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Why is oil extraction and use a problem, if it brings so many benefits? This page introduces the general issue of environmental responsibility, and then focuses on oil, though the principles here could be applied to almost any environmental issue.

This is approximately a transcription of something I said to Opeoluwa Adewolu, on 22 March 2012. I add a few things in [square brackets] of things that would make this more complete. Oil is the specific environmental issue because Ope comes from Nigeria, which is becoming increasingly dependent on oil)

It is written from a Christian viewpoint, that is, of a Christian who believes the Bible is the Word of God, so much that is said might not make sense to others.



[recording begins half way through conversation]

... so back to the environment. The environment issue: what we do as humans has an effect on the environment [especially the natural world]. We can desecrate the environment, pollute the environment (e.g. seas, water, soil), and we can cause climate change by burning fossil fuels like oil. [We can also heal, mend, care for and develop it.] There are several views [among Christians]:

1. Irresponsible use. God has given us 'dominion' over the natural world, so we can do what we like with it. Some USA Christians tend towards this view but most Christians are moving away from it towards responsibility. [The other four views are stages in responsibility.]

2. The world belongs to God, so we should respect it.

3. We should use [or live in] the environment responsibly because it supports human life. Now and in the future. [This brings in future generations.]

4. We should use [live in] the environment responsibly with an awareness that the impact of our use on humans can be (a) not where I am but on someone else, distant from me; the rich North is perpetrator of environmental damage on the developing South, but it is the rich North who seem to benefit [Is that just?]; (b) long term, not immediate; what I do now affects them later; [(c) Multiplied: because I do it, others follow my example or they excuse their own doing it on the grounds that I am doing it; eventually a million people do what I do.] Together, what I do make stuff happen years later and elsewhere.

5. The environment is not just there for human life only. Maybe it's of value above and beyond human life, in the eyes of the LORD.

Number 5 is where I am. So my responsibility is to God, and to represent Him in the world. The rest of humanity or society might be destroying the world, but [I believe that] God's people should be setting the standards. [Should not God's people be in the lead in taking responsibility, rather than lagging behind or even resisting?]


[What follows after this depends on understanding the seriousness of climate change, and what contributes to it.

Climate change, the process:



When we take oil from the ground and use it for something, it inevitably ends up as climate change emissions. On route to becoming CCEs, oil gives us something that could be 'valuable' to us. [What is 'valuable'? see below] But we have to realise that oil ends up as climate change emissions. Every barrel of it that we extract does. This is the elephant in the room that politicians don't want to consider. [This is in addition to other damage done by the oil industry, such as damaging fishing and local communities, or being the root cause of wars like in Iraq in 1990s, which destabilizes the world and increases enmity.]

If we take oil out of the ground and use it at a very slow rate, then we can perhaps get away with it [because a low rate does not greatly upset the balance mentioned above]. But today we are extracting and using it [and other fossil fuels] at such a high rate that damage will be caused.

This is why the UK government agreed to achieve an 80% cut by 2050 in its rate of CCEs. Very good - but ... [What it means is that each and every use of oil and other fossil fuels must reduce by four fifths.]

For example the average UK car is driven 15,000 miles per year; by 2050 the average must come down to 3000 miles per year. [How on earth can we achieve that!] But the UK government is not allowing itself to see that we must reduce road use. Instead, it looks to technology to solve the problem, such as more efficient cars. But you cannot get a car that does the same milage for one fifth on the fuel. [Note 1] No! We have no option but to reduce the number of miles we drive, and that means a change in lifestyle for UK people.

Ope: But can cars not be powered by water?

AB: Yes, I heard that too. But you need to put power into the water to split it into hydrogen and oxygen. Where does the power come from?

Ope: Why not solar?

AB: [Three reasons, I am aware of.] First, the solar technology for this is not yet ready [especially for widespread use]. Second, oil is much cheaper than solar energy, so which company or government would go for solar energy? [Third, the energy used to create the solar water-splitting plant and maintain it must also be considered.]

The problem is not just the chemistry of water or any other source, but also the economics and politics of it. (If people paid the real costs of the damage done by oil, oil would be a lot more expensive today than it is.)

Ope: Have you written a paper on this?

AB: No, but I would love to if I have time. [This page is that paper, an expanded transcript of the recording of our conversation.]


[Given that every barrel of oil extracted ends up as climate change emissions, which damage the world,] Should we say "No more oil; stop oil extraction and use"?

[Well, we do have a precedent for doing so.] ...

William Wilberforce, who was the key figure in banning the slave trade and then slavery as such, was motivated by his commitment to Christ. Someone remarked that what Wilberforce did 200 years ago, in wanting to abolish the slave trade, would, today, be similar to saying we should abolish cars. That is how radical Wiblerforce was. He did it, because of the gospel. Many Christians were against him, because there is nothing in the Bible that clearly condemns slavery. Rather, Wilberforce and his colleagues had to work out from Scripture slavery is wrong. [It seems this was God's intention.] [See 'Like Slavery' and Page on 'Slavery = Climate Change?'.]

The same with oil. [See Note 2]

I don't go as far as Wilberforce did; I don't say "Ban oil extracton". [This is like Bob Goudzwaard's notion of the Blossoming Economy, in which the largest economies should reduce while the smaller, developing ones, should increase.] [I believe that] it's not that we extract and use oil that's wrong, but the way we use it [and the rate at which we use it, and the reasons we have for using it].

Think about the way we use oil: we are always increasing the amount we use. Today the average car use in UK is 15,000 miles per annum [it used to be 12,000, and before that 10,000]. If I were a gambler I would bet a lot of money on the fact that most of the 15,000 is not necessary, but is used only for our comfort, convenience or pleasure. Not for necessary things. [See Note 3 for discussion of what 'necessary' means.]

(Ope: Rail travel?

AB: According to the figures I have, rail travel is 3 times better than road travel [per passenger and per tonne of goods].

Ope: You mean train is more efficient?

AB. Yes, and especially in terms of CCEs. And air travel is 3 times worse than road, that is 9 or 10 times worse than rail. That is why I use the train to get to the Netherlands, not plane.)


[The figures make us think. And my figures might be different today.] But it's not primarily a matter of figures, it's a matter of our attitude and beliefs. What we aspire to in the UK? Is it not mainly comfort and convenience. But how important are our comfort and convenience in God's eyes? e.g. I take the train to work rather than drive [and have the benefit of time to work, write, read, sleep, etc.].

When I recently went to visit Rita [four miles away in the countryside] I cycled, even though it is up hill and would take hald an hour rather than quarter of an hour by car. Most would have used their cars without thinking about it. But I made this decision because of my beliefs, because of Christ.

[I often find that if I make the environmentally responsible decision for Christ, even though it seems less comfortable or convenient, I am blessed with other benefits that I do not expect. That makes me thankful. e.g. on route to Rita, it was a lovely spring day, with birds singing in the sun, and I got good exercise; it was exhilarating.]

Ope: You're not saying that using the car is a sin, but it's the way we use it?

AB: Yes, the way we use it. But also the attitude.

It's a matter of attitude. Do we have an attitude that recognises that damage is being done by the activities we engage in, and accepts our responsibility for them? Or do we resist such as suggestion? That is: Do we have an attitude of responsibility?


So, every time I go in the car I must remember: I am doing damage. Indirectly, and to someone else [and over the long term]. I must take responsibility and ask: "Is the reason I am using the car [or whatever it is], is it important enough to cause this damage?" [How would I answer before the Judgement Seat, when asked why I used the car so much, given that it does damage? Would our answer satisfy the Lord of Glory?]

Sadly, almost nobody thinks like this. Including Christians. Especially Christians [in the USA and those who aspire to USA-type Christianity]. We get so used to the idea that the Lord blesses us materially etc. that we believe we have an absolute right to material comfort, convenience and blessing [that overrides any damage it does]. We don't think.

We have a car [or computer or camera or phone or ...] but we always aspire to having a nicer one, a more powerful one, and so on. I do so myself. (We just got two cars; I not want that because we've been standing out against the trend as a one-car family for years; but I had to put pride aside)

But more generally than cars: if we have a resource, there's a tendency to use it unthinkingly and it's the 'unthinkingly' that is the problem. [And, however much resource we have - resources are riches - we always aspire to have yet more. That aspiring is the sin. "Be content with such things as ye have."]


[Earlier I said that between extracting oil and it becoming climate change emissions, we gain some 'value' from it. Ask ourselves "What kind of value do we get?" At the immediate level, we get the 'value' of: transport, electricity, power for industry, etc. But these are not valuable in themselves; we must ask what value we get from those. Transport, electricity etc. enable us to do various things, and it is these that might or might not be truly valuable. For example, do they enable us to produce more and better food? Or do they enable us to go on holiday more? Do they enable us to have computers on Internet all the time? Which of these things are truly valuable in God's eyes? Only the first? We, who claim to be God's people, need to think about this.]


[Ope was wondering about applying for an oil scholarship.] Money that comes from oil. Is it the same as money that comes from gambling? [Or more like money that comes from doing good?] Oil use is not a 'sin' in the way gambling is a 'sin'. But could it be 'sin' in a different way? (for 'sin' it's better to say 'problem'?).

In fact there is not as much in the Bible against gambling as we think; I would never gamble, but when I examined my reasons for not gambling I found they come more from Christian tradition than from the Bible. [So we need to ask ourselves what it is about gambling that is actually wrong or evil in God's sight. For example, is it that gamblers gain pleasure at the expense of their families, who get into terrible debt and destitution? That is, the 'sin' of gambling is mainly about destitution of families, coupled with a certain uncaring attitude that seeks 'my own pleasure'. Whatever is wrong with it, we have worked it out on the basis of major principles in the Bible.]

[In a similar way, though there may be little in the Bible about it, oil extraction and use (in combination with other fossil fuels) result in destitution of the planet by climate change, and especially of the poor of the earth, merely for the convenience, comfort and pleasure of the privileged rich North. ]

[What I am saying is: We who take on ourselves the Name of Christ should take responsibility for recognising and thinking about the damage we do by our living with comfort, convenience and pleasure, and seriously examining whether it is worth it. We should be the ones taking the lead in adopting such a responsible attitude. ]

We are expected to be 'hious' - mature sons - of the Father, who know how to take responsibility and think and decide like he does, not mere children ('paedo'). Mature 'hious' (whether male or female) work out with a good heart what their Father would wish and do, rather than wait to be told what to do in every situation. Did not Yahweh God say "My people perish because of lack of knowledge"?


That was all at the back of my mind and I realised I've never really explained the environment thing to Opeoluwa clearly. Perhaps I will write a paper [this is the basis of it!]. I've written some things about this before, but never felt quite as clear about it before. (Has it been clear? Ope: Yes) AB. Please send it so I can transcribe.

Andrew Basden 26 March 2012

POSTSCRIPT: Nigerias Future

Nigeria is a vibrant nation at the moment (2012), and it sees oil as a huge opportunity. But if Nigeria is building its prosperity on oil, that is not only irresponsible and in contempt of God's Plan, as argued above, but it is also unwise.


Note 1. Electric cars seem to do the same milage for one third of the fuel, but not one fifth - but not all vehicles will go electric, so we won't even achieve this two-thirds reduction by switching to electric technology.

Note 2. The oil issue might be similar to the slavery issue, in that: Though, there is nothing in Scripture to say that extracting and using oil and generating climate change is wrong, God has given us the responsibility of working out from Scripture that these things are wrong, or rather the way in which they are wrong.

Note 3. On whether most UK car use is unnecessary. One might wonder: is not most car use to get to work, and is that not necessary? What at first sight might seem necessary turns out not to be quite so necessary, for several reasons. Example: many people could get to work by public transport, by cycling or even walking, but they don't because it is less comfortable or convenient for them. Example: Some people might not be able to get to work in these ways, but I would want to ask some of them: why did they originally choose a job and place to live that were so far apart? How necessary was it? Was it for their pleasure and comfort to live in a 'nice' house or get what they thought would be a 'nice' job rather than one that appeared at first sight to be slightly less nice? (A lot of those choices were made in the boom times before the current financial downturn, when they had plenty of choice of both.) As I say later on, it's a matter of attitude.

Note 4. My opinion: That, I believe, is the sin of many right-wing Christians in the USA today: stubborn stopping of ears about climate change and environmental matters. Some of them speaks of climate concern as an evil plot by Statists. I don't support Statism, but their attitude reminds me of how the Pharisees spoke of Jesus as evil, as an agent of the devil.

This page is an expression of part of a project to understand the links between climate change, global economy and other matters including society's beliefs and aspirations. It is designed to stimulate thinking and discourse. Comments, queries welcome.

This page is written on behalf of the CCGE Group by Andrew Basden, but the views expressed herein are his and not necessarily those of the other members of the Group. Written on the Amiga with Protext. Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2008 - present, but you may use this material subject to certain conditions.

Created: 1 April 2012 Last updated: 22 April 2012 Postscript and contents.