Archive for February, 2020

Why do some people defend oil?

Wednesday, February 19th, 2020
Photo: Zbynek Burival from Unsplash

Photo: Zbynek Burival from Unsplash

If your wealth and power is derived from the business of selling fossil fuels then this question is redundant.

If however you have no financial investment in fossil fuels, why would you actively promote its continued use if better* alternatives exist? Most people take existing technologies for granted and generally become enthusiastic about the new alternatives and not for the old technology that is being threatened – so what’s going on?

I often run across people who actively campaign against the proliferation of renewable energy technologies and fiercely support fossil fuels that they have no investment in. This goes against any kind of logic.

If this attitude were applied across the board, would they be condemning all new innovations? And where would they set their cut-off point for acceptable technology – today, a century ago, the Stone Age?

One argument they offer is that they see renewable energy companies as being snake oil salesmen who dupe governments for huge sums of money.

The problem with this argument is that renewable energy technologies work. The argument then moves onto, they don’t work well enough or they’re just as harmful as the old technology. But all technologies have a development period where they improve beyond measure – just look at early brick-like mobile phones that could only make and receive calls to today’s tiny marvels of functionality.

The only answer I can come up with for this perverse attitude is that the fossil fuel companies have co-opted some members of the public to imagine they are crusaders for a cause (again, if the people aren’t connected to the companies in any way what drives the motivation?)

History shows time and time again that a dominant company will do everything in its power to consolidate its position in a market regardless of the cost. It will resist change that it has no control over.

Here is a classic example.

In the early days of the combustion engine there was a problem with ‘knocking’ in the car engine. Several additives to the fuel were tried to stop the problem and eventually lead was shown to be highly effective. The only problem was lead is toxic to humans and many other life forms. Fortunately, ethyl alcohol proved to be equally effective and wasn’t poisonous unless you drank it.

The oil companies went with lead and proceeded to commit the greatest man-made environmental disaster the world has ever seen. Hundreds of millions of cars all over the globe sprayed out a fine mist of lead that now covers the planet. This lead can never be removed.

Why did they choose lead?


Tetraethyl lead could be patented and its distribution controlled; any farmer however, could distill ethyl alcohol from grain.

It was only legislation that stopped lead pollution from car engines (other pollutants are still being pumped out).

An industry that has so little regard for the safety of anyone (all the oil executives and their families were being poisoned as much as anyone else) can be expected to behave in an underhand way, so my guess is that their propaganda has radicalised enough people to form an army of opinion.

Any other suggestions as to why people who don’t financially benefit from fossil fuels help promote them would be welcome.

*A lot of what is considered to be ‘better’ is subject to a myriad of other factors and is an essay in itself.

Tracy Brabin in a Power Dress

Thursday, February 6th, 2020
Tracy Brabin in the House of Commons

Tracy Brabin in the House of Commons

Tracy Brabin was recently the subject of much discussion on social media for wearing a particular garment in the House of Commons – it caused outrage among some members of the public.

It did this because it confused certain signals in our ways of seeing.

Men are particularly conditioned to view women in a sexual way. Ours is a patriarchal society and much of our entertainment reinforces this view.

In many western films and TV, one of the signals for a woman to indicate her availability when she’s alone with a man is through the manipulation of her clothes – if she slips off of a shoulder strap, either of a dress or a bra, for example, she’s initiating foreplay. Over time, an audience learns to interpret the shorthand.

Ms Brabin’s top had an, ‘off-the-shoulder’ design and one of her shoulders was exposed while the other was not. The effect of ‘a strap’ being half way down her right arm was to give her the look (within the context of film entertainment) of someone about to undress.

In other ways, Ms Brabin conforms to a female stereotype in a film – she’s an attractive woman with long blond hair that is often worn loose so that some of it falls across one of her eyes in a seductive manner.

But Ms Brabin was wearing the top in the House of Commons where she’s an MP so within that context many men saw her clothing as inappropriate.

The House of Commons is still predominantly a male preserve despite the increasing numbers of female MPs in it. It is also replete with archaic and incomprehensible rituals that maintain the culture of male dominance. The sight of Ms Brabin disporting herself in such a setting clearly enraged some men – here was a woman in their domain, inflaming them with her sexual power – how dare she!

Of course, if Ms Brabin had been photographed against a white background wearing the top and people were asked to imagine the context with no other information to guide them, most people would assume it was taken at some fancy dinner or some other high-society function. Asymmetry is the clue.

Asymmetry is uncommon in most of our everyday attire and is therefore a sign of cultural status. Asymmetry is usually the preserve of the empowered.

Two naked shoulders on a woman during a heat wave would have probably gone unnoticed in the House of Commons but one is making some kind of statement – but how to interpret that statement?

Given our cultural conditioning, and the education of Ms Brabin, my questions are these: why did Ms Brabin choose that top for a day at work? Did she anticipate it would be provocative in the context of the House of Commons? If she did, what was she trying to achieve?

And why did she answer her critics with a list of possible interpretations for her appearance that described empowered women?

The answers lie in the struggle for power.

In our society, women have sexual power and men have political power. A woman who commands sexual power and political power is a prospect too terrifying for many insecure men to contemplate.