The last days of cheap oil and what anthropologists can do about it
Oil is vital to our growth economy. Yet, our need for continued access to fossil fuels drives many of today’s conflicts. And we are in the last days of cheap oil and need alternatives. In his guest editorial in the new issue of Anthropology Today (subscription required unfortunately), Thomas Love encourages anthropologists to examine the complex relationship between our lives and fossil fuels.
What are the consequenes of rising oil prices? Rising energy prices may prolong availability for those who can afford it, but will will cause uneven economic development and contribute to the deterioration of labour conditions in sweatshop economies, he writes.
A quick search reveals following news: Rwanda: High Oil Prices Make Essential Commodities Costly (allAfrica 28.3.08), Higher petrol costs ‘act like a tax on consumption’ (CNN, 7.8.06) Food prices are rising worldwide. Weather, oil costs among factors (Boston Globe 30.3.08), Oil prices hit hard on Asia’s poor. UNDP report ranks countries according to a new Oil Price Vulnerability Index (UNDP 25.10.07), and “What about the poor?”, askes the Energy report (1.8.07).
Thomas Love proposes following research questions:
How does this crisis resemble previous ones? What metaphors and symbols do people use to make sense of it all? To what discursive structures will people turn to make sense of the potential unravelling of their worlds? (…) How has the fossil-fuelled growth system already affected the lives of people in producing areas?
We need cross-cultural perspectives and commitment to ethnography to understand how such large-scale forces play out on the ground in the everyday lives of ordinary people. Detailed grasp of the non-fossil-fuelled ways of living of pre- and non-industrial peoples will convey to interested publics and policy-makers alternative ways of organizing human society. We can help understand how humans might manage to power down without precipitating collapse.