Monbiot to King Abdaullah

2008-05-28

in Economics, Politics, The environment

Sunglasses

British journalist and climate change agitator George Monbiot has written an interesting open letter to King Abdaullah of Saudi Arabia. He comments on the degree to which remaining oil supplies in Saudi Arabia are one of the biggest geopolitical mysteries out there, and how Saudi Arabia retains a unique influence to manage oil prices. He also comments on the contradictory policies of western leaders who both assert that they want to solve climate change and continue to envision a world in which oil is cheap and plentiful:

In other words, your restrictions on supply – voluntary or otherwise – are helping the government to meet its carbon targets. So how does it respond? By angrily demanding that you remove them so that we can keep driving and flying as much as we did before. Last week, Gordon Brown averred that it’s “a scandal that 40% of the oil is controlled by Opec, that their decisions can restrict the supply of oil to the rest of the world, and that at a time when oil is desperately needed, and supply needs to expand, that Opec can withhold supply from the market”. In the United States, legislators have gone further: the House of Representatives has voted to bring a lawsuit against Opec’s member states, and Democratic senators are trying to block arms sales to your kingdom unless you raise production.

This illustrates one of our leaders’ delusions. They claim to wish to restrict the demand for fossil fuels, in order to address both climate change and energy security. At the same time, to quote Britain’s Department for Business, they seek to “maximise economic recovery” from their remaining oil, gas and coal reserves. They persist in believing that both policies can be pursued at once, apparently unaware that if fossil fuels are extracted they will be burnt, however much they claim to wish to reduce consumption. The only states that appear to be imposing restrictions on the supply of fuel are the members of Opec, about which Brown so bitterly complains. Your Majesty, we have gone mad, and you alone can cure our affliction, by keeping your taps shut.

The letter is a somewhat cheeky way for Monbiot to make his points – appealing to the autocratic ruler of a foreign state to help temper the bad policies of his own government – but it does share the intriguing quality of most of his writing.

More and more, people need to gain an appreciation that concerns about climate change and energy security do not always push us in the same policy direction. Concern about climate change tells us to change our infrastructure, cut back on energy use, and use the energy we have more intelligently. Energy security often presses us towards a desperate search for alternative fuels, regardless of what environmental consequences their production may have.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan May 28, 2008 at 12:26 pm

Our notion of Authority traces back to the latin term “Auctoritas”. The “Auctor” is the one who augments – as in augments the act or juridical situation of another. Autocracy, on the other hand, means self-ruler (auto/self-cracy/ruler).

There are Authoritarian states, and Autocratic states, and certainly states that are both. But I do not think there are “Authocratic” ones. Although, literally, this word is meaningful – it would mean the one who rules by augmenting. The augmenting is a founding act, that legitimizes, whereas self-rulership requires divine right for justification.

This has made me think – isn’t authocracy precisely the kind of state democracy produces? We vote for and support the government which augments our situation, which “writes” the narrative of growth. Democracy is the form of rule which requires re-founding every four years, and it founds by appeasing the desires of the masses. Of course, an autocracy in this sense could be autocratic as well – it is not as if monarchy has no need for popular support – and drilling oil wells to augment the lot of citizens delivers a continual augmenting (especially if the prices are continually raised), which legitimizes the rule?

I think a basic mistake made in Western philosophy is to act as if legitimacy of a state is something that predates the state, and not instead something the state continually produces, sometimes produces in such a way as it appears to have always been there.

Milan May 28, 2008 at 1:37 pm

‘Authocratic’ is a typo that WordPress seems insistent upon not removing…

Milan May 28, 2008 at 1:39 pm

Huzzah, I seem to have fixed it.

. February 23, 2009 at 8:14 pm

George Monbiot cuts through Shell Oil’s PR spin

By Kevin Grandia on shell oil

Here’s a great video interview with Guardian columnist George Monbiot and Jeroen van der Veer, the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell. The spin and bafflegab is almost too painful to watch. We need more reporters like Monbiot that push hard and ask the right questions.

. July 30, 2010 at 12:05 pm

The Saudi succession
When kings and princes grow old
Brother follows brother as Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarch. And so it may well continue, but watch for the tensions within that very large royal family

Jul 15th 2010 | Cairo

IMAGINE that the United Kingdom was an absolute monarchy known as Windsor Britain. Imagine that Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, had dozens of brothers, scores of sons and hundreds of cousins, and that the broader House of Windsor numbered thousands of lesser princes and princesses. Imagine further that all these royals pocketed fat state stipends, with many holding lifelong fiefs as government ministers, department heads, regimental commanders or provincial governors, with no parliament to hold them in check. Now imagine how sporting these princely chaps would be when the throne fell vacant, if the only written rule was a vague stipulation that the next in line should be the “best qualified” among all the Windsor princes.

This is roughly how things look in Saudi Arabia, a family enterprise run the old-fashioned way. Here the king is not only prime minister. He also appoints the members of parliament and designates a successor to the throne. Yet the actual workings of this system are not so simple. The size of the ruling al-Saud family (at least 5,000 hold princely rank), and the accumulated privileges of its leading princes are such that kings must take care to balance rival interests. They must also accommodate Wahhabist clerics who expect rewards for sanctioning absolute monarchy, technocrats who actually manage the country and even, sometimes, those of their subjects who grow restive, and demand a voice beyond presenting personal petitions at royal receptions.

King Abdullah deserves much credit for the general lightening of tone. Gruff, homely and popular, he has ruled since 2005. He spent 23 years as crown prince before ascending the throne, ten of those as an unofficial regent after his predecessor, King Fahd, suffered a debilitating stroke in 1995. Holidaying in Morocco this month after a North American jaunt, Abdullah shows no particular sign of frailty. His youngest son is just seven years old. Yet the king is now thought to be 86. His windows of lucidity are shrinking; loyal minders frequently rephrase his words so they make sense. When he abruptly postponed a planned French leg of his current summer tour, rumours about his health abounded.

Unfortunately, Abdullah’s quiet promotion of social reform has not been matched by any similar move towards political change. Royal rule remains as absolute as ever, meaning just as inefficient and just as unpredictable. Although there is a sketchy script for the next act, neither actors nor audience look very inspired.

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