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The End of the World As We Know It?

There aren't many tyrants in history who can truthfully say they put the entire future of civilization at risk just to make a buck -- but Dick Cheney can.
 
 
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In a week or so, the New York Review of Books is going to publish an article by James Lovelock, the originator of the Gaia hypothesis (in which the Earth is viewed as more than an ecosystem, closer to a living being, that can be healthy or diseased, and can change, through evolution, from one state to the other). Lovelock will declare that the Earth's temperature is about to rise five to eight degrees centigrade (depending on where you are -- more at the poles, less in the tropics), and that this temperature rise will have disasterous consequences for all life, eventually, for example, reducing the human population from six billion to two hundred million, mostly living in the far north, and, as another example, submerging the British Isles, creating out of the highest points of land an archipelago, where some, but not much, habitation will be possible. As for the western United States, done for, along with much of the rest of the world, and civilization as we know it, of course.

And then there's a report by the Global Policy Forum, which, I gather, is a UN watchdog organization, about what's going on with Iraqi oil. Yes, the war is a disaster, but, at least as of last year, the west was moving ahead nicely in its expropriation of Iraqi oil. The ownership of the oil reserves has been public, but now the oil industry plans to use "production sharing agreements" to gain for itself the profits that otherwise would go to Iraqis.

To quote from the Global Policy paper (written by Greg Muttitt):

"It is difficult to overstate how radical a departure PSAs would be from normal practice, both in Iraq and in other comparable countries of the region. Iraq's oil industry has been in public hands since 1972; prior to that the rights to develop oil in 99.5% of the country had also been publicly held since 1961. In Iraq's neighbours Kuwait, Iran and Saudi Arabia, foreign control over oil development is ruled out by constitution or by national law. These countries together with Iraq are the world's top four countries in terms of oil reserves, with 51% of the world total between them... Countries with reserves the size of Iraq's do not use PSAs because they do not need to and are able to run their oil industries on far more beneficial terms... Unfortunately the Iraqi people have not been informed of the pro-PSA oil development plans, let alone their implications, which have transformed so seamlessly from US State Department recommendations into Iraqi government policy."

According to Muttitt, if oil were selling at $40 per barrel (ha ha), Iraq would hand profits of between $74 billion and $194 billion over to the oil companies.

Bear with me here. In yesterday's New York Times ' better-late- than-never editorial, about how possibly to get out of Iraq, it is suggested that Americans should renounce permanent bases there -- "The people in Iraq and across the Middle East need a strong sign that the troops are not there to further any American imperial agenda." Oh, yes -- war for oil. It all comes clear now.

Part Two

Once upon a time, there was a man named Dick Cheney. He was a contemptuous, selfish, snarling, secretive, bullying sort of man who thought he was very smart, and he had a bunch of cronies whom we shall call "Pnackers". Dick and the Pnackers sometimes liked money more than power and sometimes liked power more than money, but most of the time they liked both equally, and, more than that, they thought they were entitled to both power and money because they were white male Americans and because they were corporate capitalists and other people had been sucking up to them for as long as they could remember. Unfortunately, Dick and the Pnackers were themselves so abysmally unattractive that in order to get elected, and thereby get their hands on the biggest military and the biggest cache of weapons in the world, Dick had to find himself a useful but controllable idiot, preferably one who was entirely corrupt, and came from an entirely corrupt family. He didn't have far to seek.

Pretty soon, Dick, the Pnackers, and, sometimes, little George himself, came up with a plan. The steps of the plan were as follows:

1. Assure their own "election" by any means possible, including denying the vote to registered voters, announcing results early in the count, blocking recounts, and buying off cronies on the Supreme Court.

2. Use flyovers to provoke the guy who no one liked and who owned the big oil reserves.

3. Panic the nation's energy users by engineering a fake "shortage" on the power grid in the largest state in the union. Deny absolutely that conservation works (even though it does).

4. Either provoke or take advantage of a planned attack on American soil that would provide defensive cover for the theft of the oil reserves.

5. Start a pretend war of retaliation against one country (Afghanistan) as a way of mobilizing the troops and the populace, while planning a much bigger war somewhere else (Iraq) for the real purpose of getting the oil.

6. Deny the reality of climate change at every opportunity in order to protect the value of the oil, and reduce, prevent, or slow down any shift from oil to other energy technologies.

7. Use public relations (aka "lying") to terrorize the voters about threats from organizations that are, at most, moderately dangerous to some targets and, at least, gangs of kids with big mouths, no money, and no equipment.

8. Gut the Constitution in order to protect themselves and threaten their enemies.

9. Seamlessly install the oil barons in Iraq.

10. Live forever (hazmat suit necessary, but a small price to pay.)

Once upon a time, Dick, little George, and the Pnackers were indifferent to many things -- to the welfare of other humans (indifferent when they weren't actively hostile), to the health and well-being of the natural world, and especially to not only knowledge but truth. Was the source of their indifference mere ignorance? Active malevolence? A sense of entitlement as "Americans"? as white people? as men? Who knows? But whatever the source, they were proud and protective of it, and they actively cultivated it.

Their plan didn't work. It was a bad plan that underestimated the difficulty, and the cost, of every single step, and also underestimated the gullibility of the hapless world-citizens who were the intended suckers. It was a bad plan because it was not based on any knowledge of how the world of humans and the natural world actually work.

Part Three

The lies, cheats, and crimes Dick, George, and the Pnackers have committed have done what all lies, cheats, and crimes do -- they have led to more and more lies, cheats, and crimes, and now the misconceived nature of the whole enterprise is apparent to all. It doesn't matter at this point if they manage to steal the mid-term election this year or not. Iraq is such a mess that even Dick's friends and allies can't think of a way to save it or to clean it up. The Iraqis, I am sorry to say, have to pay the price, but at least they know who's to blame.

But to get back to Lovelock, horrible as it is, Iraq is not the point, Iraq is only the canary in the mine, giving voice to the coming cataclysm. Not even the US is the point, although since 1980, the Republicans have been pandering to the greedy appetites of Americans for driving big vehicles, arming themselves, and thinking themselves superior to everyone in the world. They have egged Americans on to destroying the world's environment for the sake of more and more goods, and now America is in big trouble. But empires come and go. Get over it.

What is the point is human survival. If Americans had started taking the meaning of oil dependence seriously in 1977, when Jimmy Carter asked us to, or had not ridiculed the idea of climate change in 1992, when Al Gore brought it up, we might have gotten a start by this time in reducing emissions, we might not be looking at one horrific disaster paving the way for another.

But we are. There aren't many tyrants in history who can truthfully say they put the entire future of civilization at risk just to make a buck and feel the power, but Dick Cheney and the Pnackers can. So here's a word to the 200 million who will someday be left: Good luck, and it was these guys who pulled the trigger.

Jane Smiley is a novelist and essayist. Her novel A Thousand Acres won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992.

 
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