Due to some recent comments and conversations, I’ve been reflecting on my part in our oil extractive economy. It’s undeniable – we live in a petroleum based society. It hasn’t always been this way; putting fossil fuels into products is a fairly recent phenomenon.
I have recently been intentionally reading a lot about oil. And it strikes me that there are numerous dimensions to consider when we discuss oil and its uses within our lives. So this is NOT a ranting blog – I have no basis for ranting – I live within and support the petroleum industry, as does almost all of ‘western’ society. What this will be, I hope, is a conversation starter on the topic.
There are many things we need to consider for this conversation, and I think we’re called to be educated before we speak out. These are complex issues which call for reflection and consideration.
Fossil fuels come out of the earth in three forms – crude oil, natural gas, and coal – and their quality and intended purpose varies depending on the source.
Where this stuff is coming from makes a difference too. Oil and gas are drilled and pumped, coal is mined. Some of these practices are safer than others; we saw the problems of deep sea drilling with the BP Gulf spill; there are calls for more studies before Arctic drilling continues or expands; sourcing from the tarsands is an increasing practice in Canada.
How the fuels are transported also matters – the issue of pipelines have recently brought to discussion land rights and justice concerns; cargo routes may not be as direct as companies suggest.
Fossil fuels are also now used in and for just about everything. Look around you; I’m willing to bet at least 10 things in your immediate view are made or derived from the petroleum industry – and not just the by-product from fuel production. From cosmetics to clothes, pills to paint, IV bags to ice cube trays – the list goes on and on, often without us even realising it.
There are many people who are employed within the industry as well – from folks working rigs to engineers designing high-tech machinery, scientists developing new methods to PR people selling us gasoline. As with any industry, there are good, hard-working people supported by the societal demand.
And, of course, there are proposed alternatives to the fossil fuel industry. Things like solar and wind energies are better known, other ideas like biogas and algae for energy use are still lesser-known. Whatever innovations may become commonplace, however, no one thing will fully replace the use of fossil fuels.
As I mentioned, these are just a few of the issues to be considered. When we engage these issues from a Christian perspective, we must do so with full recognition that we are part of the society that accepts and supports the industry: we fuel our cars or transit sources, we eat foods made with crude oil or grown in its derivative fertilisers, we weave it into the fabrics we wear.
So as part of the Christian community, as part of the petroleum extractive economy, what are we to do? What choices can we make that are true to ourselves and true to God? How are we called to use this resource in such a way that we are demonstrating our faith to the world? A good resource for discussion is “Our Oil Dilemma: Reflections and Queries” published by KAIROS a few years back – what else can we use to faithfully guide this conversation?