Crude Impact

by Richard T. Stuebi

A few weeks ago at the Cleveland International Film Festival, I had the opportunity to serve on a discussion panel for a recently-released documentary entitled Crude Impact.

Crude Impact aims to portray all of the various social ills — political instability in the Middle East, corruption and poverty in the developing world, air pollution and environmental degradation, sprawl and traffic — associated with modern society’s reliance on oil. After establishing all of the disturbing challenges associated with oil, Crude Impact closes with a somewhat perversely optimistic punchline: “peak oil” — the maximum rate of extraction from our planet for the finite stock of oil that was left from pre-history — is surely coming, and no matter what economic or geopolitical crises that phenomenon will precipitate, at least the decline of oil will put an end to all of the miseries that oil underlies.

On balance, I give Crude Impact a “thumbs-up”. Without falling into despair, it clearly tells a number of stories related to petroleum through various lenses, and weaves these stories together to paint an overall damning picture of oil in a compelling manner.

I might suggest double-billing Crude Impact with An Inconvenient Truth, which focuses on the planetary impacts of global climate change without spending much time on the primary culprit: our seemingly insatiable desire to consume fossil fuels. Crude Impact seizes unflinchingly on this root cause, and is effective in reinforcing a sense of urgency to further commit to reducing our use of energy generally, and oil in particular.

The one criticism I have of the film is that it places a lot of blame for propagating oil demand on a variety of social segments — governments in the U.S. and worldwide, oil companies, auto manufacturers, the media — without fingering the ultimate precipitator: the consumers who have been completely complicit all along the way in creating our energy and environmental crises. The makers of Crude Impact tend to shun ascribing responsibility to the viewer, the average citizen, for any of the planetary woes we face due to society’s oil addiction.

If we are to have impact in changing the world for the better, we can’t fall prey to the passive negativity of laying all of the fault on other bigger parties that are supposedly more powerful than the individual. We have to own up to our role in causing our current problems, by being undemanding and unquestioning consumers. Once we see vividly our integral part in the drama, we lose the sense of being hopeless victims, and can act with much deeper resolve towards changing our path forward to a more hopeful future.

Richard Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

2 replies
  1. aatterson
    aatterson says:

    It is truly understandable that an educated person should feel him/herself to blame (in part)to the crisis that the world faces in regards to oil addiction. Unfortunately the average American consumer has no true understanding of the impact he/she has on this crisis. How would they without enlightening perspectives this film offers. WE, all of us, have, now the chance to grasp how desperate the situation has become and how futile the efforts of the individual are. There truly is no hope for mankind in the hands of the average man. How can my, or even the entire population of America (if all would abide), reduction of petroleum based products compete with the ever growing consumption levels of the rest of the planet. As if the governments or press of countries like China and India would lead their citizens to think that their very way of life would soon come to an end without a sudden withdraw from the very product that is now making theircountry as great as America.I know now that my government and press did and continues to do nothing to lead me in that direction. I concede. Their is no hope. Mankind is doomed.

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