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Culture Change e-Letter #17

False prosperity from oil
It is the obedient workers who will eat — for now

by Jan Lundberg

The stark reality of war and deliberate destruction of life by the law-unto-itself USA brings home hard the relationship that over 90% of its citizens have with society. The government and mainstream media always claim that prosperity is especially ours. 

We may scratch our heads as economic conditions get worse, and struggle to pay our bills as our families and health may fall apart. But we are nevertheless prosperously consuming the world as no other society does. Our 5% of the globe’s population makes half the planet's waste.  How can you argue with success like that!

The New York Times claimed in an editorial April 11th that oil revenue for Iraq was capable of doing wonders for its people.  According to Dan Ihara of the Center for Environmental Economic Development in Arcata, Calif., Iraq's per capita gross domestic product is about $1,000. If increased oil revenue were $25 billion, if this all went to the 25 million people in Iraq, this would only be another $1,000 per person. Though this would be a 100% increase, per capita GDP in Iraq was $9,000 two decades ago, in 2002 prices.

So how can prosperity be around the corner for Iraq? It also bugged me that prosperity (for whom?) was expected to come from oil when it is geologically dwindling fast, so fast that the U.S. and the UK went to war to control the Iraqi chunk of world supplies.

The New York Times published this letter on April 18th:

Running Out of Oil (title submitted: Why the Rule of Oil?)

To the Editor:
    Your April 11 editorial "The Future of Iraq’s Oil" left out the world’s next phase: running out of enough oil to perpetuate the global economy. Moreover, wishing for prosperity through oil dismisses our environment as if it has been untouched by fossil-fueled civilization.
    "Iraq can exceed the prosperity it briefly knew a quarter-century ago," you concluded. One should question a scenario based on wishful thinking and unbounded faith in technology and military solutions.
    The inevitable downturn in global oil production will mean unprecedented market paralysis sparked by shortfalls of oil. One must think not only of Arab deserts relying once again on camels and oases, but also of Americans suddenly deprived of their petroleum, which feeds a huge population only briefly in humanity’s time scale.
    Fortunately, petroleum-free living can be worthwhile and pleasurable.
JAN C. LUNDBERG    Pres., Sustainable Energy Institute
  Arcata, Calif., April 13, 2003

We must "redefine prosperity." There is an ecological group called Redefining Progress in Oakland, Calif., whose purpose is to provide the public a look at the "Ecological Footprint," expressed in "global acres." Each global acre corresponds to one acre of biologically productive space with world average productivity. The global Ecological Footprint  per capita is 5.6 global acres, while the Earth's biocapacity is about 4.7 global acres. The U.S. has  an Ecological Footprint of 24.0 global acres, nearly double its national biocapacity of 13.0 global acres.

 Maybe the world could get along better without the U.S.?  Not in the short term, one would argue, as the Coalition forces in Baghdad call the shots.  But what about for the human race's seventh generation from now?

It is not for you or I to question such matters in our democracy, for if you do, you are "unpatriotic."  If you are with the corporate media, the peace movement is something to avoid, as journalists have found out.  A San Francisco Chronicle reporter was recently fired for attending a protest.

If you have a job, you’re supposed to be lucky.  You can consume to your heart’s content.  Never mind that it’s based on petroleum which brings on modern war and which is dwindling fast.

People have been under this regime (of work, private property, government control) for so long that very few of us can conceive of a different way to live.  Motorized lemmings are driving off an ecological cliff, and many believe this is freedom.  State control must depend on control of the mind, and so far the attempt is successful.

So you’re a worker performing to others’ expectations and are grateful to pay your bills so you can buy stuff and survive.  But if you are intrigued with the whole state of affairs and wonder how much it will change in your lifetime, let us explore our common lot in the advanced stage of capitalism we'll call global resource war (GRW).

As much as war and counter-insurgency have begun to play a bigger role in the GRW economy, the feared shortages that the wars are based on will assume far more significant roles.  Just as, as much as war affects U.S. citizens with home-boy casualties and terrorist reprisals domestically, the effect of war is miniscule compared to the impact of shortages to come.  

So, although the obedient worker eats today, such obedience will buy nothing when it comes time to start thinking for oneself and start cooperating with neighbors for mutual survival.  The GRW economy and other forms of global consuming will be short lived, terminated by permanent oil shortage.  Iraqi oil may be the prize, but the world is going to lose its taste for this bloody black gold as soon as the market detects irreversible geological limits to supply, and prices go through the roof in The Final Energy Crisis (a book soon to be published by Pluto Press, London.)

We will not dwell on the mounting evidence that the Iraq War was always about petroleum, but progress is being made in pointing out that it is peak oil production globally that is at play.  The BBC got the message, after our pestering them during our participation in London at The Institute of Petroleum on February 17, 2003:

"But even if Iraq does boost its oil production ironically the effect could be short lived. Its vast reserves represent just four years of world consumption and by the time Iraqi oil is flowing freely, global oil production may already be in terminal decline." - BBC / March 2003

Independent petroleum watchers are concerned about the global peak oil phenomenon  and its devastating aftermath around the corner.  These observers include Dr. Colin Campbell, a retired petroleum geologist.  He recently helped edit a joint statement by petroleum analysts that says the Iraq War has to do with the passing of global peak oil production.  To read the Statement, see the website

As we ponder world oil supplies and the next conflict using the military might of the U.S. empire, we must understand socioeconomic trends in the U.S. during never-ending war.  Getting yourself rich to escape pain and suffering is one strategy.  But, for those who don't have or want that option, one risks drowning in details in the monitoring of events.  

So, a simple approach is to greatly reduce materialism in one's thinking and consuming.  A way of living with less and less petroleum will spell sustainable living in the long term, but meanwhile it saves money, does not pollute, and provides exercise.  A stronger personal spirit, even with little money, will provide strength for survival and exude solidarity.  This makes for a tribe, and who cares if we aren't going to the shopping maul anymore?  It may be hard to live sustainably right now, so if buying a new car is forgone in favor of a used car, that may make the best dent in a GRW economy that just insists on killing thousands of Iraqi children year after year and depriving U.S. citizens of health insurance and a clean environment..

Resistance starts at home; we need not wait around for endless proof of the growing consensus around the world that condemns U.S. hegemony and wasteful consumption.

Arcata stands up for freedom again
My town of Arcata has gone further than any other town in the U.S. in opposing unconstitutional domestic measures under the Patriot Act and Homeland Security.  Scores of towns have registered dissent via resolutions, but Arcata passed a law.  Its author is councilman Dave Meserve, who also helped start the town's Redwood Peace and Justice Center where Culture Change/Sustainable Energy Institute resides.  Dave has in the last week been on national TV and in the Washington Post.

In retrospective, it is clear to some of us regarding the offensiveness of this doubtful war that the preemptive attack and invasion on Iraq was perpetrated partly because Bush and Co. would never have obtained the right opportunity or evidence to do so under international law.  So now, with the invasion and destruction that covers the U.S.’s tracks, there is no "might have been" scenario, and the U.S. can thus evade guilt for the unprovoked attack. Therefore, from now on there remains the plausibility that there was justification for war beforehand, and any doubt has just been made conveniently moot.

We must anticipate antic oil supply effects from the Iraq War and global resource war, as well as resultant economic repercussions globally.  Throughout all this, we remain focused on defining a sustainable society.  Please share your hopes and vision.


Redefining Progress's website can be reached by clicking here.

For the website of Center for Environmental Economic Development, click here.

To see the New York Times webpage that has Jan Lundberg's letter, click here.

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Jan Lundberg's columns are protected by copyright; however, non-commercial use of the material is permitted as long as full attribution is given with a link to this website, and he is informed of the re-publishing:

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