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Climate, oil and terror

By Simon Mundy - posted Monday, 23 April 2007

This article is an unashamed, though I hope not shameless, precis of an article by Thomas Friedman in New York Times magazine of April 15, 2007. The two main points of the article are Friedman’s major current themes, which I rarely see treated fully in the Australian press.

Simply put, they are, first, that our most powerful single means of simultaneously addressing the two issues of minimising CO2 emissions and reducing the resources available to fundamentalist Islamic organisations is to radically reduce our dependence on petroleum and, second, that the West’s great societal advantage in the coming half century is its depth of experience in adapting and developing technological answers to problems of living.

We know how to develop the changes that will be required to meet the challenge of simultaneously reducing emissions and welcoming four billion plus new members to the developed world.


As I read the article, he seems to go further, saying that these two larger issues are themselves linked in that we will not be able to solve one without solving the other.

For example, adding a putative 1.1 billion new Chinese motor vehicles, using today’s technology, to the existing world fleet of 800,000,000 by 2050 will both swamp the atmosphere in CO2 and, while the oil lasts, deliver a continuous windfall to the petroleum exporting countries, which include at least two major members supporting causes dedicated to the dismantling of western society.

It’s also interesting to note the inverse correlation in petroleum exporters of efforts to democratise and the price of oil. The higher the oil price, the less these societies, including Russia and Venezuela for example, find it necessary to liberalise either their political system or their economy.

Friedman makes the point that Bahrain, the first Arabic country to run out of oil, has been the leader in democratisation and in social and economic liberalisation.

In reducing our dependence on petroleum derived energy we will incite change in two very different systems. There is the obvious and direct one of producing lower levels of emission by burning less petroleum. Then there is the more subtle and indirect one of reducing the price of oil, through reduced demand, to decrease the rate of flow of funds available, particularly to Saudi Arabia and Iran, which support current high levels of discretionary spending on the support and encouragement of groups advocating violent, jihadi terrorism.

Friedman makes the point that we are, with one hand, paying taxes to augment our armed forces to send our sons and daughters to fight terrorism and, with the other, through our petrol purchases almost completely financing two countries whose national priorities are the advancement of extreme, fundamentalist Wahabi Islam (Saudi) and Shiite extremism (Iran).


This is the madness we saw in the AWB scandal on a far larger scale but, in the dense fog (some would say smog) of debate around climate issues in Australia, this basic contradiction seems not to be acknowledged.

Friedman’s second point, that our path to continued prosperity is the provision of green, technical expertise and products to allow the developing world to achieve a sustainable version of the quality of life we have taken for granted for the last 60 years, is if anything, more critical.

As Friedman says, “I am not proposing that we radically alter our lifestyles. We are who we are - including [being] a car culture. But if we want to continue to be who we are, enjoy the benefits and be able to pass them on to our children, we do need to fuel our future in a cleaner, greener way.”

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About the Author

Simon is a psychotherapist, executive coach and writer working in Sydney and the Blue Mountains. He is concerned with adult human development and well-being both psychological and spiritual. He has been a practising mediator for forty years and applies that experience, the teaching of primarily Buddhist spiritual traditions and a competent lay appreciation of science in all its manifestations, to explore what it means to be human.

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