Our planet today grapples with huge ecological and energy crisis and for the most part of which capitalism and industrialization is to be blamed. Scholars and policymakers from around the world are trying to address the problem of depleting natural resources, its adverse effects on the environment and the climate. Although a lot of sustainable development goals have been laid down, they hardly seem attainable. This is because of the capitalistic setting that dominates the world that renders sustainability ineffective. This article is an attempt to prove that Marxism is an ideology that contains the answers to these crises of today. A theory that largely studies class-relations should contain answers to the ecological crisis is truly a subject of bewilderment. The objective of this paper is to identify the class struggles present in the global oil industry if any and its relevance in the increasing environmental concerns over energy crisis and in sustainable development goals. The article establishes that Marxism gives a real-time solution to the crisis.
Just as coal was the back-bone of the industrial revolution, oil is said to have revolutionized the 21st century. Even though coal is a matter of greater concern than oil as its carbon emission comprises of 46% as compared to 34% of oil, oil is a highly politicized commodity and is a national security issue too which makes it more important. According to the general notion, oil is a scarce resource. Thus, regions like the Middle East become strategically important. Imperial powers have fought for access to oil. These power dynamics are constantly shifting. The Gulf controlled 90% of all oil outside the USA till the 20th century. Today that figure has shrunk to 60%. The OPEC crude oil production is estimated to be an average of 32.3 million barrels per day in 2017 and may go upto 32.8 million barrels of oil per day in 2018. The total world consumption is about 98.46 million barrels of oil per day for 2017 and estimated to go upto 100.8 million barrels per day in 2018. The consumption between OECD and non-OECD is almost 50-50%. China currently has the highest demand for oil as it is the largest economy of the world.
Oil extraction in the post-War period has gained an impetus due to industrialization and capitalism. Almost every country since has experienced natural calamities, global warming, pollution and degradation of the environment in some or the other way. And even though capitalists agree to this, they do not give a real-time solution. Rather the solutions they prescribe are convenient for only them. For a capitalist, the market is complete and self-correcting. The market is never the problem and the environment is an endogenous factor. Thus, the solution of the problem is also endogenous. They believe that if we are taking something from the nature, we must give something back but not stop taking because the market needs it. Thus, policies such as Corporate Social Responsibility, Carbon-Trading system where all the countries are given Carbon credit, which are limits upto which carbon emissions by that country can be made and countries can even, trade these credits to others. Thus, as long as you are giving something back, you can exploit the nature. This view-point is improper because planting an artificial forest-city to compensate cutting down other forests has no equivalence and justification. Even though such capitalist mechanisms are present today, they do not give a full-fledged solution to the matter.
Having looked why the capitalists cannot provide a solution, let us look at the anti-capitalists. They consider the market as a problem. These are divided into two factions. One of them is the Green Scholarship. The Green scholars believe in a very spiritualistic, idealistic and utopian system where the world goes back to the time when human living and activities were subsistence based. The green scholarship is anti-green revolution, against extensive agriculture, anti-technology, etc. Thus, they would suggest a stoppage of mass-extraction of oil for commercial basis. In the world of industrial and post-industrial countries, it is no more than a myth to consider returning to the pre-industrial self-sustenance living. Thus, even the Green scholarship has serious implementation issues.
Lastly, the Marxist approach criticizes both the Green and Capitalist approach. It says that the metabolic drift has already occurred for us to return to the stage. In other words, it is too late for humanity to undo certain things. John Bellany Foster has explained this irreparable shift known as ‘metabolic drift’ in the town and country that has occurred due to increased capitalistic activities in an urban-rural setting. A Marxist scholar accepts that due to this irreparable chasm, there cannot be a pre-industrial bring-back. So, the future steps should be taken by accepting the need for mass production for the increasingly dependent population.
In order to address the needs of the increasing population, there must be efficient techniques for mass production. It is important to understand that the Green scholars are against the banes of industrialization and capitalism which is totally justified. However, a Marxist would rather say that the solution to technology is better technology. The more sophistication we bring in the technology and replace the energy consuming production techniques with efficient environment friendly methods, the lesser we will harm the nature. The Green scholars are against the use of anything unnatural. They oppose the use of biotechnology which is used in improving the variety of crop-plants and seeds which shall benefit the vast population. For example, certain GM-plants like Bt. Cotton, which is a modified version of the cotton but with an ability of pest-resistance. Due to this, a lot of harmful effect caused by the use of fertilizers can be avoided. A Marxist, who is against fertilizes for its harmful effects on the farmers as well as on plants, will support biotechnology.
Since, good technology cannot be built in a jiffy; it has to be a slow and organic process. A Marxist solution is investing more in Nuclear Fusion technology that is considered to be pollution-less and a potential solution to the electricity problem. However, until then, the existing methods need to be used but in a sustainable manner. The main aim of the socialist-environmentalists and most of the policymakers of today, which is sustainability, it is compatible with Marxism. However, the capitalists today are so strong that the Marxist approach cannot be implemented. For example, the use of the Nuclear Fusion Technology and its benefit is known to the world, still many companies and states hesitate to invest in it. Because it is not in the favor of the electricity companies as the abundance of electricity would lead to low prices and less profitability in the sector.
If this was to apply in the oil industry; then certain household uses of oil can be replaced with low-carbon emitting solar technology, however, industries such as aviation, ship, and automobile will need oil anyway unless a technological revolution takes place. So, the use of oil should be reduced but it cannot be totally avoided immediately unless we have an alternative. The highest consumer of oil in the world is the transport sector. Unless we find out a sophisticated method to replace the use of petroleum in this sector, sustainable methods such as use of public transport must be implemented.
But how does Marxism become a stakeholder in these scientific issues? How is the energy crisis related to a social theory largely dealing with class-relations? The current mode of production in which the nature is being harmed the most is also exploitative. Some of the effects of climate deterioration which may occur in the near future are shortage of water, electricity cuts, inflation of foodstuffs, less fertile soil, depletion of forests, pollution, etc. The first ones to get affected in such situations are the ordinary people, the middle-class families, farmers, small-scale traders, etc. The rich people hardly get a taste of these hard-ships. They have the means and influences by which they can escape the consequences. Hence for the former class, this crisis needs to be addressed. Thus, the Marxist approach comes in when the climate and energy crisis no longer just a scientific issue but also a class one.
Organizations like the OPEC who have monopolized the industry hold complete control over the market pricing and supply of oil. Power is monopolized. When power gets concentrated in few hands, it will inevitably lead to exploitation of the labor class. Any oil industry faces a political, geological and price risk. Price fluctuation is very common and most of the time, the burden is transferred on the workers. For example, the International Trade Union Confederation has repeatedly pointed the low-wage payment and poor working conditions prevailing in the Indonesian Palm Oil Industry. Thus, capitalist class is exploiting the workers.
A Marxist is concerned about the life and security of these workers in the oil industry. Their safety and health must be of fore-most concern. If these firms are owned and managed by the state, then the needs of the workers shall be addressed. Most of the oil-fields in the Middle East are run by state-owned companies. When oil is corporatized, it leads to the use of technology for a very capitalist profit-driven motive. Thus, one only thinks of possible ways to reduce costs, achieve efficiency, etc. This leads to over-exploitation and also sometimes disasters like oil-spills which is mostly faced by the workers. This can be solved when the capitalist mind-set is repealed and replaced with a Marxist approach. With that, and along with technological sophistication, the interests and life of the workers will be protected. Thus, the Marxist perspective is most compatible with the sustainable development goals unlike the capitalist one.
In the future, if more oil is discovered and if oil is no scarcer, then the capitalists may have a good reason to extract and use it. Oil is measured according to its proven reserves. The term ‘proven’ refers to the amount of oil available for extraction at a given price and at a given technological level. If either of these factors were to change, then the amount of ‘proven reserves’ would rise even without the discovery of a single new well. Thus, with technological sophistication this can be achieved. However, a Marxist approach would not divert the technological progress to more extraction. This is essentially the difference between the two. To conclude, this article looked at the Marxist perspective and its prospective solutions to the ecological crisis. If such a perspective is used by our future policy-makers, one can expect complete state-control over oil-fields, replacing oil and its uses with non-carbon emitting alternatives, protection of worker’s at work place, disaster-mitigating mechanisms and measures to ensure that the larger section of the society does not have to face any consequences.
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