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Will Our Petro-Dependency Destroy Our Democracy?

Iraqis may revolt when they hear about new laws privatizing their oil. But what about us? There are few signs that Congress will do anything to resist the unhealthy influence our oil dependency has on our politics.
 
 
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Are we in Iraq to bring freedom to the Iraqi people, as Bush says, or are we in Iraq to preserve the "easy motoring" freedom of American consumers by staking our claim to Iraq's oil?

For those who have even a passing acquaintance with the geopolitical reality of how the world's remaining oil is distributed, the answer is obvious: "It's the oil, stupid." Iraq has the world's second-largest reserve of the light, sweet crude oil that sells for billions upon billions of dollars in the world economy.

And, while some analysts explain Bush's Iraq troop surge as a means to preserve his self-image as "commander in chief" by prolonging the war until he can leave his office and the mess to the next administration, it is more likely, as explained by Chris Floyd, that the surge is buying time until the Iraqi government ratifies the new hydrocarbon law that divvies up Iraq's oil profits.

The hydrocarbon law is being sold to the public as a solution to the knotty problem of how to distribute oil profits among the Kurds, Sunnis and Shia in order to contain the growing civil war, but it does much more than that. The most critical part of the law is how it will essentially privatize most of Iraq's oil, granting profits and control to Exxon, Chevron, Shell and other oil companies.

The Independent , a British newspaper, obtained a leaked copy of the draft law and reported that its provisions would lock Iraqi oil into 30-year Production Sharing Agreements with private oil corporations on what are absolute beggar's terms.

The PSAs would divert up to 70 percent of the oil profits to private companies while they are developing new oil fields, and 20 percent of the profits thereafter. PSAs are not a common arrangement -- most of the world's oil is owned and controlled by state-run oil companies, as was Iraq's when its oil was nationalized in 1972.

But even where PSAs are in place, a fair profit-sharing arrangement is considered to be on the order of 10 percent, not 20 percent. Similarly, the exorbitant 70 percent of profits to pay for oil-field development is way out of line with the physics of oil production in Iraq. Lying just beneath the sand, Iraq's oil today is some of the easiest in the world to produce.

Most Iraqis have no idea of the content of the new hydrocarbon law. What will happen when they find out? The Independent quotes a statement from a recent meeting of Iraqi trade union leaders:

"The Iraqi people refuse to allow the future of their oil to be decided behind closed doors. The occupier seeks and wishes to secure ... energy resources at a time when the Iraqi people are seeking to determine their own future, while still under conditions of occupation."

The Bush administration hopes to dampen this kind of reaction by promising each individual Iraqi a share of the oil profits. Tony Snow compared the hydrocarbon law to Alaska's Permanent Fund that distributes a share of oil revenues drawn from state land to every Alaska resident. But will Iraqis trust a promise like that?

The Independent's take is that the "perception that Iraq's wealth is being carved up among foreigners can only add further fuel to the flames of the insurgency, defeating the purpose of sending more American troops to a country already described in a U.S. intelligence report as a cause celebre for terrorism."

But Bush and his allies among the U.S. elites will never give up on Iraq's great oil prize. As Chris Floyd said about the likely failure of the troop surge and the hydrocarbon law: "If the effort flames out in a disastrous crash that makes the situation worse as it almost certainly will Bush will simply back another horse."

Meanwhile, on the home front, Global Public Media reported last week on a Senate Energy Committee hearing on "The Geopolitics of Oil." Senators heard from experts that a new "Axis of Oil" has emerged, with Russia and China playing lead roles in a game of "keep away" -- blocking the U.S. from its traditional lion's share of world oil supplies.

The reporter said the atmosphere in the hearing room had "an almost palpable sense of graveness and alarm" as senators heard the panel of experts recommend the establishment of a Pentagon-level energy security director and a massive nuclear-power buildup to replace gasoline by providing electricity for a new fleet of electric cars.

These are the first steps in what security studies expert Michael Klare calls an emerging "energo-fascism." In a recent article, Klare describes three indicators of energo-fascism that I summarize as: 1. the transformation of the U.S. military into a global oil protection service; 2. the emerging Axis of Oil and the power struggles of governments in relation to it, and 3. the greater reliance on nuclear power and the increase in security apparatus that it entails.

Iraqis may revolt when they hear how the hydrocarbon law infringes on their freedom and self-determination, but what about us? What about our freedom? Is there any sign that the Congress we elected will do anything at all to resist the brave new energo-facist world?

House Democrats, as part of their first 100 hours legislative agenda, will vote on a bill this week to cut an estimated $13 billion worth of subsidies to the oil industry. The money saved will be placed into a renewable energy fund. This is a good start, but there are disturbing signs that the Democrats are not really looking at the big picture about energy. The big picture must encompass energy security, the threat of "energo-facism," and the inconvenient truth of global climate change.

Scott Sklar, a solar industry lobbyist, said in a recent podcast that there is little chance that the Democrats will propose any kind of overarching, big-picture energy legislation. Legislation will be "piecemeal," he said, and flawed. Sklar described a piece of renewable-energy legislation being drafted by the Senate Energy Committee chairman, Jeff Bingaman, that includes support for nuclear power and coal.

And so it is up to "we the people" to defend our freedom from emerging "energo-facism."

Dave Roberts, a writer at the online green magazine Grist, proposes that greens unite around the energy issue and "push in the same direction." The direction is decentralization. Decentralization means increased security and freedom, as Roberts explains:

"The decentralization and democratization of energy production and the development of a more conscious, thoughtful consumer lifestyle will yield an economy powered by less cheap oil and more valuable human labor -- along with a foreign policy conducted from a position of security and independence."

Roberts even has a nifty acronym for the anti-surge of this agenda for independence. He calls it URGE2, for "Use renewably generated electricity, efficiently."

Roberts says that "Entrenched elites will always favor switching out one set of large-scale, concentrated sources of energy for another," and "It's up to greens to lobby on behalf of the broader public interest." But is it just up to greens to fight energo-facism?

Where are all the libertarians and small-government advocates? Where is Grover Norquist the guy who wants to shrink government small enough so he can "drown it in the bathtub?" A government that has to provide oil and nuclear security services spanning the globe will inevitably evolve into a fascist state of monstrous proportions. We can see it happening now as our Iraq adventure spawns ever-increasing terrorism that requires ever-escalating forces to contain.

A renewable-energy economy could be a decentralized free-market paradise. Imagine a network of small power producers, ranging from the family that invests in some extra solar panels to the city that owns a fleet of wind turbines -- all feeding electricity into a robust electric grid, sharing electrons with Internet-like intelligence and resilience.

The future is coming fast, and we'll choose it through our actions as citizens, consumers and voters. The question remains: Do we have the energy for freedom?

Kelpie Wilson is Truthout's environment editor. She is the author of Primal Tears, an eco-thriller about a hybrid human-bonobo girl. What'

 
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