Lori Humphreys | Staff Writer
Americans obsessively watch the price of gasoline as it rises or falls. But author and journalist Peter Maass says that Americans are not thinking or even aware of the cost of oil to the societies at the other end of the pipeline.
Saturday at the 3 p.m. Contemporary Issues Forum in the Hall of Philosophy, Maass will describe that cost in his presentation “Crude World: Oil, Politics, Money, War — and Solutions.”
“I’m a narrative writer. I try to tell stories about how people are shaped by our need for oil,” Maass said.
The effect of oil production in some countries is not a “Beverly Hillbilly” narrative, but a grimy one. Maass said that rather than creating a prosperous society, oil causes more poverty, violence, pollution and corruption in many of the countries which supply it to the United States.
Maass’ primary example is Equatorial Guinea, a small African country on the Atlantic between Cameroon and Gabon. Guinea is the third largest oil exporter in sub-Saharan Africa.
In 1995, Mobil discovered oil in the waters off Malabo, an island which is part of Equatorial Guinea. The result was not prosperity for the Guinean population, but a financial grab bag for the country’s president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, and his family.
Maass sees some light in all the blackness. There are now laws which allow the U.S. Department of Justice to seize property from corrupters. He said that as the result of news stories and nongovernmental organization reports, the Department of Justice seized the Malibu, Calif., property of Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, son of the president.
It is fair to say that Maass supports the development of renewable energy, but he recognizes the complication of the U.S. economy’s need for energy.
“Fracking is really strange; it opens new energy resources. Natural gas is less polluting than oil and coal. But, we fool ourselves if we think it lets us off the hook. We don’t know the extent of its effect on water tables. At best, it’s a bridge to the solution,” he said.
Maass is the author of Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for nonfiction. His articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books and Foreign Policy. His current book is Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil. Maas graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2012.
There will be a book signing after his presentation.
The Contemporary Issues Forum is sponsored by the Chautauqua Women’s Club.