Friday, October 03, 2008

"The Shock Doctrine" and Political Peak Oil Denial

For several decades now, dating back to at least the Reagan-Thatcher era, the primary underpinning of U.S. foreign policy has been The Shock Doctrine. First used successfully by Augusto Pinochet in Chile and keenly observed by the U.S., this doctrine has been enthusiastically embraced by U.S. administrations ever since it was first introduced to them by Milton Friedman. The late Milton Friedman was a now well-known but generally-viewed-as-radical economist from Chicago whose teachings were responsible for turning out the soldiers at least partly responsible for Pinochet's victory and enduring success. Friedman's philosophy that became the Shock Doctrine is best and most succinctly summed up in his own words; "Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs [my words: whether by design or happenstance], the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around." Successive U.S. administrations have, with varying levels of success, put that doctrine into practice in Iraq, Afghanistan, and across the world stage. Those decades of practice, and the lessons learned in foreign arenas, have served well to equip Washington for now unleashing The Shock Doctrine in the arena for which it was ultimately intended by them, at home against America's own citizens. Naomi Klein's new book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, does an excellent job tracing the history of this doctrine and it's use both in the U.S. and other nations such as Russia, Chile, Argentina and elsewhere.

No previous U.S. administration has so successfully employed the Shock Doctrine, both abroad and at home, than that of president George W. Bush and his dangerous VP, Dick Cheney. It has been used, perhaps not yet successfully, in the attempts to turn Iraq into an oil-rich puppet state from which the U.S. hopes and plans to ultimately control the vast oil reserves of the middle east. It has been used with great effect at home following the events of September 11, 2001, following hurricane Katrina, and is now being used in an attempt to change the economic landscape with the so-called $700-billion bailout resulting from the collapse of the housing market and the resultant sub-prime mortgage fiasco.

The beauty and effectiveness of using the Shock Doctrine is that you do not have to initiate or even execute the crisis event that you use for the springboard to implement your plans. You just have to be ready with those plans to capitalize on any crisis event that fits your needs. It was pretty clear that with the speed with which the Patriot Act was brought forward and passed that it had been created and was sitting in the wings just waiting for an event like 9/11. Whether or not there was foreknowledge by the members of congress is uncertain and, frankly, irrelevant because they too, like the voters they represent, have been turned into victims of the Shock Doctrine. It does not mean - and I am not passing judgement either way - that the administration was in any way complicit in the events of 9/11, despite the suspicion of guilt rising because of the whitewash job that became the 9/11 Commission Report. It does mean that the Patriot Act was planned and was sitting in abeyance, waiting for an event like 9/11. The ratcheting up of the fear factor since 9/11, the constant warnings from the administration and the compliant media, have garnered the administration an endless series of successes in implementing new legislation increasingly eroding America's civil liberties and freedoms.

In autumn 2005 I wrote an article entitled Paying the Executioner which appeared in the Online Journal Blue-Green Earth in November 2005 ( This article explained how our current rendition of capitalism with the willing complicity of government was not only picking our pockets but destroying the overall prospect of survivability for our children and grandchildren. The new erosion of American freedoms initiated since 9/11 will exact their ultimate toll not from you but from your children and grandchildren. Government and industry, hand in hand, are feeling increasingly emboldened by their successes in the use of the Shock Doctrine, in particular over this past decade. The erosion of rights and freedoms will not stop at what they have so far accomplished. Indeed the $700-billion+ bailout bill currently passed by the senate and before the house for a probable vote today has dramatically increased the price that Americans, and indeed the world, are paying for the escalation of this Shock Doctrine.

I am sure you were waiting for it so here it comes. What does this have to do with peak oil? Well, let me tell you.

One of the most frightening events that could happen to Americans in general is to have their energy taken away from them, to lose the ability to use their cars, to have to -ugh - use public transit to do their shopping, to have to car pool, to have to submit to fuel rationing, to have to pay a toll to enter the city to go to work, to have to hop on the bus or train to see America or to go to Grandma's for Thanksgiving dinner. As George Bush so admitted, "America is addicted to oil." In fact, America and the hegemonic power it enjoys on the world stage was built on oil. And America likewise is critically dependent on oil and other forms of energy in every way. Not only does the country run on oil but much of its infrastructure is built on materials derived from oil, its industrial agriculture and food production/delivery system is totally dependent on oil and other fossil fuels, the medicines the increasingly-medically-dependent population relies on are largely derived from oil and dependent on oil for their manufacture, the homes in which Americans live and the "things" with which they fill their homes are derived from oil. There are over 300,000 products in everyday use that are made from oil and its derivatives. Most importantly, however, the suburb-centric lifestyle developed in America since WWII is a totally oil dependent lifestyle. The simple fact of earning a living is dependent on being able to get from that home in the suburbs to the job somewhere else.

Do the administration and the congress and state legislatures know about peak oil? This is a subject of endless speculation and discussion on the online peak oil groups in which I participate. Of course they are aware. Bush and Cheney are ex oil men. Roscoe Bartlett has made endless - though largely ignored - presentations in the house about peak oil. One of Dick Cheney's first acts as VP was to form an Energy Task Force to brainstorm future responses to peak oil. Cheney was, while he was still with Halliburton, talking up peak oil in speeches as early as 1999. There is a growing concensus that W's invasion of Iraq was undertaken because of a growing awareness of the approach of peak oil.

Why, then, is there still a pervasive atmosphere of political denial of peak oil? Why is the phrase "Peak Oil" the words that must not be spoken in public?

The Shock Doctrine!!! But the timing is not yet right.

Peak oil is not yet the crisis they need in order to use it as the catalytic event to turn it against the populace. You couldn't sell fuel rationing yet. You couldn't yet sell compulsory car pooling, street tolls and all of the other measures that the government will undoubtedly implement as a result of peak oil. There is, admittedly, a growing sense of discomfort and pain from rising fuel prices and the downstream impact on food and goods prices. But it is not yet a sense of crisis and not close enough to one for any attempt to portray it as one to be credible. Appearances are that we have bumping along on the peak oil plateau since May 2005 but the irreversible decline in global crude oil production that will start to put pressure on the global growth society has not yet begun. When will that be? No one knows for certain but I would put my money on sooner rather than later, more likely over the next few years than 2030+ as CERA continues to suggest.

There have been lineups at gas stations in the southeast over the past few weeks but this is not a result of peak oil. This is a result of the refineries shut down by hurricanes Gustav and Ike. This is a shortage of refined fuels, not of oil. But when those lineups become general and widespread, when your gas station has only a fifty-fifty chance of having any gasoline tomorrow morning when you need it, when the store shelves start to be increasingly bare because the store can't get delivery from an increasingly undependable transportation system, when you can't get fuel oil in the middle of a cold winter, when natural gas pipelines start collapsing because they are empty, then and only then does it start to become the generally-recognized-and-understood crisis that is needed to use it to push forward the increasingly restrictive legislation that will allow government (and industry) to the control the population on the way down the downslope.

It is a mistake to interpret the lack of public discourse on peak oil as a lack of awareness. That silence, especially in the face of growing signs that peak oil is indeed upon us, should be viewed with alarm. You should be afraid of what is to come when the silence is finally broken because that is the signal that government and industry believe things have reached crisis level and they have you by the throat, or whatever other part of your anatomy you most fear being in the hands of someone wanting to destroy it.

See the following excellent videos featuring Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine:
Naomi Klein: Disaster Capitalism
Naomi Klein "The Shock Doctrine" & "No Logo" interview
The Take - Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis


Anonymous said...

good post! you're right that the government will use every opportunity it can get to take on greater control over our lives. it seems clear that with the bailout passing, and Wall St. taking control over the US government's finances directly, we're on our way to fascism in the US. i imagine Canada is not far behind.

alex -

Anonymous said...

Richard stated:

"when natural gas pipelines start collapsing because they are empty"

I was not aware of this phenomenon. Could you elaborate? Is this akin to an in-ground swimming pool collapsing if it is drained for an extended period?

Thanks in advance.


Richard Embleton said...

I am not a technician so I may be wrong. I am passing on information as it was conveyed to me by a friend who was a pumping technician on the trans-canada pipeline. He told me that if the pipeline became empty of NG between a pair of pumping stations that are used to regulate the flow through the pipeline the pressure would drop and the pipeline COULD (not guaranteed) collapse. If it collapsed enough it could rupture the pipes which would need replacement before the pipeline could be recharged. Again, secondhand information.