This, of course, is the same excuse you get from elite war criminals and drug dealers. It’s purpose is also the same: to prevent careful thinking by spreading the blame to everybody and therefore nobody. “The people demand ___. I merely give them what they want.”
But is it anywhere close to true that “we” — meaning all of us, co-equally — have had and do have the same degree of control over the sources of our collective oil-appetite? Or have “our” corporations, working on behalf of their primary beneficiaries, seized and retained effective command over the large-scale political and economic decisions that determine the petro-intensity of modern life?
I am presently completing a book that argues that the latter is where the body is buried.
But, either way, this is a question that needs real asking and honest answers.
Tellingly, the news was commented on by the Agriculture, not the Transportation, Secretary:
The money can also be used to “create opportunities for producers, to receive assistance to produce new cellulosic crops and products,” [Secretary of Agriculture] Vilsack said.
So, this is the big game plan — to send Wall Street more money, restructure the car-making corporations, and subsidize moonshine for gas tanks.
To the extent it’s anything more than a subsidy to vested interests, this is a squarely three-cornered [yes, I said squarely three-cornered] plan for failure. The working and middle classes are maxed out, and will not be buying many new cars in the foreseeable future. Peak oil renders each further day of cars-first transportation a an armed robbery from our children. And “alternative” fuels? Not only are they not alternative, they’re also not new.
If you doubt this, I suggest you investigate the concept of energy-return-on-energy-invested, or EROEI, then take a tour of reality, starting here.
For its part, the falseness of it all seems rather well grasped by at least some of the folks who manage the biggest corporate players in the field. As quoted in Business Week for February 5, 2009:
[Exxon CEO Rex W.] Tillerson told reporters in January that Exxon isn’t investing in existing alternative energy technology because “we think these technologies are old. If there is going to be a fundamental shift” away from fossil fuels, the technology “hasn’t been discovered.”
Tillerson allows that a shift from fossil fuels is coming, but not for decades. Exxon forecasts that oil and gas will continue to supply 60% of the world’s energy needs through 2030, and that a “game-changing” shift to alternatives will begin only after 2050.
Most of the gross profit that goes into funding the big business marketing juggernaut derives from corporate capitalists’ unrelenting pursuit of lower labor-costs. Robbing workers to manipulate buyers, in other words.
Trouble, however, is afoot, my friends.
Per today’s edition of The New York Times:
Cheap oil, the lubricant of quick, inexpensive transportation links across the world, may not return anytime soon, upsetting the logic of diffuse global supply chains that treat geography as a footnote in the pursuit of lower wages.
The cost of shipping a 40-foot container from Shanghai to the United States has risen to $8,000, compared with $3,000 early in the decade, according to a recent study of transportation costs. Big container ships, the pack mules of the 21st-century economy, have shaved their top speed by nearly 20 percent to save on fuel costs, substantially slowing shipping times.
We face a choice between radical transportation reform/urban reconstruction and Carmageddon.
For those who are tempted to inhale the smoke being blown about ignoring this choice and merely rallying ourselves to demand cheaper prices at the pump, here’s a thought:
It is far from clear that cheaper oil is even possible. Not all speculation is irrational. Even a nationalized energy industry would probably be buying and stockpiling oil now at high prices, based on the likelihood that future prices will be even higher, due to booming global demand and peaking supplies — neither of which even the most rational cheap gas organizers (like Ralph Nader) usually mention.
This is not the 1970s any more. The trouble is much deeper this time.
I’m sorry, but that’s demagogic, misleading balderdash. The price of oil is but a symptom of the real problem, which is the intractable addiction of our corporate capitalist overclass to peddling automobiles. Corporate capitalism means autos-über-alles, which means we will remain chained to increasingly expensive petroleum, the supply of which has recently passed its peak.
It saddens me to see Nader failing to live up to what is perhaps the greatest challenge of our times. Just when we need his help in trying to open U.S. transportation policy to democratic scrutiny and control, he chooses instead to imply that, if we’d just picket a few bad apples, everything would return to the cheap-gas good old days.
Of course, this failure has deep roots in Nader’s work. Take the case of Unsafe at Any Speed, the book that launched him to his well-deserved fame.
The book starts with Nader spotting a telling contradiction:
For over half a century the automobile has brought death, injury, and the most inestimable sorrow and deprivation to millions of people….Unlike aviation, marine, or rail transportation, the highway system can inflict tremendous casualties and property damage without in the least affecting the viability of the system. Plane crashes, for example, jeopardize the attraction of flying for potential passengers and therefore strike at the heart of the air transport economy….The situation is different on the roads.
Something quite deep must keep cars from being scandalized, right?. After all, Nader observes, if one is objective about it, “[t]he automobile tragedy is one of the most serious of these man-made assaults on the human body.”
And at the outset of Unsafe, Nader seems poised to name and explain that deep something:
A great problem of contemporary life is how to control the power of economic interests which ignore the harmful effects of their applied science and technology.
What could “the power of economic interests” be other than corporate capitalism?
Yet, despite these bold opening statements, Unsafe at Any Speed never came close to connecting the required dots. After his introduction, Nader proceeded to present 298 pages of very detailed evidence that car-making corporations most definitely do not put human safety first in designing and selling their products. But, despite his own seeming recognition of the need to do so, nowhere in Unsafe does Nader relate the scandalous engineering decisions he documents to the ordinary business motives and imperatives of corporate investors. “Capitalism,” “class,” “investment,” “investors,” “profit,” “rich,” “wealthy” – none of these words appeared in the book’s index, and none were major conceptual elements of Nader’s renowned exposé.
Without a coherent explanation of corporate capitalism, however, Nader’s book, despite its shocking revelations, yielded a rather picayune understanding of both the depth of “the automobile tragedy” and the politics of its possible remedies.
Consider, for instance the way Nader finished this sentence:
“[T]he public has never been supplied the information nor offered the quality of competition to enable it to make effective demands through the marketplace and through government for…”
For…what? Nader did not call for a safe, non-polluting, and efficient transportation system. Instead, here’s all Nader put after that momentous “for”:
a safe, non-polluting and efficient automobile that can be produced economically.
Thus, the man who called autos-über-alles “one of the most serious of these man-made assaults on the human body” ended up limiting himself to asking for better cars!
But could any conceivable autos-über-alles system ever really be “safe, non-polluting, and efficient”? Are better cars or cheaper gas really enough to solve our mounting problems? Can anybody really understand “why the automobile has remained the only transportation vehicle to escape being called to meaningful public account” and why “America is addicted to oil” without understanding the capitalist interests and imperatives involved? I think not.
Ralph, with all due respect, it’s high time to move your thinking into the twenty-first century. We
Whenever corporate executives are summoned to testify on Capitol Hill, you can bet it’s for the wrong reason.
The recent testimony of Big Oil executives is a classic case-in-point. Marketed to the public as a stern interrogation of those mainly responsible for the nation’s rapidly deepening energy crisis, the whole thing was utterly faux, a true dog-and-pony show.