by Richard T. Stuebi
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.