A provocative examination of natural resources, their extraction, and their control.
We give our money to the oil producers of the world, and yet “we find the petrocrat making fiery speeches against us, and the terrorist bomb maker devising new ways to kill us.” That much is to be expected, for by ethicist Wenar’s (Chair, Ethics/Kings Coll., London) account, we are all characters acting out an elaborate script that begins with the tragic premise that any nation richly endowed with natural resources is really “resource-cursed.” In this light, an inexorable logic prevails: a resource—in this book, mostly oil—is discovered and exploited, and the proceeds reinforce authoritarian rule, which in turn increases tension and raises the odds of civil war. “Life was bad enough for people in Equatorial Guinea before oil,” he writes, “when they were poor and oppressed by a megalomaniacal despot. Now that [President] Obiang can sell off their oil, the people are poor and oppressed by a megalomaniacal despot who has hundreds of millions more dollars with which to cement his personal hold on power.” But what is the ordinary consumer of oil to do, thus implicated in a system that is prima facie evil, particularly in light of the fact that, as Wenar gamely suggests, the consumer therefore becomes part owner of Saudi Arabia? The obvious answer is to eschew oil, deny one’s dollars to the petrocrats of the Gulf and the plutocrats of Wall Street. But how likely is that? In this broad-ranging survey, Wenar examines numerous possibilities as well as the legal means oil powers have developed for holding us in their thrall. One of his paths, toward a solution involving “universal love,” may seem a little mystical, but Wenar’s philosophical explorations are really quite hard-nosed, more in the territory of Wittgenstein than Ram Dass.
A fascinating reframing of large and vexing questions. Highly recommended for policymakers and energy strategists as well as students of contemporary philosophy.