Seattle Kayakers versus Shell’s Arctic Dreams: In getting off oil, should we attack supply or demand?

Ok, admit it — you’re a little queasy about the recent “Paddle in Seattle” protests against Shell. It’s not that you questioned their cause: the Arctic is highly sensitive, the risks of an accident are high and Shell’s record in the Arctic is hardly inspiring. Nor did you doubt the effectiveness of a flotilla of tiny Davids standing up — okay, sitting down — against an oily Goliath: Shell’s operational window in the Chukchi Sea is so narrow that any delay in the port permitting process could cause Shell to rethink the whole project.

Rather, what bothered you was the small-picture feel to the campaign. Even if Greenpeace and others involved do stop Shell from wintering its Arctic fleet in Seattle, the victory will be short-lived. As soon as oil prices rise, Shell or a rival will be back for the billions of barrels under the Chukchi. Why? Because, what is actually driving this drama isn’t oil-industry greed, or even the wimpiness of the Obama administration. It is our own insatiable appetite for crude.

Put another way, unless the zeal we saw on Elliott Bay can somehow be channeled toward the more complicated, and less glamorous, task of curbing that demand, the “Paddle for Seattle” will ultimately be less political action than performance art.

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“a big statement but Paul Roberts makes a persuasive case”

Something profound and disturbing happened between the 1970s and the present. “The consumer marketplace effectively moved inside the self, and is now inseparable from not only our desires and decisions, but also our very identities.” It is a big statement but Paul Roberts makes a persuasive case that even as the market allows us to instantly gratify our desires through computer technology and easy access to credit, the increasing emphasis on short-term self-interest at the expense of long-term social cohesion is leaving us anxious and insecure. Our response to which is to buy more stuff. This unprecedented power to shape our identities at an individual level, says Roberts, leaves us unable to make sacrifices for the common good. The Impulse Society is a compelling analysis of an unprecedented economic phenomenon and its psychological and social consequences.

Sydney Morning Herald