However one measures it, oil is the most traded commodity in the 20th century. In no other period in man's history has the rate of consumption been so high. Petroleum products are so versatile that it is difficult to imagine life without such products as plastics made from this resource, and, for many, their continued use is taken for granted. In fact, from 1983, plastic and related materials have been produced at higher volumes than steel. Today, a huge variety of domestic products, ranging from dyes to nail polish, are derived from petroleum.
An additional reason for the profitability of the sector is that few other commodities have generated so much surplus value. I contend that this surplus value is a result of the industry operating with impunity, paying scant attention to the environment and to the people who live in their areas of operation. Thus, the energy produced by the sector remains heavily subsidized by faceless, voiceless millions whose waters, lands and livelihoods are circumscribed on a daily basis.
The path of crude oil development has been strewn with skeletons and soaked in human blood across the world. The ongoing case in Nigeria is a glaring example, and the case of Angola is still fresh in memory. Naomi Klein has expertly exposed the issue of the profitability of disasters in her new book. She states that 'With resource scarcity and climate change providing a steadily increasing flow of new disasters, responding to emergencies is simply too hot an emerging market to be left to the nonprofits - why should UNICEF rebuild schools when it can be done by Bechtel, one of the largest engineering firms in the US?' She also asks the question: 'Why deploy UN peacekeepers to Darfur when private security companies like Blackwater are looking for new clients?' (Klein, 2007, p15).
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