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A crude dilemma

The price of oil is hovering at a record $135 a barrel and projections are that it may well rise steadily upwards of $150 by year end. Due to its central importance in so many industries, especially transport, the knock-on effects of high oil prices are now impacting on vital sectors such as energy and agriculture. As the world slides into recession, and conflicts flare over oil and gas, financial speculators have been treating oil as the new ‘gold’ (gold is traditionally a safe commodity to buy when markets turn sour), driving the prices even higher. Market analysts suggest that over half of the current price of oil is purely a result of intense speculation, and that the real costs based on supply-and-demand economics would be closer to the $50-70 range. But governments are impotent to intervene in the markets, as the oil companies post record profits, and the world’s poorest slide further into poverty.

At such a time, many might wonder whether it would be madness to pursue a bold proposal like Yasuní. After all, with the price of oil so high, the Ecuadorian Government’s projected losses from not exploiting Yasuní oil are increasing all the time. A billion barrels of oil entering the markets might also calm the panic and help bring the price down. But to pursue such a course would be to delay the inevitable and will exacerbate the climate crisis. Fossil fuel reserves are finite and climate change requires us to leave as much as possible in the ground and pursue alternatives. The sooner we do that, the quicker and easier the transition to a fossil-fuel free future will be.

Those workers and industries dependent on fossil fuels for their livelihoods (like truckers and fishers) should be given genuine assistance to deal with the oil shocks in what is called a ‘Just Transition’.* The disregard and lack of solidarity shown by traditional environmentalists towards such workers and their plight is cause for alarm and is ultimately a losing strategy, as it creates divisions which serve only to perpetuate the status quo. A time of global recession and volatility is a good one to begin advancing alternatives and building movements for change. Yasuní offers us just such an opportunity.

*Adam Ma’anit*

* More on Just Transition in our forthcoming special issue on Climate Justice later this year.

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