The Machiavellian Nature of Saudi Oil

This week, negotiators are meeting in Bonn for discussions leading up to the 16th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the UNFCCC CoP16). Faithful readers may remember that I was in Copenhagen for the 15th CoP in 2009. This year’s meeting is scheduled for late November/early December in Cancun, and already discussions are heating up. In addition to worries about what to do if no resolution is reached before the 2012 Kyoto Protocol deadline, Saudi Arabia is raising a red flag again: this time to ask for reparations for money they would lose if the world were to cut petroleum use.

The kicker here is that Saudi Arabia wants to be paid for oil they won’t–likely can’t–produce. There has been suspicion for several years that Saudi Arabia, along with other OPEC countries, has been progressively overstating the levels of their own oil reserves. Add to that that Persian Gulf states are using an increasing portion of the oil they do produce domestically (up to an additional 1.5 million barrels per day by 2030 just for electricity generation). Add to that that, by some accounts, Saudi oil production peaked in 2005 and shows no signs of rebounding.

This yields a picture of a situation where Saudi Arabia is faced with declining production and exports in coming years due to domestic use and geological fundamentals of supply. If only there was some way to get paid for all the oil that they don’t have to export! Enter the UN climate change negotiations. If declining production can be blamed on international pressure for climate change mitigation, rather than other factors, then perhaps the Saudis can still get paid. Who would foot the bill remains an unanswered question.

Hooray for… millenialism?

Friends may know that I occasionally spend time thinking about peak oil, global climate change, and the like. I feel the change a-comin’–but I do try to avoid saying that doomsday is right around the corner. My personal thought is that the the current system will fade away rather than burning out (sorry Neil). Occasionally, I also listen to conservative talk radio–not because I agree with the hosts, but because I feel like I should be aware of the message that the Right is broadcasting to the faithful hordes. The conservative and American libertarian hosts have been playing to the doomsday scenario crowd by invoking fears of socialism, higher taxes, and general mayhem related to the current administration–and that is a topic for another post.

So, the other day my wife E. got into the car and found the radio set to one of those AM stations, and after a few seconds of the usual screed they cut to a commercial for a Survival Seed Vault. Here is my bind: I’m all in favor of people growing their own food from non-hybrid seed. Seed saving is a wonderful practice: it promotes local genetic diversity, and those seeds don’t just make plants–they carry stories and meaning through time and space. Growing food is educational, may cut carbon emissions from transport, and can take business away from the super mega marts. So far so good.

At the same time, I don’t know how I feel about seed saving and food growing being packaged with a neoliberal politics of deregulation and general fear of ‘those people.’ ¬†Ultimately, it looks like a lot of messages about serious near-term change are being conflated into one big ball of uncertainty. My friend P. in Maine has what he calls the “horseshoe theory” of American politics–that the left and the right come together if you go far enough toward the ends. I guess my question is, if people are saving seeds, to what extent does the “why” matter?