My recent discussion of Saudi Arabia put me in mind of another of the battle cries of the anti-war left: “No war for oil! No blood for oil!”
It’s got all the makings of a great slogan. All the words are one syllable. It’s catchy, it’s easy to chant in unison, and it captures a certain moral superiority.
The only problem is, that it’s wrong. Wrong and stupid.
Oil is quite possibly the most valuable substance on the face of the earth. It is literally the keystone of modern civilization. And it has been a cause or, at least a major factor, in many, many wars.
Hell, in both theatres of World War II, oil was key. Hitler desperately needed the oil fields of Romania to keep his war machine (in fact, his whole empire) going. And when he lost access to that, along with northern Africa, Nazi scientists launched a desperate quest for a substitute for crude oil and its numerous by-products — a quest that ended in failure, and consequently defeat for the Nazis.
In the Pacific, it was no different. Japan is an island nation with virtually no natural resources of its own. They have to import virtually everything.
It is that lack that was a large motivating factor in Japan’s drive towards expanding its empire in World War II. And it’s one of the great under-reported tales of World War II — how our submarines practically annihilated Japan’s merchant fleet, literally starving the Empire of the precious resources she needed to continue her war effort — not the least of which was oil. By the end of the war, a good chunk of Japan’s surviving navy — the pride of the Empire, and before the war arguably one of the most powerful fleets in the world (certainly the most powerful in the Pacific) — was stuck in port, unable to venture out and confront the US. And all because they had no fuel.
Just what is it about crude oil that makes it so valuable? There are two reasons that this layman knows about.
1) It is an incredibly efficient source of energy. In its numerous derivative forms, it provides fuel for nearly every form of transportation. It provides heat and electricity for billions. People have been calling for years for some substitute for oil, but nothing has ever come close to it for sheer efficiency.
2) It is incredbly versatile. Take a look at what sorts of things derive from “petrochemicals.” For one: plastics.
Nearly everything made from plastic has a petroleum base, or did originally. I’m looking around my bedroom, and nearly everything I see has some plastic elements. My computer, monitor, TV, cable box, DVD, stereo, cable box, shelving, chair, telephone, alarm clock — I probably have the equivalent of 1.5 dead dinosaurs just in my apartment.
And let’s not forget synthetic fabrics. Nylon, polyester, spandex, lycra, vinyl — all are derived from petroleum.
And we mustn’t forget all the gay-sex jokes that would lose all meaning without Vaseline-brand petroleum jelly.
In fact, it amazes me that with all the amazing things we can do with petroleum, the most common use is we BURN it. We convert it into toxic chemicals, using a process that leaves no usable, recyclable byproducts whatsoever. My god, we must be insane.
Petroleum, as I said, is the keystone of modern civilization. Without the ready, affordable access to oil we enjoy now, every single aspect of modern life would come screeching to a halt, and we’d be back to the early 1800’s — or earlier. Kiss goodbye to every single modern trapping of civilization, right down to indoor plumbing (PVC pipe, anyone?), mass communications, and modern medicine. Watch the average lifespan take a HUGE hit, the death rate to skyrocket, the modern economy to dissolve, and (I might be a bit melodramatic here) quite possibly the utter collapse of civilization.
And it’d be a one-way trip. Our climb out of that state was almost entirely built on oil and other fossil fuels. Speaking strictly for myself, my ongoing survival of certain medical conditions is based entirely on modern civilization. Take that away, I’m most likely dead in a week or two. And I’m hardly unique.
We desperately — desperately — need a replacement for petroleum. We’ve experimented with other sources to replace its many uses — the soy bean, alternate forms of energy such as solar, wind, and nuclear, even working on developing a “synthetic” crude that doesn’t take millions of years of underground burial to create. And it’s gotten pretty much nowhere.
And always looming over any great discovery is the knowledge that it would take decades to transform our civilization away from petroleum to another source — and knowing just how well such moves would be greeted by those who depend on their supplies of petroleum for their continued prosperity. The instant it’s publicly announced that we will start replacing petroleum with Substance X is the day that the oil producers will jack the prices through the roof, hoping to score every single penny they can before their oil reserves become little more than useless, sticky, smelly pits of goo.
No war for oil? Sure, that’s a workable option — for lone whackos like the Unabomber and Eric Rudolph, among other survivalist nuts and “back to nature” kooks.
Me, I think that our current civilization has been a tremendous boon for humanity, and it’s worth fighting for. I think the best answer to the anti-war left I’ve seen is the simple “no oil for pacifists.”