Crisis as a Doorway to Change
Editor’s note (2020): This section was written in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States that took place on September 11, 2001.
A huge disaster is a wake-up call. This is as true for us as individuals as for humanity as a whole. It makes us stand back from our habitual toils and diversions, and take a new look at ourselves and our world from a more wide eyed, enlightened perspective.
A terrible crisis can be a catalyst for positive social change. Historically, some of our greatest advances in terms of “well-being for all” have arisen from the ashes of earth-shattering events (e.g. the New Deal from the Great Depression).
It has repeatedly been said that after September 11, 2001 “we no longer live in the same world.” It is clear that we have to do some major rebuilding of our lives, our dreams, and our relationship with the world.
In arising from the ashes of the Twin Towers/Pentagon disaster we can, individually and collectively, move either backwards or forwards on the long up-hill path toward civilization:
We can react reflexively to our feelings of fear, fury, and revenge so as to create an increasingly divided and dangerous world, systematically unraveling our hard-won freedoms, civil rights, and hopes of a peaceful and sustainable future.
Or we can look deeper into the historical events that led to the cataclysmic, desperate events of September 11, try with humility to understand the causes, and then go about rebuilding a world that is safer, fairer, and more sustainable for everyone.
The Political Costs of Oil Dependency
Oil dependency is dangerous. If the United States of America has an Achilles' heel, it is our huge dependency on oil. Our motor vehicles, our major industries, most of our power plants, even the innumerable plastic goods we use daily, depend on oil. The American military’s expenditure of oil exceeds the national budgets of many nations.
With only 3% of the world’s population, the US consumes 25% of the world’s non-renewable fossil fuel supply. Having largely exhausted our own oil reserves during World War II, in order to maintain our high-energy life style, we Americans increasingly depend on oil reserves in other parts of the world, mostly the Middle East. In our commitment to sustain the enormous flow of oil at relatively low cost, the US has time and again intervened in the internal affairs of the governments and peoples of the Middle Eastern countries. To assure our access to oil, we have propped up undemocratic governments or despots who have systematically violated human rights and kept the majority of their populations in poverty despite substantial oil generated wealth.
Oil interests have superceded human need and rights. For example, Saudi Arabia—which has the biggest known oil reserves in the world—has been strongly backed by the US for the last six decades. In 1939 King Ibn Saud gave exclusive oil rights to US oil companies. In 1940 President Roosevelt offered the royal family protection in exchange for favored access to oil.
The Saudi monarchy has received this backing despite its long and tyrannous record of human rights violations. (According to the US State Department, abuses include torture, arbitrary arrests and executions, harsh discrimination against women, and restricted freedom of press, assembly, religion and movement.) To help the rulers defend themselves both from external and internal threats, the US has sold the Saudis billions of dollars' worth of weapons and trained their military to use them. This US support for the Saudis has continued throughout the Cold war era and up to the present. In 1990, before the Gulf War with Iraq, the US sent in American troops to form a “buffer zone” to protect Saudi Arabia and its oil fields.
Similarly in Iran, US interventions, which also triggered widespread resentment, were spurred by our oil interests (and the Cold War). In 1951-1953, when the highly popular leader Mohammed Mossadegh moved to nationalize Iran’s oil from British control, the CIA (US Central Intelligence Agency) worked with British intelligence to overthrow Mossadegh and instate the pro-western “Shah of Iran.” This set the stage for the ousting of the Shah by Ayatollah Khomeini and then the taking of hostages in the US Embassy followed by US military intervention. The breakdown of US-Iranian diplomatic relations continues to this day.
Time and again in the Middle East, the US has put our thirst for oil before the hunger for food and self-determination of the common people in that region. We have used overt and covert interventions to overthrow popular governments and to prop up tyrants who supply us with oil in exchange for military and strategic aid, used in part to contain the unrest of their own impoverished peoples. We call this “maintaining the stability of the region.” But it is a top-heavy stability of undemocratic power structures that need heavier and harsher external support to keep them from toppling and exploding.
The socioeconomic disparity, widespread powerlessness, and unrest engendered by such a situation is the breeding ground for outbursts of violence which (when directed towards us) we call terrorism. Given the history of US interventions in the Middle East—including the embargo on Iraq, which, according to UNICEF, has taken 500,000 children’s lives—it, is understandable that in many Middle Eastern countries, Bin Laden wins substantial popular support. One of his goals is to topple Saudi Arabia’s royal family, cut off the Middle Eastern oil supply to the US, and push the price of oil sky high.
US oil interests in Afghanistan should not be overlooked, especially in view of the ferocious bombing of that impoverished, war torn country. The Eastern Block countries north of Afghanistan—especially Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan—have huge, still relatively untapped oil and natural gas reserves. Eager to exploit those reserves and transport the oil to major markets, the American oil industry for several years has had plans to build a pipeline across Afghanistan. However, these plans have been thwarted by political instability and the fierce nationalism of the Taliban government. It is in the interest of oil potentates to see the Taliban replaced by a pro-US government that would depend on US military and economic assistance to stay in control. The Northern Alliance—whose human rights record is as terrible as that of the Taliban—could fill that role conveniently. (Much of this goes unreported by the mass media, which are owned by the same corporate interests that control the oil and the arms industries.)
NOTE: For substantiating data on US interverntions in the Middle East, and on the human rights abuses of the Saudi Arabian government and of the Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, see the Appendices of this Newsletter on our website: www.healthwrights.org.
The Environmental Costs of Oil Dependency
The colossal US dependency on oil has not only led us to an explosive geo-political situation, but also to an extremely dangerous situation environmentally. The US is the world’s biggest contributor to global warming, the consequences of which—unless a worldwide commitment is undertaken to reverse the process—will jeopardize quality of life, and even life itself, on the entire planet.
This problem is enormous and is urgent. Yet the US government has not responded accordingly. The power of giant transnational corporations over public elections in the US—by making large campaign donations—influences too many politicians to put short-term corporate interests before the long-term common good. Thus we find that the US has refused to sign the international Kyoto Accord to try to halt this pending global eco-disaster.
Today it is time to rethink and rebuild. Following the September 11 disaster, people in vast numbers are rightfully worried and looking for ways to build a healthier, more livable future.
One approach toward moving forward is to build on positive rather than destructive energy. We can use the process of awakening that has emerged from the current overwhelming crisis to realign our collective compass and get at the roots of the underlying problem. We can do this in a way that strives to solve multiple, interrelated impasses and helps bring people together, worldwide.
To build on positive energy means to become less dependent on fossil fuels, especially here in the US. We can do this by:
- using more energy-efficient technologies, and;
- using cleaner, safer, more renewable and sustainable forms of energy.
The knowledge and technology already exists. Amory Lovens of the Rocky Mountain Institute—a pioneer in energy alternatives and conservation—calculates that in 15 years energy consumption in the US could be reduced to 1/3 of present levels, at net savings of at least $3 trillion! (See Newsletter #22.) By using cleaner, safer sources of energy (neither fossil fuel nor nuclear) as well as making energy-conserving choices, we could become completely independent of any need for oil imported from outside mainland USA. This would end the rapacious need for “black gold” that helps set the stage for environmental and human disasters such as global warming, the Alaska-Valdez oil spill, the Gulf War, and also make terrorism less likely. It would also be an urgently needed step toward building an ecologically secure and sustainable future. In short, it would be a win-win situation, helping to create a healthier, more livable world for all.
Then what is stopping us? The necessary energy policy reforms are blocked by the enormous power that entrenched interests and giant transnational corporations—especially the oil industry—have over politicians.
Election campaign finance reforms are, therefore, a necessary first step in working toward energy policy reforms. To pass measures that can help build a peaceful and sustainable future, we need to reduce the influence of corporate and special interest money on politics.
Big Oil’s Top Donors to U.S. Election Campaigns
From 1/1/87 through 3/31/98:
|Donor||Total Contributions (US$)|
Action We Can Take
To follow are suggestions of where you can learn more about these vital issues, and then join others in action to help make elections more democratic and build a more peaceful and sustainable future:
- Visit the Rocky Mountain Institute site on Internet (www.rmi.org). Amory Lovins, recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant, provides a credible roadmap for sustainable energy policy based mainly on clean-burning hydrogen, wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. We would no longer rely on foreign oil or vulnerable centralized power generation (e.g., nuclear power plants).
If you live in California, Pennsylvania, or Massachusetts, start buying “green power”. See www.ucsusa.org/energy/guide.buygreen.html.
Consider trading in your current car for a fuel-efficient hybrid gas/electric car (see “Fuel-efficient Vehicles” link at www.usca.org.) and take advantage of the 10% federal income tax credit. Buy hydrogen-based cars when they come out market (E.g., Honda in 2003).
Invest your money directly in alternative energy. The New Alternatives mutual fund (www.newalternativesfund.com) invests strongly in alternative energy companies.
Campaign Finance Reform
Use the database at Common Cause (www.commonmcause.org) to understand exactly how our government is tainted with corporate and other special-interest money. Then see their Agenda section.
Join one or more of the following campaign finance reform efforts:
Support multiple party nomination (“fusion”), now legal in only 10 states. (See www.newparty.org/strategy.html.) Fusion enables minor parties to enter mainstream politics without splitting the vote of a secondary party (i.e., the Democrats).