When the political class focuses on the perils of fossil fuel dependence, they almost always use the word “foreign” before “oil”. This is redundant. Oil is inherently foreign. All of it.
Oil is foreign to democracy. In an election cycle flooded by unrestricted political money, oil money stands out as the biggest gusher. The Supreme Court struck down Montana’s law limiting corporate spending on campaigns yesterday, so the blowout of oil’s influence will remain uncapped for the foreseeable future. In America and around the world, oil and freedom do not mix. Because it concentrates wealth, facilitates abuse of power, breeds dependence, and crushes democracy, oil is fundamentally foreign to the American creed.
Oil is foreign to the atmosphere, air, and water. Burning oil releases about 85 billion pounds of CO2 to the atmosphere per day, all of which has been foreign to our climate for many millions of years. The planet that existed when that carbon was aloft was a very different place, as foreign as, oh, Jurassic Park. And some oil doesn’t get burned because it leaks out along the way, causing the waterways of home to turn toxic, hostile, and foreign (see Inside Climate’s blockbuster story on the underreported ”Dilbit Disaster” in Michigan.)
Oil is foreign to economic security. The U.S. has less than 5% of the world’s population, about 2% of proven conventional oil reserves, and consumes about 20% of the oil produced. Prices are set on world markets and heavily influenced by oilogopolistic producers, regardless of where the oil comes from. Those producers have us over a barrel as long as we need the stuff.
Oil is foreign to local economic vitality. The overwhelming majority of Americans live in communities that are hemorrhaging economic resources in order to pay for oil. Here in King County Washington, for example, our economy will lose north of $5 billion this year to fetch oil – roughly the size of the entire County budget. A tiny handful of Americans live in communities where oil brings in more money than it sucks out.
Oil is foreign to the intergenerational contract. Any economic value derived from expanded oil trafficking is confiscated from the many generations who will have to pay the exorbitant costs of living in an unstable climate. They will not be amused. Estimates of the economic value of unchecked climate change are enormous but fuzzy; there is no satisfying way to monetize the intergenerational abuse.
Regardless of where they poke the holes, oil is not yours. It’s not mine. It’s ExxonMobil’s and OPEC’s and the Koch’s. Wherever the next fix happens to come from, they will use it to extract record profits, destroy the climate, and maul our democracy.
Drill here, drill there, it doesn’t matter. The whole damned business is foreign to our national interests, to our values, to our future.