Interviewing Sonia Shah

1. Can you tell ZNet, please, what your book CRUDE: THE STORY OF OIL is about? What is it trying to communicate?

CRUDE is what I’d call a critical popular-science book: it describes the science, technology, and politics behind how oil is formed, how we found it and how we started consuming it 10,000 times faster than it could ever accumulate again. What’s so amazing about this stuff? Where does it come from? Why did we consume it the way we did? How did the world get divided into the power-full, the power-less, and the power-hungry? These are some of the questions the book answers, in a readable text using lots of stories about real people, from top petroleum scientists to impassioned anti-oil activists.

2.  Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?

To research this book, I immersed myself in the oil industry for over a year, reading their trade magazines, attending their conferences, and interviewing their top leaders. I met and spoke with offshore oil workers and anti-oil activists.

It was a disturbing experience, in many ways. The oil industry is as macho and male-dominated as the stereotype about it suggests. They talk about pushing oil consumption in Asia as if this were the solution-the sole solution-to poverty. They blame impoverished Asian women, not Western SUV drivers and oil companies, for global warming. As an Asian American feminist, I found many of their attitudes incredibly distasteful.

And yet, this is an industry that is profoundly certain of itself-certain that it will overcome any challengers, that it is doing the right thing, and that the world needs it and will need it for decades to come. The contrast between the left’s blueprints for sustainable development and energy use, ramping up things like hydrogen, solar power, and wind energy, and the billions of dollars the oil industry has already invested in an oil-coddled future is stark, to say the least. 

3. What are your hopes for CRUDE? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?

My hopes are the same as any author: I want people to read the book! And tell me what they think. And talk about it with their friends.

My main message is about the cost of our energy consumption, and about how profoundly our society must change. Energy-efficient SUVs just won’t cut it.

We in the West feel like cars and abundant electricity are our birthrights. That isn’t true for the vast majority of the world. And yet, the way we live has been structured around intense energy consumption, and I agree that it is difficult, today, to opt out. How do we get to work without a car? How do we feed our families without electrical appliances? Personally I’ve only figured out partially satisfying answers to these questions. What we must do, eventually, is build whole new ways of living. But it won’t happen unless the power of Big Oil is significantly sapped first.

I’ll be talking more about this book at bookstores and universities in October in Los Angeles; San Francisco; Seattle; La Crosse, WI; Houston; Austin; Boston; Amherst; New York and Washington, DC. Please come! For more information about Crude: The Story of Oil, please see http://www.sevenstories.com/ or email me at soniashah@igc.org


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