By George Harvey
Oil wars have been fought since the 1930s. Bolivia, backed by Shell, fought Paraguay and Standard Oil, over what they all believed was a rich oil field. Possibly as many as 130,000 people died over land that turned out not to have oil after all.
American involvement in World War II started because the Japanese needed oil to support their war in China. Access to the nearest large oil fields was potentially blocked by American presence in the Philippines. So the Japanese bombed our fleet at Pearl Harbor to put it out of action while they conquered Indonesian resources.
We have recently seen oil wars in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria, and Ukraine. However, all these are merely small parts of a larger conflict. It is not a traditional shooting war. We might call it the Silent World War, because it is barely noticed. But it is being fought in nearly every country.
When we look at the numbers, we can see it is on a scale comparable to World War II. The World Health Organization tells us that nearly twenty thousand people die every day, from effects of air pollution, as corporations fight to maintain a “right” to dump pollutants into the air we breathe. Nearly all of us are casualties to some degree; in the European Union, a report from the BBC says, fossil fuel pollution robs the average person of nine months’ life expectancy. Entire species are being killed off at a rate rapidly approaching a hundred each day, as the fossil fuel industry staunchly defends its “right” to finance campaigns of chosen representatives, to guide legislatures, and to promote irrational denial of science.
The amounts of money involved are almost unimaginable. The twenty-five largest fossil fuel companies have revenues of about $7 trillion annually. That is roughly double the US federal budget, and ten times the budget of the US Defense Department.
Rich as they are,fossil fuel corporations are getting direct government subsidies estimated to be over $500 billion each year. This is happening despite the fact that their damage and operational needs require indirect subsidies estimated at over $1.5 trillion annually.
Clearly, the huge corporations that dig, drill, and break up the Earth have heavy incentives to continue their destructive work. What is not quite so obvious is who will stop them. Nevertheless, a close look tells us they will be stopped, and in the end, the fossil fuel industry’s opposition, small as it is, will win.
Despite their seemingly overwhelming advantages, the fossil fuel industry is fighting a battle that has already turned. It is being undermined by efficiency, which alone would put it into recession. It is being opposed politically by many capitalists who once supported it, banks, investors, and insurance companies, all of which are suffering from the damage it does. It is being challenged by new technologies ranging from solar panels to electric vehicles, which give power to ordinary individuals who it once regarded as captive customers. It is being abandoned by its traditional dependent industries, from utilities to car manufacturers, who have found it is possible to save a lot of money by doing without fossil fuels.
Wind power has proven it can supply electricity at a fraction of the cost of coal or nuclear, and at a cost much lower than that of natural gas. Though somewhat more expensive than wind, solar power contracts are being signed at prices below those of conventional natural gas, even when the cost of the solar subsidies is added in. A recent large solar contract in Nevada shows this; the contract was signed at 3.87¢ per kilowatt hour. Renewable power has achieved “grid parity,” and the tide is turning against fossil fuels, huge as they are. In the first five months of 2015, 75% of all new US electric capacity was renewable.
The tide is turning, with actual defections within the industry. Shell and BP have gone beyond admitting that climate change is a real, serious problem, and have asked the UN for guidance on how to combat it.
Perhaps the time is in sight, when the carnage of this Silent World War will end.