Emotional responses to oil production

2010-07-22

in Economics, Geek stuff, Politics, Psychology, The environment

When I was a child, I remember seeing working on terrestrial or offshore oil rigs as an heroic profession: using knowledge and technology to do something difficult and important, at considerable risk to your personal safety. No doubt, that view was partly formed through exposure to advertising. Like the military and space programs, oil companies realized a long time ago that the combination of high technology with human dedication is an image that people find compelling. Throw together footage of people in hardhats riding helicopters between giant machines, with intense music in the background, and you can pretty easily create a sense of your company and personnel as impressive. Nonetheless, it still has a certain emotional validity, as long as the interactions you think about are all the voluntary ones: companies accessing oil reserves and then upgrading their crude contents into useful products that serve important functions.

Of course, when you start to think about the involuntary interactions, the waters get substantially muddied. Oil producers and users are both guilty of putting their own needs and desires ahead of those who are inevitably harmed as a consequence of their activities, through routes like air and water pollution and climate change.

Now, when I see ads for oil companies, I respond to them like personal insults. They look like taunts from powerful and politically influential companies that are fully aware of how much damage they are causing, but are happy to continue to do so, while continuing to try to foster the image I used to hold of them as brave technical experts.

Of course, there are still people out there who factually reject the idea that oil production and use causes significant suffering for third parties. From that mindset, it is almost inevitable that you would end up with a profoundly different view of oil producers and consumers. It is not all that surprising, then, that deep aesthetic and political disagreements about how the industry should be treated are ongoing.

Now, it seems like a real shame that so much energy, effort, and money have gone into building up an industry that has proven to be so harmful. If all the intellectual effort that has gone into extracting and processing fossil fuels during the last few decades had been applied instead to the development and deployment of renewable forms of energy, we would be a lot farther along the path to carbon neutrality today.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan July 22, 2010 at 9:55 am

Of course, some advertising from oil companies, defence companies, and similar entities manages to enter the realm of the preposterous: Lockheed Martin’s green advertising.

R.K. July 22, 2010 at 2:12 pm

I remember seeing working on terrestrial or offshore oil rigs as an heroic profession: using knowledge and technology to do something difficult and important, at considerable risk to your personal safety.

This goes back to David Mitchell’s point: “[B]urning oil, and the various machines we’ve invented that burn oil, is brilliant and it’s a real pisser we can’t do it anymore. But we can’t, because of facts.”

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