December 07, 2008 | Ronda Jambe

Oil wars are nothing new

We are told the US invasion of Iraq was all about oil. Or was it? In fact, the oil wars began almost as soon as oil became the common mode of fuel. This enlightenment comes from a book by Paul Roberts, ‘The End of Oil’.
The British switched their navy quickly from coal to oil, a smart decision since oil was more energy dense and lighter weight. But this led them also quickly to realise they would need to position themselves in the Middle East for the forseeable future. Somewhere around the beginning of the last century, the age of petro politics began. Out of this has followed much of the turmoil around Palestine and onwards east.
The Second World War also was influenced by the search for secure oil, according to Roberts. The Germans wanted access to Russian oil, and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour partly to stop the Yankee fleet from blocking Japanese access to Indonesia’s oil. Plus ca change…
The oil shocks of the 70s didn’t wake up almost anyone, or not for long. Now, nearly 40 years later, peak oil is in sight and we are lulled yet again to postpone serious thought about what comes after.
A sensible union official in the US called for the car companies to just stop producing cars. The growth in car ownership can’t go on forever, nor is the US likely to catch up with more agile foreign manufacturers. Instead, she said, they should retool as was done during WW2, except this time they should be making mass transit systems and wind generators. Now that would make sense!
Nor has the intelligent Mr Rudd grasped the essence of what needs to happen to reduce Australia’s carbon emissions. Cap and trade won’t work, as it will disencentivise individuals from cutting their emissions: these will just show up as credits to the larger companies that hold the credits. These critiques are widely discussed, yet the Rudd government plows ahead.
Perhaps, just maybe, the emerging Labor Environment Activist Network, or LEAN, ( which is steadily gaining support in Sydney, will become a force for bringing some sense to the table. Here’s hoping.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 6:22 pm | Comments (15) |
Filed under: Environment


  1. Quite true as GB carved out Iraq with oil in mind back after the First World War, and denied Kurds their own state by disastrously dividing it up with neighbouring Turkey, Iran and Syria as well as Iraq.
    However recent US intervention was because of trying to isolate Iran and relieve reliance on Saudi Arabia, given Iraq’s position as No. 2 producer.
    The US figured that if it could control Iraq, it could maintain a reliable key role in the Middle East and oil resource access, given its own gluttony for the stuff.
    The ongoing disaster is that this interference and support for corrupt autocratic leaders has simply continued to alienate the Arab masses and fuelled the extremist groups in the region. When Bush said he wanted to promote democracy there he spoke out of his usual ignorance of global history.
    Important to remember that the US military itself uses 10% of US oil supplies.

    Comment by peter d. jones — December 8, 2008 @ 10:01 am

  2. “We are told the US invasion of Iraq was all about oil. Or was it?”
    Well if it wasn’t this article doesn’t serve to enlighten as to why it wasn’t.

    Comment by Patrick B — December 8, 2008 @ 10:44 am

  3. Patrick, I am baiting those who claim the invasion was about bringing democracy to Iraq, because of course it wasn’t.
    Peter’s observation about the use of oil by the US military is very pertinent, and a major theme of Robert’s book: the need and greed for oil fuels a raging fire that consumes the users and producers. Bout time we looked for solutions, I’d say. And not much sign that we are.

    Comment by ronda jambe — December 8, 2008 @ 11:59 am

  4. CODA: Thomas Friedman’s Hot Flat and Crowded is another book discussing the perils of our oil addiction, it’s war inducing results, and the need for population stabilisation.
    I haven’t got hold of that one yet, but would be interested to know what others who have read it think.

    Comment by ronda jambe — December 8, 2008 @ 3:07 pm

  5. Nothing is about oil.
    Everything is about lucre.
    Trade is about lucre.
    Making big lucre is about trading on commodities that can be denied this group or the other in order to bump prices up.
    Throw away oil and introduce negative carbon.
    Go on – keep believing the lies. This time instead of chasing a commodity dream – chase instead a phantom, a BUBBLE.

    Comment by A NON FARMER — December 13, 2008 @ 8:24 pm

  6. to a non-farmer: oil, lucre, it comes down to power, doesns’t it? Chasing the ability to push other people around, rather than work together for survival.
    Maybe that’s what has been lost as humanity moved first to cities, then fiefdoms, then nations and finally global entities.
    But guess what? We are all going to sink or swim together.

    Comment by ronda jambe — December 14, 2008 @ 6:58 am

  7. No Ronda,
    We shall not be, as you do sincerely say, “all going to sink or swim together”.
    I hear what you mean and do admire your concern.
    Trouble is and be assured that some of us (or is that ‘them’) will swim and the vast majority will sink long before an inundation.
    Power. Consider the application of power. I’m an engineer and to me using power means utilising energy efficiently to do useful work.
    Other sorts of ‘power’ is used to destroy.
    Power in the view of four Victorian police means them killing a boy and getting away with it.
    Power in Greece means rioting until a police child murderer there is charged with murder.
    Power in Queensland means another cop shooting to kill the other day and the whole show being suppressed.
    If Jesus Christ lived in our age he’d have been shot dead in the courtyard of the modern equivalent of the temple.
    Never would have made it to the Crucifixion.
    I believe, Ronda, that we could agree that my idea of power has a better purpose for humanity.
    Yet you appear to believe those same people who permit those outrages. They condone killing kids and lie about that. Why not accept the carbon thing is also a lie.

    Comment by A NON FARMER — December 14, 2008 @ 4:18 pm

  8. Well, non-farmer, I think that power to develop society and power to control society are related. A lot of the powerful tell an awful lot of lies, but I don’t think the scientists warning us about environmental collapse from so many directions are liars. The data is flowing in.
    I also think, and reading the book about the end of oil reinforces this, that we humans are all equally short sighted and tend to indulge ourselves in whatever kinds of power (electrical or political) we can get hold of.
    The only thing that counters general excess is general democracy. What we are seeing in the world, in many places, is a collapse of governance. Standing up to be counted, without resorting to foolish and counterproductive acts of aggression and violence, are our only hope. Yes, and looking a bit further than the ends of our own noses. People who use petrol power for 4 wheel drives they don’t need are also misusing power, as well as being silly. But hey, I too am flawed (but we only have one normal car)

    Comment by Ronda — December 15, 2008 @ 9:40 am

  9. “The Medieval Machine” – Ronda –
    The entire arboreal countenance of Europe was irrevocably changed centuries ago to sustain a reasonably advanced technology making good use of timber at the expense of ‘landscape’.
    What metals were smeltered then was by use of ‘tree’ charcoal. What chemicals used were mined or more commonly derived from urine, dung, or offal.
    Dogshit and human urine was collected in cities to tan leather and bleach linen – fact.
    Every farm’s livestock pen, by law, had a vee shaped, timber lined, runnel sloped at a specified angle so that evaporation would cause nitrate crystals to be formed and thus collected – to make gunpowder.
    Most of the reason for Britain’s insistence with continuing opposing Napoleon’s New Europe was his New Europe’s interposition between England and its supply of masts and spars from Riga and pitch from Stockholm – without which England’s new Empire could not have happened.
    Through those centuries – just go look at changes in clothing fashion captured by our artists – the weather has bounced this way and that and usually in opposition to the activity of humankind.
    The only thing that HAS remained constant is the gullibility of ‘society’ – the ability to fall for the trap every time – from Agincourt to Iraq and all the excuses made to exercise the bastardry to the detriment of the individual but to the dubious (oh now how dubious)advancement of profit for the oligarchs.

    Comment by A NON FARMER — December 17, 2008 @ 7:52 pm

  10. Non-farmer, the book I am reading about the end of oil (by Paul Roberts) talks in general terms about that wood-based energy economy long ago, but I would like to read more.
    It is inaction that will favour the oligarchs on climate change.
    All climate change complacents should have a look at this article in today’s Canberra Times. Clathrates are the frozen undersea ice methane stores that are likely to be released.
    Who would be foolish enough to be indifferent or sceptical in the face of information like this?
    And who would be arrogant enough to believe the scientists are lying?
    By the way, in my presentation to the poor vulnerable girlies I also emphasised the positive things that are happening, and the opportunities they will have to shape the future, because that’s where they will be living.

    Comment by ronda jambe — December 18, 2008 @ 6:07 am

  11. Ronda, In reply your last, I’m arrogant enough to doubt just about anything these days. Except reality.
    If I said that I doubt death exists – you’d berate me as a wacko religionist.
    I’m not. I’m an ‘once Anglican’ and a good engineer.
    If I said death doesn’t exist because science proves it – you’d chortle more.
    If I waited long enough to say a little more about how well plants grow in cemeteries and crops over old battlefields – well what would you do?
    Have a fit of the giggling hiccoughs or turn away with contempt – or upon reflection, fear?
    Yet the reality is so sublime. Our bodies contain water molecules, that STATISTICALLY, the Pharaohs once drank and excreted.
    Every day, driving in traffic or standing in the street we breathe in and absorb carbon that, ALLEGEDLY, once was life released from the fuel we burn. (that’s assuming mineral oil is actually a product of the ‘transubstantiation’ of ancient forest biomass)
    The breath of Pharaohs and the ferns tromped down into the mud have been waiting so patiently, so long, to feel the warmth of the sun again.
    Does your body or mine revolt because this or that molecule was once part of Rameses, Pol Pot, Fred Potts, or Tyrannosaurus Rex’s toe wipes?
    No way Jose!
    Yet these random stowaways revel in giving us life while asking no reward.
    Look. This is CE 2008/9. Other civilisations have longer timeframes.
    By now we should be doing better within ourselves as towards understanding our place in eternity.
    All I can tell you for a fact is that it is flat IMPOSSIBLE to die here on this earth.
    Mind you – if you’ve been a pushy bastard making money by harming others, or some psychopath in legislature, or in some police station somewhere – it might be hard to discover your next life is shared between a crop of worms, a crop of wildflowers, some billions of bacteria, the odd slug, or a momentarily annoying puff of smoke downwind from the Crematorium. I never needed to be Buddhist to latch onto that.
    But that is Giaia’s reward for that sort.
    I have so much more to say.
    Does any of this upset you?

    Comment by A NON FARMER — December 18, 2008 @ 10:22 pm

  12. I have no problem with the recyling of organic material into more life. Our bodies turn air into life.
    But I can’t see what that has to do with the reality or otherwise of climate change.

    Comment by ronda jambe — December 19, 2008 @ 6:25 am

  13. Ronda – Here is the problem.
    Yesterday I bought a remotely controlled miniature aircraft for some experiments and some fun.
    It is a modern miracle. Very ‘Green’. you’d like it because of that, I’m sure.
    It is electrically powered. No exhaust, no ’emissions’.
    It is touted as the ‘Green’ technology replacement for a device that was once made from renewable timber held together with cellulose adhesives, powered by alcohol fuel and lubricated with castor oil.
    The only environmental hazard with the old sort was that they made a little noise.
    That forced the owner/operators further and further away from centres of population and turned a relatively cheap hobby for schoolboys parents and grandparents into a super expensive hobby for the wealthy.
    Some full-house model aircraft now cost as much to operate and often fly faster than your garden variety Cessna.
    So having purchased this modern ‘park flyer’, as it is promoted, I did some research.
    Electric powered at what cost? The battery pack, good enough for 50 to 100 flights (if the airframe survives that long) will be exhausted and need replacement.
    That 300 gram battery pack contains enough toxic material to end the lives of about ONE THOUSAND PEOPLE.
    Besides which the manual tells me not to leave those batteries unattended when they are being recharged.
    You see – sometimes they explode.
    I’m expected to stand there for half an hour with a calculated chance that I could cop the blast of that in my face.
    I submit, Ronda, that being an engineer of some small experience and research ability that there are some out there who are utterly, completely, beyond any doubt, being hoodwinked by unprincipled bastards claiming to be experts.
    Now if you cannot understand that it may be because you lack the skills to comprehend.

    Comment by a non farmer — December 19, 2008 @ 7:02 pm

  14. Back to the thread then –
    Two of the more interesting authors of conflict, Guderian, the aggressor, and Heinrici, the defender, would both laugh at modern greed and the screaming fuss made about oil and war. Oil, fuel, energy.
    Guderian bummed his fuel from the French in 1940; if and when he had to.
    Meanwhile most of his logistics train was still animal drawn.
    Heinrici, in 1945, just stayed put and let the Russians come to him. He had no choice.
    His countrymen, by then, had eaten all his transport for the defence of Germany while what ‘fuel’ driven transport had been appropriated by the set of ‘middle management’ for their escape out of country and points beyond.
    By the end of the second innings Heinrici had worked out being ‘stabbed in the back’ couldn’t be achieved by those already holding your ears and biting your throat.
    Both ‘great commanders’ made the best of what they had.
    I make the point that both were quite aware of their assets and made amazing use of their frightful situations.
    It is such a shame that their best use meant death for so many.
    Yet history proves that the deaths under their respective watches would have been infinitely worse if they’d been the sort of rubber stamp idiots as some would like to portray them.
    They managed immediacy as best they could, were a product of the sheer ignorance of their time, survived, and wrote books afterwards.
    Who ever put themselves down in their biographies?
    Which leads us to the present – Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Superbly professional military commanders are ordered off to a job. They know their plans and objectives are implemented as intending to maintain the supply of energy/resources for their Nation State and its alliance.
    Like those mentioned above they would rebel if it was put to them that their job was to cold-bloodedly offset so many deaths of their charges against so many dollars drop per barrel of oil.
    Yet that seems to be what I read above.
    So let’s take off the veil.
    Magic, isn’t it – stuff an overgrown brat in a tailormade suit and wrap enough tinsel on top and you’ll soon have the dickhead believing he’s a mover and shaker. In fact he becomes a programmable corporate psychopath.
    He works for those who present themselves as offering the National interest and he spends the lives of those he commands at the prurient request of his political masters.
    Yet those giving this article his orders are also telling their peanut rush that we are all running out of this fluid or that.
    Meanwhile the retail price of this fluid or that is up and down like a yoyo which makes the peanut rush even more desperate and has them, against their better judgement, ever more supportive of our tinsel topped general.
    And so it goes.

    Comment by A NON FARMER — December 19, 2008 @ 8:44 pm

  15. non-farmer, your post illustrates the same need as the post from WA: integrated, thoughtful solutions that are informed by truly intelligent design and awareness of the precautionary principle. amen, where will these wise people and leaders come from?

    Comment by ronda jambe — December 23, 2008 @ 9:09 am

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