Fueling Oppression

Commentary: Stonewall Baby

A few weeks ago, I was going to take up the call of American energy independence from a gay perspective. Some online research immediately pointed me in the direction of energy-journalist Robert Bryce’s Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of Energy Independence, released earlier this year, which I figured I should examine first.

My reason for thinking about energy independence is directly related to those majority of OPEC-member countries that have dismal records on treatment of GLBT people. Diving into Bryce’s book – I admit I’m still reading it, not quite across the finish line – he hasn’t really changed my mind.

His points seem to be that there’s no point in trying to wean ourselves off foreign oil, as the global market makes it nearly impossible to figure out whose oil goes where; that we have no significant technology for replacing oil and gas; and that even if we stopped using the stuff, we’d pay a huge economic price that would have little effect on oil-exporting nations.

Fair enough. I suppose I agree with those points, to a degree. I know ethanol – or hydrogen or wind or solar – can’t save us today. I know that if America stopped buying oil, China and India would be happy to suck it all up. And I know that oil doesn’t come only from the Saudia Arabia, Iran and Nigeria, but also from Mexico, Norway and Canada, for starters.

Still, shrugging my shoulders impotently and resigning to the status quo doesn’t sit well with me. First of all, while it makes sense for oil-exporting nations to make money off that natural resource, the skyrocketing price of a barrel of oil serves as a reminder that sooner or later, we’re going to run out. Bryce writes of the ”foreseeable future” as a span of 30 to 50 years. I think of the foreseeable future as something closer to 100 to 200 years, and by that time, it’s a safe bet we’ll be using something else. The earlier we start investing in those alternatives, the easier the transition will be. Right?

Beyond the ease of transition, however, is the part that scares me: The scarcer oil is, the more expensive it will be, and the more wealth will flow from countries, such as ours, to Saudi Arabia and Iran – even if, as Bryce points out, Iran hasn’t exported petroleum to the United States since 1991. If their $50 barrels sell for $100, then $200, then $300 and so on, the simple math dictates that they will get richer and we will get poorer. There are myriad other variables, granted, but that’s the short of it that scares me. And why does it scare me? Is it the boogeymen terrorists? No. It’s the Wahhabist schools and public executions of gay people.

The United States, with all our collective faults, has enjoyed a huge amount of influence in the world. We’ve enjoyed it because we’ve been crazy rich. We can afford to have DEA agents in Cambodia trying to eliminate the indigenous use of marijuana in traditional cooking. We can afford to prop up governments that would otherwise fall. It’s the golden rule of ”He who has the gold rules.” And as screwy as some of our influence may be, it doesn’t terrify me in the way Saudi or Iranian influence does.

Globalists point to the cutting-edge economy of Dubai, the Switzerland of the Persian Gulf, making money off investments rather than oil. Dubai is awash in money and glamour and five-star hotels. But it’s also a pretty hostile place for gay people, especially if you’re a local. Certainly a gay German banker living in some posh Dubai high-rise might live comfortably, but his Arab peer may get busted for being at an underground gay disco. That’s not good.

Globalism is good in theory. I’ve lived in other countries, including Muslim Tunisia, and I’m not xenophobic. But I can say that our society, along with quite a few others, are better than the Saudis’ monarchy, better than the Iranians’ theocracy, and better than the U.A.E.’s modern-on-the surface cities of tomorrow. I ponder the growing influence these nations will have as the price of oil skyrockets in the future, and my stomach gets knotty.

Maybe there isn’t anything to be done. Maybe I’m just feeling this way, as I imagine many Americans are, because the past seven years of America’s interaction with the rest of world has been nothing short of tragic. Maybe in a few more years I’ll be eager for more global integration. Right now, however, I feel affinity for much of the world, but disdain for quite a bit too. I’m beginning to wish the Persian Gulf would just disappear, probably in the same way that Crazy Osama wishes the United States were no more. In that vein, I know that there’s no way to say good-bye to oil in the span of 30 to 50 years. Now is the time, however, to start figuring out how we eventually will. After all, if today’s rich America can fund HIV/AIDS clinics that promote abstinence, who’s to say that a superpower Saudi Arabia of tomorrow won’t be sending us aid with a few homophobic strings attached?

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.