Are you personally responsible for climate change? The brutish and short answer is ‘yes’.
The question that follows, and is asked by David Hughes in his book, ‘Energy Without Conscience’, is: ‘Why don’t you care enough to reduce your contribution to CO2 emissions through your role as a waged or profiteering cog in the oil and gas industry or through your ceaseless and carefree consumption of its products?’ After all, devastation is about to wreck the planet and future generations of all species, and barely anyone from West Moorings to Moruga seems bothered.
The latter question is more of a mouthful and Hughes tries to answer it in the book. He suggests that, from the expendable bodies of plantation labour to the later turn to fossil fuels, use of energy developed without a conscience or accountability in Trinidad. This created a society comfortable with its own complicity and lack of conscience today.
Hughes points to other sources of culpability. He highlights the kinds of maps and graphs petro-geologists use to think about oil resources and reserves, to deny possibility of peak oil (for unknown oil resources are simply not yet known or technologically accessible), and to argue that carbon sequestration is a solution rather than ultimately reducing both production and consumption.
In his view, petro-geology, governance and economics have melded into an overlapping impetus for business as usual, even while venturing into renewable resources like sun, wind and wave energy, in order to keep the global energy industry and its influence going.
For him, carbon sequestration is a mystification of the problem because too much carbon, which at this point is any at all, will continue to spew to the skies, its effects spilling everywhere, while more is generated from fossil fuels being taken from the earth in a genocidal and circular flow of effect back to our lives.
Interestingly, as small tropical islanders (including Tobago) subject to rising sea levels, intensified hurricanes, hotter temperatures and drought, we (in Trinidad) seem either clueless or in denial about the production of our own twin-island republic’s demise. Depicting Trinidadians as irresponsible and backward, Hughes main concern is to point a judging finger.
He does so even at environmental activists whom he stereotypes as narrowly concerned with an obsolete, place-based pollution politics, rather than with planetary air conservation. Weirdly, for an anthropologist, he missed an opportunity to truly document concerns about climate change and fossil fuel dependence across the country. He didn’t have a clue, for example, that Hazel Brown sought to apply for a license to run the first solar-powered radio station decades ago.
We lament our climate change victimhood as a Small Island Developing State, but are actually a proud perpetrator, he accuses. Rightly so. The fact that, by global standards, Trinidad produces a miniscule impact on climate change is irrelevant at this time for every molecule now counts. What matters is that per capita, each individual in this nation produces among the highest amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere. We run cars and air conditions like gas is cheap. We use and dispose of plastics and agricultural fertilizers like excessive petrochemical use is our divine right.
It’s like God isn’t just a Trini. He’s a Trini petro-capitalist seer-man, all knowing and above morality. We all model ourselves in this image, to differing degrees depending on our levels of wealth and poverty, our will to get ‘off the grid’, recycle and lower our carbon footprint, or our inability to even think ourselves out of this pre-apocalyptic matrix. Plus, if we didn’t get the fossil fuels out of the ground, someone else will.
Surrounded by ecologically unaccountable goliaths such as BP and BG, and the US as an increasing energy exporter (and suppressor of social movements which pursue alternatives), it’s a source of pride when we roll with the big boys like we are little gods too.
Public planning for sustainability (like bicycle paths or heat-reducing building construction) be damned. Thus, instead of treating them as sacred and to be used sparingly, we are enchanted with petrochemicals in the most immoral of ways: wastefully.
It’s time to act with carbon conscience. It’s not too late to care enough to take responsibility.
*Energy without Conscience: Oil, Climate Change, and Complicity isn’t the kind of anthropology of oil in Trinidad that I would write – the tone is condescending and the ethnography is thin – but it’s the only anthropological study of oil in Trinidad that I know, its historical tracing of an energy economy is creative and insightful, and its beautiful turns of phrase as well as its unapologetic mirror and challenge to Trinidadians make it definitely worth a read.