The End of Oil

Petroleum has powered our industrial society and irreversably changed the way we live in society...but the party is almost over.

NAFTA(the North American Free Trade Agreement) literally opened up the oil and gas spigots to America. Canada currently supplies roughly 1.8 million barrels a day of oil to American refiners making the country the top US supplier of petroleum today, ahead of both Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The Administration of George W. Bush, who has strong ties with oil business and a cabinet chocker-blocked with oil supporters, is similiarly increasing its economic and political ties with Mexico, a strong oil-producing nation in its own right.

America has just 5% of the world's population yet it consumes 25% of the world's petroleum, making it the world's largest industrial polluter.

OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) still controls the lions share of the world's conventional oil supply. The group is expected to control 54% of the world's oil in 2020, up from the current 40 percent.

Undaunted, oil companies continue their frantic explorations for more oil. The seven giant multinational oil corporations known as the "seven sisters" have now become four, thanks to the eager enforcers of global economic integration; the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO). These four are: Exxon/Mobil, BPAmoco, Royal Dutch/Shell and Chevron/Texaco. Last year Exxon/Mobil reported the highest profits in US Corporate history with $17.72 billion.

George W. Bush has ushered the oil industry into the very heart of Washington, DC politics. Six of Bush's "Big Oil" cabinet include; Dick Cheney, Vice President, who, after serving as Defense Secretary under George W's dad, settled in Dallas to head up the world's largest oil services corporation, Halliburton. Gale Norton, former attorney general of Colorado, now Interior Secretary, advocated that corporations which suffered financially from environmental regulations be re-imbursed from the public coffers. Spencer Abraham, Energy Secretary, fought to limit fuel-effeciency in gas guzzling SUV's and cut research and funds into renewable energy resources like solar and wind. Don Evans, Commerce Secretary, was CEO and Chairman of the Colorado based oil company, Tom Brown Inc. He has also been a board member of Sharp Drilling, an oil industry contractor. Condolezza Rice, National Security Advisor, has deep ties to the oil industry and right-wing think tanks like the Hoover Institute. She spent a decade on the board of oil giant Chevron Petroleum.

Globally, oil is the source that drives the international economy. It has become a vital component in everything from transportation to petro-chemicals to plastics and agriculture. A handful of massive corporations and producer countries control the global oil and gas industry and they are among the richest and most powerful interests on the planet. Arab states in the Middle East are still the largest oil producers. OPEC members nations (Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain etc...) hold nearly 80% of all proven reserves. The biggest global oil consumers are, of course, the northern industrialized nations of North America, Europe and Japan. Transportation is the fastest growing sector of oil consumption. The global car fleet now numbers more than 500 million and is expected to increase 5-fold to 3 billion vehicles by 2020. Vehicle traffic consumes nearly 60% of global oil production, making it the chief propagator of carbon emissions into our atmosphere.

There are compelling and urgent reasons and arguments for breaking our addiction to oil. The big one is climate change and the greenhouse effect, which will most likely have severe, long-term environmental effects upon our biosphere in the years to come. Despite vigorous attempts to dupe the public and the international community into thinking otherwise, "Big Oil" and its supporters can't ignore the fact that the burning of fossil fuels has become the chief cause of global climate change.

With global economic growth expected to double in the next 20 years, NOW is the time to address the need for clean, sustainable, non-polluting energy resources. If we don't address the need for alternatives now, we will make the inevitable transition that much more difficult and disruptive. The challenge is considerable. The global airline industry, the shipping business, as well as millions of cars, buses and trucks will have to be weaned from oil, as will millions of buildings heated and cooled by fossil fuels. Modern industrial farming which runs on oil-powered machinery and petrochemical inputs- fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides- will have to end.

At issue is a full-scale Marshall Plan to re-invent society. Our first priority must be to free ourselves from the tyranny of the oil industry and create and support healthy, alternative, sustainable and environmentally friendly interests and communities. Public subsidies, now given to the oil industry at the tune of $120 billion a year, must instead be re-directed to renewables, decentralization, combatting urban sprawl and alternative public transport among other priorities. The stakes include not only the ecological integrity and survival of ourselves and our planet, but the nature and evolution of human civilization in the coming decades

Steve Jones
P.O. Box 1472
Flagstaff, Arizona


#Source-New Internationalist Magazine, Issue-June 2001. {} Exists to report on issues of world poverty, inequality and the struggle between the powerful and the powerless in both rich and poor nations alike. Representing the people, the ideas and the fight for global justice. ***Subscriptions- US$36/yr. P.O. Box 1143, Lewiston, NY 14092 USA- {E-mail:}