Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Where Does The 40 Percent Come From?

It is widely reported by several reputable sources that the United States contains five percent of the world's population, yet consumes 25 percent of the world's energy. According to the book Science And Technology in World History by McClellan and Dorn, in 1998 the U.S. consumed 40 percent of the world's oil, and in 2002, the U.S. consumed 25 percent of the world's electricity. And according to the book Globalization or Empire? by Jan Nederveen Pieterse, the U.S. spends 40 percent of the world's total military spending. If one digs a little, one can find statistics that show that the U.S. consumes a grossly disproportionate share of many of the world's resources. As a result, there are more cars than registered drivers in this country, there are more shopping malls than high schools, and 66.7 percent of Americans are overweight, with over half of these now being classified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as obese. (Source: http://www.ukmedix.com/weight-loss/the_fat_are_getting_fatter_in_america4370.cfm)

We are a nation that is busy pigging out and chowing down the American way, with no guilt or qualms over our conspicuous consumption, yet few people ask, “Where does the 40 percent come from? Or where does the 25 percent come from? If we only comprise five percent of the world's population, how is it that we get to consume so much of the world's resources? How did we get our hands on them? And what is happening to the people in the rest of the world? What do they get to consume?”

These are hard questions of the sort that are not encouraged by the masters of empire, lest consciences should be awakened. If the questions are addressed at all, the wrong answers are given. But if most Americans knew the conditions and arrangements under which such generous helpings of the world's wealth were delivered to them, many of them would never again get a peaceful night's sleep – at least, not if they had consciences that were in any way functional. For the answers to those questions have everything to do with lies, conquests, murders, unjust military adventures, crooked contracts, exploitative trade treaties and the support of corrupt, stooge foreign governments whose leaders sell out their own citizens for profit. And the mainstream media in this country do not report on these things. Do you want to see how American excesses of consumption affect citizens of Third World countries? Do you want to see the conditions under which many of these people are forced to live? You won't find much coverage of these stories in papers like the Oregonian or Wall Street Journal or Orange County Register or USA Today.

Too many of us are like my mental picture of a child of the First World living at the turn of the 20th century in a large house in Africa or India, a child with all the material possessions that money could buy, who looks out his window every day at the poor native children in the street without ever asking why those children are poor and unhappy. But as for me, I'd like to know where the 40 percent comes from, and how we get it.

And it looks like there are a few people who are willing to tell the answer to anyone who is willing to listen. I am thinking particularly of a few noteworthy moviemakers who have chronicled the rape of the Niger Delta in Africa by multinational oil companies. One of their projects is Poison Fire, a movie made by Lars Johansson and others. This movie details how multinational oil companies turned the Niger Delta into an environmental and ecological disaster in order to satisfy the First World's thirst for oil. You can find out more about it at http://www.poisonfire.org/.

There is also Sweet Crude (http://www.sweetcrudemovie.com/), a film directed by Sandy Cioffi, which also documents the human cost of oil extraction in Nigeria – a cost about which the American and European mainstream media are loudly silent.

Watch these movies – if you dare.

1 comment:

Kiashu said...

"This movie details how multinational oil companies turned the Niger Delta into an environmental and ecological disaster in order to satisfy the First World's thirst for oil."

To be specific, the West's demand for cheap oil.

The Nigerians are perfectly happy to sell us oil at a fair price, so long as where they live is not destroyed and they the public actually get some of the money.

We can get quite large amounts of resources and manufactured goods from countries while doing little or no environmental or social harm to them. But that'd make the stuff more expensive. Which means we'd have less of it overall - since we can't afford everything.

Chinese factory workers live in dormitories in polluted cities so we can have $5 t-shirts. Congolese toil by hand in coltan mines so we can have $50 mobile phones and $500 laptop computers.

Without their suffering, we might have to pay $10 for our t-shirts. $100 for our mobile phones, and $1,000 for our laptops. Which would mean less laptops, mobile phones and t-shirts overall.

Yet another reason to buy local...