have been all along Mexico’s Gulf shore. Nobody thinks about that. Well, Mexicans do.

    It took years to clean it up, but it was cleaned up, and the Gulf came back. Threatened species were saved, marshes regenerated, beaches once more were made pristine. The only reason I’m saying that is because there is waaaaay too much Doomsaying over the current catastrophe.

    Is that because plenty of people realize this could well be as politically shattering an event as Chernobyl even though, in the Vast Eternal Scheme it may not turn out to be “that bad” from a purely rational standpoint? I dunno.

    But we all know there is intense dissatisfaction with the status quo. The anger isn’t abating. It’s morphing. In unpredictable ways.

    Our Rulers appear to be wheel spinning, don’t they. We the People pretty much know what needs to be done. Even to a certain extent how to do it — and when it comes to our own lives, maybe we’ve already taken many of the steps necessary to ensure proper Change.

    But Our Rulers are seen to be fumbling, frittering, faltering, and fiddling.

    The scale and the spectacle of it is revolting.

    My prediction: We probably won’t recognize these United States in five years.

  7. nailheadtom says:

    Subway Gal, from the blog “Self-Absorbed Me”, describes travel on the celebrated New York area public transit system: ” Travel is inconvenient. Being a New York City gal, I don’t have a car, which means I have to rely on the kindness of others with cars or our faithful public transportation system (note sarcasm) to get around, and in the case of traveling by way of public transportation, doing that with a 30lb bag on your shoulder is neither fun, easy or comfortable. Case in point: Today. I had a 20 minute wait at the Jamaica LIRR station, having just come from Long Beach, to my train transfer back to Forest Hills, so I was just going to take a subway home, but then I find out that it isn’t running. So then I trek back upstairs to the LIRR platforms, with my 30 lb overnight bag on my shoulder, and I wind up taking the LIRR back to the Forest Hills station. Once there, I attempted to take the subway home instead of walking back to my apartment with my 30 lb bag, but of course, it wasn’t running either and I wound up walking home. And as Boyfriend can attest to, when I finally made it back home, it was not pretty.”

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