Some recall Tim DeChristopher with derision; I kind of like the fellow.
Although a struggling college student at the time, he had the gumption to raise his bidding paddle with an enthusiasm that won him 14 oil and gas leases at a Bureau of Land Management auction in 2008.
There was a snag. Tim’s bidding flare was not supported by his pocketbook. He didn’t have the $1.8 million to pay for those leases. He and many environmental activists considered it a valiant act of civil disobedience that put a spotlight on an industrial carbon system run amok. A federal jury was not so charmed and Tim served almost 2 years in federal prison for the stunt. At the time, Tim was a student at the University of Utah, and the parcels he had bid on also were in Utah.
There was a recent Energy Summit that had me reflecting on DeChristopher’s shenanigans. Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry went on the summit stage in Salt Lake City to say what can only be expected of a Texas oil-man, that new-found sources of fossil fuels beneath American soil are “pushing the United States to global energy supremacy.” He followed this by the perfunctory plug for his boss, “We truly are a superpower when it comes to energy under President Trump’s leadership.”
To the extent that Perry can count, he knows there are 12,800 active oil wells in North Dakota alone, and the short-term economics of production rise is playing its part in reducing costs at the pump — as well as that of imported barrels. His message is a form of preaching to the choir of fossil fuel elites who comprehend the economics of peak oil better than most.
There is the obvious: oil and coal are relatively short-term resources that are moored to short-term asset portfolios, stock and land values, and profit dollars. On an executive level, their values are tied to compensation packages. The revolving doors between K Street and the Department of Energy and the Department of the Interior, lest we mention the EPA, are spinning with numbers. It’s called: get it while the getting’s good.
Then there is the not so obvious: the rationale that is put forward as a basis for the disproportionate looting. There must be honor amongst thieves — and that honor is to found in the conviction that America is and must be forever be the top dog, deserved of its dominance, and justified in its dictates. That conviction of Empire means that America should never be in a subservient position, dependent upon Saudi oil for example. It is a matter of national defense!
In a world that is crying out for increased cooperation and mutual problem-solving, this entrenched exceptionalism is an increasingly dangerous form of nonsense. If you listen closely to the rhetoric, you can detect that the final cards are being played. In response to Energy Summit protestors calling for a moratorium on new oil wells, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said, “the practical reality is, it takes some time to transition without crashing the economy.”
You see, the squeezing out of every last drop of oil, is not just a matter of national defense, it means jobs.
There are other forces at work. As the corporate extraction industries continue to press their “America’s supremacy” agenda, they are growing the ranks of concerned activists like DeChristopher, and by the way, re-igniting the rationale of America’s “sacred lands” of Native Americans – those who somehow have been able to get by without black gold for over 10,000 years.
That which is perceived as sacred has never really squared well with that which has been perceived as a source of progress.
I better understood the clash of these core ideas when I heard Wendler Nosie Sr., an Apache elder, posit that, “If a mining company wanted to tear down the Vatican to harvest the minerals underneath its soil, there would be a public outcry around the world. If an oil company wanted to build a drilling rig in the middle of Jerusalem, there would be protests far and wide. So why are these sacred tribal lands any different?”
How would you answer that question? The future of Empire may hang in the balance.
After years of globetrotting, Todd J. Broadman finds himself writing from his perch on the Palouse and loving the view.