Archives for posts with tag: oil
In William Gibson’s novel The Peripheral, we meet a class of people, the klept, who have more money than they could ever use and play games with large swaths of humanity, often to the death. Gibson didn’t have to reach far for models; examples of the kleptocracy are all around us. The damage they do is not quite at the scale of Gibson’s klept only because Gibson imagines hundreds or thousands of timelines they can use for their playgrounds. (The chapter entitled Parliament of Birds (pdf) gives a good idea of what the klept are about.)
I’ve been considering writing about our modern klept for several weeks now and just when I think there’s nothing worse that could happen, I only have to consider the headlines for a moment. The most public members of the Klept, or maybe just their public representatives, are (not surprisingly) Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and (new member!) Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. When I thought I might be able to let this idea go, go on to writing something else, I saw this BBC headline: US and Brazil agree to Amazon development.
The world is quite literally on fire from Alaska to Siberia to Australia to, indeed, the Amazon. Instead of finding ways to protect these places for future generations, these so-called leaders are letting them burn so that the land can be exploited for oil and agribusiness. Bolsonaro’s very clever – if he doesn’t do anything about the fires, he solves one issue that he’s publicly declared a problem: the native populations of the Amazon basin. If they no longer have a forest in which to live, they’re no longer in need of any kind of protection. The other advantage I’ve read about is that he can then allow monoculture farming of in-demand commodities such as soybeans. (This becomes attractive given how Trump has buggered up the Chinese market for American soybeans. Trump’s trade war with China is one that probably could use some delving but it makes little sense to me as yet.)
And if neighboring Venezuela is anything to go by, there’s probably oil to be drilled as well. (Note that the vast majority of Brazil’s untapped oil holding is found in a region off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, rather far from Venezuela.
Man looking right forking dollars into his mouth while much smaller man has pennies to eat. Caption: When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it. Frederic Bastiat, French economist.

I know that equating fat and eating with greed is problematic, but we’re dealing with the oversized share of wealth consumed by the few at the expense of the many. I think this illustration addresses that pretty well.

And if we let Alaska burn, it may be easier for the oil companies to get into ANWAR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – a protected area that contains some desirable oil reserves). At the moment there are fires throughout central Alaska, but not in the northeast corner where ANWAR is located. Difficult to access Siberian reserves are also going to be easier to get at once the place burns. (Yes, I’m being terribly reductive. The fact that these fires are starting because of record high temperatures caused is not lost on anyone concerned, though.)
This isn’t exactly the klept in a nutshell. But the high-stakes games being played with the lives of large numbers of inconveniently located people form the heart of what the ultra-rich and the world leaders who front for them are about (and have always been about).
The thing with Johnson and the mess that Parliament is trying to clean up is that Johnson’s a really minor member of the klept. Cursory web searches suggest that his net worth is about two million pounds. More than I’ll ever see in a personal bank account (unless things go really tits up, Zimbabwe style), but in the grand scheme of the very wealthy, not very much. So why is he pushing for no-deal Brexit so hard? The short answer is that the klept in the UK stand to lose a lot of money when the new EU Anti-Tax Avoidance Directive goes into effect next year. Pretty much all of the large-scale folks who have pushed Brexit stand to lose a lot of money. Johnson, it seems, is mostly just a front for those folks.
There’s more to address regarding the American klept, including folks like Mitch McConnell, but it’s going to have to wait.
My friend Craig, a journalist, world traveller, and scholar, made two interesting points in a recent FB post about Middle East terrorism. The first: While there is “no philosophical connection between Islam and terrorism…there is a very strong connection between Saudi Arabian Wahabist Islam and terrorism.”
Wikipedia offers that Wahhabism is a fundamentalist sect of Sunni Islam. Adherents consider the term Wahhabi derogatory and prefer Salafi. Its 18th century founder, Mohammad bin Abd Al-Wahhab allied himself with Muhammad bin Saud whose name might recall to you the current ruling house of Saudi Arabia. Today Al-Wahhab’s teachings are state-sponsored and the dominant form of Islam in Saudi Arabia.
oil-rigToday Wahhabism is considered an ultra-conservative Saudi brand of Salafism whose adherents brand non-Wahhabi Muslims apostates. One of the main things to note, however is that while Wahhabis are only about 23% of the Saudi population, they control the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Craig’s second point: That Wahabist extremism and the rise of western Islamaphobia share a root cause: “the utter cowardice of Western powers when it comes to challenging Saudi’s policy of exporting religious extremism.”
As purchasers of Saudi oil, and sellers of Saudi-bought arms (a trade in which France has a disturbingly long history), we are complicit.
Of course this whole discussion is on Facebook and I’m not necessarily privileged to copy it here in full, but in the comments Craig answers a question put to him on the matter: Does religion trump economics? with a resounding Yes. “The codification of a culture’s most cherished values – whether expressed as a concept of God or as a doctrine  of Human rights – does, and indeed must, trump economics…If we acknowledge economics as being the repository of our culture’s most important guiding principles, then we have already lost.”
Precisely. There are several directions one could go with this discussion including how our society’s wealth of all kinds is distributed, but this clash of religion and economics raises an interesting question: Is the current state of Saudi oil pricing an attempt to destabilise western economies? From my very non-expert point of view, this could be almost as, if not more, effective than our wars that destabilise Middle East regimes.
Mind you, one of the more seriously affected regimes is that of Mr. Putin in Russia. The governing elites derive most of their power from oil revenue and Putin very early on made the case that Russia would not be sharing the benefits and risks of its natural resources when it blocked attempts by to sell industries to the west. In December, The Independent asserted that this change in fortune might mean that Russia “may not be able to afford to wage her little wars.” (Falling oil price benefits consumers in the West but comes at a  high cost to global stability, 20 December 2014) I fear this is not the case – Russia’s resources, ambitions, and economic instability make the country one of many fine starting points for the next big war.