The rise of the hyphenated activist

Anadarko's drill ship the Noble Bob Douglas drilling off the Otago Coast.  Credit: Damian Newell aboard the Oil Free Otago flotilla.

Dr Patricia Widener hails from the Sociology Department of Florida Atlantic University. She studies the effect of the oil industry on communities.

Talking points

I study the conflict and contamination as communities respond to the oil industry.

Even the threat of an oil industry can damage a sense of place

For many places the oil industry is not something people have considered

New communities are being forced to assess what oil means to them. In a way oil has been invisible to us, its always been available to us, it’s such a part of our lives we don’t critically think of all of the meanings petroleum until these new projects are announced.

Oil splits communities.

If people are afraid to take a strong position, that’s a problem, that’s an environment that is not conducive to everyone discussing it, debating it forming their own opinions about it.

If they are not shy about holding a position, but afraid that they’ll be rejected, a stigma for that position. In a democracy shouldn’t be happening, in a democracy, everyone should be comfortable talking about their position, how they got to that position and why they feel strongly about it.

People can be criticised for taking a position against a project – but that’s democracy.

Small businesses in business associations

Communities are not able to assess projects on a equal playing field, they only have tidbits of information.

We say we are aware of climate change and we are addressing it, and yet we are increasing fossil fuel production. To a community that makes no sense. It is confusing for community members who need to make decisions on specific projects that potentially will produce greenhouse gases.

National responses are very mixed, but a community itself has to make a decision on an actual project. It’s not an abstract conversation, it’s a specific project – or potential project that’s coming in.

Both signals are happening. Yes we’re dealing with climate change, yes we’re increasing fossil fuels production and use. Both of these are happening at the same time. People, agencies, governments are saying both without connecting what that actually means.

I’m concerned about the focus on individual energy use, while at the same time giving industry a pass.

Until there are locally alternatives to driving the car – we’re mobile people – we do need to transition, and it’s not happening.

It is a diversion and it is easy to focus on and target the individual, and blame the individual for the problem. And this serves industry to target the individual.

It serves as a diversion to get the eyes, the gaze, the critical thinking away from industry and onto households and individuals.

We still need to drive less, the developed wealthy world, we live beyond our means, beyond the world’s means.

Oil is pleasing, it is so close to our lifestyles, the pleasurable parts of our lifestyles, but we need to be thinking about what it means when other areas or other communities are negatively impacted.

It is really difficult for us to think about how what is pleasing to us may cause someone else’s suffering. We don’t want to dwell on that so we give industry a pass.

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