Make a donation with PayPal, VISA, Mastercard, American Express, Discover cards - it's fast, free and secure!

Home Page

Nonprofit founded in 1988


Culture Change e-Letter #11

Toward conservation, food security and peace
Citizen petroleum councils

by Jan Lundberg

Do you agree we need to start controlling oil rather than let it control us?

Using less of it is more than just virtuous, as Vice President Cheney claims. Oil is all too key to survival, such that our common future is threatened. Supplies are rapidly becoming insufficient to maintain what we can call Petroleum Civilization, the offspring of the Industrial and Agricultural Revolutions.

To conserve oil and natural gas is not enough. We must emancipate ourselves from fossil fuels, so that a sustainable form of economics takes over the present petroleum-dependent, polluting and war-driven economy. The solutions I endorse do not include waiting for a renewable-energy utopia in which consuming could continue apace for the overpopulation presently destroying life.

Most of the world’s six billion-plus people are hooked on petroleum for growing and distributing most of their food, so it follows that the status quo be examined critically. Everyone from the complacent, ignorant consumer blithely wasting non-renewable energy and warming the globe, to the stockholder in a fossil fuels company, must now address community needs and global security. Such responsibility entails more than voting for some business-as-usual "leader" every few years.

Making oil last longer could be a valid argument for safeguarding the community interest. Saving our atmosphere and the climate is another motivation to deal with today’s prodigious oil consumption. Some would say that gasoline gluttony is a sin, and others would say industry’s profits must no longer come before all other considerations.

Considering all of the above, I suggest Citizen Petroleum Councils to be established in every community, state, nation, and at the United Nations. The idea is to involve people in their own lives, because petroleum dependence has crept into and taken over their homes, jobs, recreation, and, most critical, eating. After the energy shocks of the 1970s, every state in the U.S. formed Energy Commissions that gathered and disseminated data and discussed policy. However, they were more a reaction to gasoline lines at service stations rather than to our fundamental way of life being affected by geopolitical developments concerning oil.

Many people are concerned about society in a deeper fashion beyond worrying about affordable energy prices. People are also expressing a social malaise that stems from an awareness of loss of community. Unraveling of the social fabric, as indicated by the ascendancy of the prison industry, for example, places people either in a mood of despair or taking action.  Protest is always simmering below society's surface, and many of us contemplate solutions to root problems.

For example, the misplaced priorities of driving and paving rob us of a chance to enjoy a more prosperous and beautiful life. If there were more passenger trains—hopefully powered by renewable energy—people could choose between (A) a transport system that kills around one hundred thousand people a year in the U.S. through car crashes and vehicle fumes, and (B) one that kills a couple of people per year—namely AMTRAK. The subsidy to motor vehicles and their infrastructure totals as much as the Defense Department’s annual budget. Meanwhile, alternative transportation and more sustainable land use are all but trashed by those wielding the most political power.

It is time to start putting petroleum industry expertise closer to the public. The public should appreciate from experts the role petroleum fully plays in society. Every nation and community should have its own committee or council of cooperating industry people, consumers, and conservationists, to advise all governments’ decision makers who control any part of the petroleum infrastructure. Talents must be gathered from academia and working persons’ skills, so as to survey our present vulnerabilities and opportunities. Generating and answering questions, and formulating solutions for our common energy/agricultural future, from the local to global level, are critical for getting through the coming phase of history.  From a culture of often vicious, wasteful competition we will have to transform to cooperating henceforth for the good of the whole human tribe and our fellow creatures.

In the Citizen Petroleum Councils some points will cry out for attention: rail freight is eight times as energy-efficient as trucking.  Meanwhile, the U.S. federal court has just put an environmental hold on President Bush's welcome to all the polluting, unsafe trucks that Mexico can throw at El Norte's already stressed highways. Rail has its place, but those who buy only very local products, and walk or bike voluntarily rather than drive, may become society's darlings.

Global warming is out of control, and in the last decade it has been especially fueled by the massive increase in transportation's share of greenhouse gases.  World trade as a crazy petroleum blowout that cannot go on past the current period of global peak oil production.  Should not councils of citizens and industry experts give their best information, concerns and solutions to all governments and to the people directly?

This interface between industry and the citizenry is overdue, when billions of lives are at stake day to day and for future generations. Unions seldom serve to interface between social classes, as unions are generally concerned with the money made by workers off the unsustainable industry group employing them.  The automobile workers union recently opposed fuel-economy regulations to rein in Sport Utility Vehicles.

Regardless of how low-tech or high-tech one's job is, assuming one is employed, the flow of food from country to town is the precondition of modern civilization. What is the possibility that this flow is headed for disruption? Upon such a widespread disruption due to petroleum supply problems, we may witness the disruption of much of society, more so than in electricity blackouts which shut down communication and business for a time. Water is pumped primarily via petroleum and coal power.

There is no need for panic when the means are present, as they are, to modify distribution systems and prepare communities for greater self-sufficiency and "new" ways of providing for our collective survival.

Conservation is not the goal in itself, but rather a responsible use of limited resources. Much of the world dismisses concern over meeting future energy and food requirements, assuming "they will think of something." Who are "they?" You and me probably. In an age of career overspecialization, we must guard against offering up just one authority over the many, for an interdisciplinary societal task. Besides, people should do for themselves rather than sit back to be provided for and then complain. The petroleum industry and its pervasive grip on society must therefore be appreciated as never before. Environmentalists are often concerned with restoration of the land. So, just as the renewable energy infrastructure will require beaucoup petroleum, restoration of degraded landscapes on a massive, timely scale will require lots of oil burning also. An example of this would be bulldozers’ taking out abandoned logging roads, as has barely begun back in my own neck of the woods in northern California.

I’m going to approach some of my oil industry contacts about the idea of Citizen Petroleum Councils, hastening to tell them that industry people belong on the councils along with non-industry citizens.  One out of two, or one out of twenty, oil professionals may be receptive.  When I met Michael Halbouty, a Texas oilman who was President-elect Ronald Reagan's energy adviser, he told me in 1988 "we have to do something about the greenhouse effect." 

The movement to bring about a peaceful, unpolluted world has been waging protest much more than it has represented affirmation. This negative aspect puts the movement on the defensive, while the establishment’s juggernaut is cloaked in "positive" (e.g., gratification) attributes. Yet, propaganda to consume more and more lacks staying power, as the global clock ticks to critical peak-oil extraction.  As people sense that we are already skidding down a slope that has only begun to get rough, solutions follow through awareness.  The awareness will come with a high cost to society and the Earth.  Fortunately, solutions are ready now for consideration and adoption. The Citizen Petroleum Councils can facilitate and expedite that process.

War talk, or war future?
War on Iraq is part of a long string of aggressive moves by the U.S.  Manifesting its corporation-support role to seize wealth and to dominate, the world's sole superpower increasingly holds itself to be above international law, and has for decades been like a beast that must keep devouring. To point that out is not to support or prefer Saddam Hussein or the almost forgotten Osama bin Laden. Indeed, defense against violent threats do justify protective action in "the homeland" against overseas belligerent enemies.

The U.S., however, has had an even harder time over Gulf War II’s "selling" (Andrew Card’s approach from the White House) than the government did when it escalated involvement in Vietnam. Some international crises can call for legitimate defense for the people of America, while some are actually tragic cases of plunder, such as the annexation of Hawaii at the hands of adventurers including Dole of pineapple fame. Iraq has more oil than any nation besides Saudi Arabia.

Oil may be the material basis of most of the conflict in the Middle East, but we get nowhere by dwelling on only one sore spot of Petroleum Civilization. Petroleum consumption and its disastrous effect on the environment must be understood as the process by which modern people feed themselves today. Meanwhile, suburban lawns and urban paved landscapes waste food-growing space, and much transport is simply wasteful or unnecessary.

To understand how myopic and convoluted the present warlike strategies make people think and plan, here is what rigid thinking can do to people who unfortunately have their fingers on the triggers of weapons of mass destruction, while their feet are stuck to their SUV gas pedals:

"Some diplomats also worry that if the inspectors were actually to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or to locate a scientist confessing to the development of such weapons, it may be harder rather than easier to justify a war against Iraq. Such a development would be seen as a justification for prolonging the inspections process, they say."

- New York Times, January 19, 2003

This strikes me as narrow thinking in terms of who can blow up who first.  The threat is real, but this does not mean conservation is just for wimps and non-patriotic peaceniks and anarchists.  As Uncle Sam admonished his citizens in World War II, non-carpooling helps Hitler.  Incidentally, the Victory Gardens were often from depaving.  

Without a leader's moral high ground of being on the defensive regarding belligerent nations, and being conservative with resources and strategic commodities, it is no wonder that over 80% in a recent poll by Time magazine's Europe edition believe the U.S. is the biggest threat to world peace.  Instead of ignoring that reality, let us take the initiative for victory over petroleum domination by making the U.S. "another Cuba of petroleum conservation-solutions for sustainable agriculture and renewable energy."  Who will start creating Citizen Petroleum Councils in the USA?


Jan spoke of Citizen Petroleum Councils at his speech in London at The Institute of Petroleum.  Read speech.

The Pledge for Climate Protection has 10 steps for sustainable living, and can be seen at

See for ideas on community action regarding oil dependence in light of upcoming shortage.

For our No War for Oil webpage, see

Jan Lundberg's columns are protected by copyright; however, non-commercial use of the material is permitted as long as full attribution is given with a link to this website, and he is informed of the re-publishing:

Culture Change mailing address: P.O. Box 3387 , Santa Cruz , California 95063 USA
  Telephone 1-215-243-3144 (and fax)

Culture Change was founded by Sustainable Energy Institute (formerly Fossil Fuels Policy Action), a nonprofit organization.