Book Review: Crude World by Peter Maass

There are lots of reasons to look for alternatives to oil and to use less of the stuff; the two main ones you hear about in America are climate change and energy security.

But there is another story, another problem with oil- the disruption it causes in communities that are unprepared to deal with the sudden wealth that comes from sitting on top of it. Peter Maass has visited those parts of the world, some of them places that very few people would dare to go, and has written about them in Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil.

You really don't have to get past the Contents page to learn what the book is about; the chapter titles are Scarcity, Plunder, Rot, Contamination, Fear, Greed, Desire, Alienation, Empire and Mirage.
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It could be a novel, like the Dogs of War; Crude World reads like one and only a Frederick Forsyth could invent a character like Teodoro Obiang, the president of Equatorial Guinea. But he is real, and when not entertaining the likes of Condoleeza Rice (she called him "a good friend.") he is flying in his gold-plated jet to his house in Malibu and is filling his bank accounts around the world with an estimated $ 700 million. In a country of only 500,000 people, a little income distribution would go a long way.

Much sadder is Nigeria, which has been essentially destroyed by oil. It has the largest population in Africa, and was expected to prosper after independence in 1960. Instead it has faced war, corruption, environmental degradation, with 80% of its oil revenue going into the pockets of 1% of the population.

Other stories are better known in the west, like the environmental disaster in Ecuadorian Amazonia, now a major motion picture, Crude. Maass also takes us to Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Each visit is a tale of economic and moral destruction.

On his website, Maas is asked the question, What do you see as the most necessary change that needs to be made to begin to curtail the strife that is associated with oil production?

He answers:

We need to curtail our appetite for oil. We already know that the burning of fossil fuels harms the atmosphere. We need to understand--and I hope my book provides some help on this--that our dependence on oil has warped countries that provide us with the substance. If we become less reliant on oil--which means becoming more conservation-minded and efficient, as well as developing renewable energy on a broader scale than is already underway--we will not feel a need to go to war for oil's sake, or to support a dictator for oil's sake.

Really, if climate change, energy independence and concern about peak oil were not enough reasons to ditch the SUV and cut back on fuel consumption, this is. Oil isn't just environmentally dirty; it is an ethical and moral poison as well. It is, as Maass calls it, a "violence-­inducing intoxicant." The sooner we find something to replace it, the better.

More at Peter Maass

Tags: Books | Oil

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