“The Tyranny of Oil: The World’s Most Powerful Industry and What We Must Do to Stop it”

by Antonia Juhasz

2008 HarperCollins

Ever wondered why the US government spends trillions of dollars to launch massive wars against Middle Eastern nations that have never attacked us, but refuses to do absolutely anything about the ongoing climate crisis?  This book is for you.

The Tyranny of Oil is an exposee of “Big Oil”, meaning Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips, and Royal Dutch Shell, the largest oil corporations in the world (and some of THE largest corporations in the world).  The book exposes how these enormous oil octopi have gained virtually total control over the US government, and use their money and political power to make big profits at the expense of the public and the planet. (For example, Exxon Mobil in 2003 posted the largest profits of any corporation in history, then proceeded to beat that record each of the next 5 years).

It all starts with the origin of Big Oil, the mother, Standard Oil. Juhasz stresses the importance of monopolies and corporate mergers, in a sense missing the deeper analysis of capitalism, but nevertheless we come to understand how enormous companies wielding enormous profits can and do undermine democracy.

The book progresses to tell a story about Big Oil’s development and control over the government agencies that are supposed to be regulating it, and finally Big Oil’s plans for the future (War and Trashing the Planet, basically), before an inspirational chapter on What We Can Do. (There’s also a shoutout to SDS here and to our No War No Warming action in DC last year! Cool!)

This is essential reading for all US citizens, because if you aren’t familiar with the concepts she lays out, you frankly have no understanding of the country you live in.  Environmental racism, corporate lobbyists and corrupt government agencies, the criminal behavior of Cheney’s Energy Task Force, deregulation and Enron-style fraud, tar sands, and the list goes on.

My only major complaint of the book was the virtual silence on the looming and imminent reality of Peak Oil and how this will transform everything.  Juhasz does recognize the scarcity of oil and the likelihood of oil peaking, but chooses to essentially overlook its importance, instead blaming oil companies and speculators for driving up the cost of oil.

This is not just a minor quibble, because the BIG TRUTH is that we’re not just in a struggle against Big Oil, we’re in a struggle against capitalism, and it’s a fight that is reaching perhaps its final act.  Peak Oil will challenge the dominant for-profit institutions of power, and can create an opening for social justice activists and organizers to push for much more radical change than appears possible within the current system.  Nevertheless, this is probably a subject for another book (mine!), and Juhasz treads on steady ground by appealing to a more mainstream audience and demonizing the oil companies exclusively.  This is a very effective book, highly recommended!

Finally, my favorite quote (pg. 325):
“As Paul Wolfowitz said in 1991, ‘The combination of the enormous resources of the Persian Gulf, the power that those resources represent – it’s power. It’s not just that we need gas for our cars, it’s that anyone who controls those resources has enormous capability to build up military forces.'”