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Culture Change e-Letter #14

The Peace Movement and Oil: dealing with peak oil

by Jan Lundberg

The bombing on Iraq started, but outside my window I hear the cars going by relentlessly.

Society is capable of non-oil transportation and a peaceful economy, but has done next to nothing to institute it. The go-it-alone individual’s solution--riding a bike--is a beautiful but forlorn attempt to free oneself of guilt over oil use. The bike also represents freedom from cars’ costs, pollution, and sedentary living.

But even the peace movement is lacking resolve on oil issues:  In hip northern California's Humboldt County, the demonstration against war on March 15th had almost 4,000 folks in Eureka, but only fifteen riders biked in critical mass from Arcata ten miles away.

Yet, on March 20 Arcata’s central Plaza was shut down to cars by demonstrators sitting in the intersections, a de facto anti-oil statement for peace. There is a chance that the city may shut the Plaza to cars, for good finally. The city councilmembers are against this war and so are many of the merchants. A car-free Plaza would be a fair tribute to the innocent Iraqi civilians being killed as I write this.

Ideas have popped up around the U.S. to put action into gripes about war for oil, such as non-driving days. We shall see if many people bother to try it.  How will the masses of people get to the point of refraining from hopping in the car for a short drive to a video store? Are people moving closer to jobs, or looking for new jobs nearer to home? Very few. Yet, the moral repugnance of a war for domination in the Middle East is strong enough that people may start asking how many Iraqi kids per mile an SUV gets.

We are at a crossroads in world history: the global production peak of oil is about now. The downturn of Petroleum Civilization is upon us all. Peak oil’s arrival cannot have escaped the notice of this particular White House bunch. Unfortunately, their interpretation of the beginning of universal austerity and energy shortage, along with an end to petroleum-powered economic growth, is to control oil for the U.S. and its corporate friends. Yet, what good does this do if the global economic downturn from peak oil hits Japan, Europe and other areas just a month perhaps before it hits the U.S.?

Petroleum brings us the plethora of objects for sale, and oil is virtually running out very soon. The market mechanism will react to the inexorably widening gap between supply and demand, by seizing up in paralysis, despite military intervention and the televised speeches of President Bush.

The Iraq oil war is a different kind of war than Vietnam, although that war was over resources and domination too. Lots of U.S. casualties turned the tide against that misadventure of racist murder. Iraq is a racist war too, but it is blatantly about oil (and about using the military for profit). Saddam Hussein is totally bad news, but so are the leaders of dozens of other nations. Anyway, the peace movement today enjoys more worldwide support than 30-35 years ago, but the difference is that successful opposition to the Iraq oil war would mean boycotting oil in the U.S. and elsewhere.

A total economic boycott, expressed globally, of U.S. products, could have a significant effect: hitting the financial power boys where it hurts. This idea is circulating around amongst hardened veterans of the protest movement.

Boycotting oil for an extended period of time in the U.S. means undermining the economy to the point of causing a strong recession or depression. If this sounds subversive, irresponsible and frightening, let us ask the fearful and the reactionary this: does merely putting off the day of reckoning on ending oil gluttony really help?

Before we assume a boycott-oil movement is viable, let’s question whether a short-lived campaign would be effective, say during actual bombing. If so, why bother, one could ask. A boycott-oil peace movement is iffy because almost all consumers would rather allow more oil wars than change their way of living or risk losing their jobs or spouses.

Therefore, to effectively protest the war and change U.S. policy, stronger methods are contemplated. Some ideas going around include disruption of business as usual. Unless such actions are totally nonviolent, such as masses of naked people lying down in the streets around the halls of financial power, anti-war actions will be considered terrorist. The way things are going, the increasingly fascistic government is capable of passing more laws that say nude is terrorist. Next would biking be ruled terrorist?  Will the sheep rise up and say no, as long as they have their petroleum lifestyles?

The war on nature has raged nonstop for many decades, even hundreds of years in some parts of the world. The response to this deadly march of civilization included the Diggers’ defiance of The Enclosure in England, in 1649, when they were cut down by the lords for growing food on what was common land. The lords and capitalists had taken everything for themselves and turned villagers into dispossessed workers-slaves.

The Enclosure continues to this day, where the last lands held in common are stolen or exploited, such as in New Guinea. Less obvious is the enclosure of our minds: in the modern world, we have fewer and fewer freedoms, and the trend is that the people have no more land. Petroleum and cash are all that many people are ostensibly satisfied with, although owning the dream-house is high on their list. But that house may only come with a gardening potential of feeding one person for three months at best.

The ability to buy things is our main freedom today. Some of us are disturbed by this to the extreme, but the masses of consumers are happy to be able to spend their slave-wage bucks on a little happiness and relief, eating plenty of petroleum derived/transported food.

As the consuming-as-freedom trend accelerated in the last decade, the internet helped assure an offsetting trend:  The ability to learn and discover the truth is more widespread than ever, even though few people exercise it. (As if there weren’t enough babies in the world, a fascination with sex has made the world wide web a voyeur’s playland more than the web has become a source of powerful, suppressed knowledge.)

I see instead of a successful anti-war movement against oil abuse a pre-ordained derailing of the economy. This historic "discontinuity," as geologist Colin Campbell puts it, may well be accelerated by the Iraq oil grab. It's clear that (1) the U.S. wants that Iraqi oil, and (2) the U.S. has gone for unilateral preemptive military action even when Iraq is less dangerous than some other nations not being targeted.

The challenge is to act today to change daily living toward independence from petroleum. Sustainable living has many components, such as building straw bale houses and composting toilets, putting together renewable energy systems, organic gardening, and hauling goods with bike carts. These methods of maintaining a local--not global--economy will assure survival for many people, provided the loss of petroleum supplies does not cause so much destruction though famine that nuclear weapons and radioactive waste are unleashed or fatally neglected.

Just as vital to sustainable living is altering human relations from hierarchical and exploitative to cooperative, mutually supportive social organization.  This may be inevitable when materialistic society collapses.

The anti-war movement is actually the pro-living, pro-sharing and pro-nature movement. If not, the marching and carrying signs will be of little lasting value--especially if we drive to and from the protests.

Stop war. Start by selling the car, moving one’s residence, and, if a car must be bought, make it a used one! All for now... - JL

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