Ngalba, Chad: As night fell and the bright lights of the brand new oil field wrapped this hamlet in their golden glow, Neurmbaye Elie, a local farmer, pointed across the field before him. There, Mr. Elie said, just left of the blazing gas flare, under the streetlight, once stood the village initiation site. Animals were sacrificed there, spirits were supplicated, and the village boys became men. Then it became part of the oil complex, fenced in, a patch of earth not unlike the rest; the village got about $130 for it. Now, he worries. What if the spirits, displeased, sprang from that sacred ground and spread willy-nilly across the land? (Sengupta, 2004)
Oil’s promise of fabulous riches has, and continues to have, an irresistible lure for governments, corporations and ordinary people. They should know better, as oil fortunes are usually laced with a heavy dose of misery. Opulent Parisian boulevards in early twentieth-century Baku, universal health and education in 1970s Iraq, and lush golf courses in the desert emirate of Dubai are matched by oil-fuelled killing fields in Chechnya and Angola and the ominously melting polar ice caps. These contradictions have made oil the focus of confrontations between governments, companies and activists. Front lines, real and imaginary, run across every oilfield and pipeline from Aceh to Alaska.
Oil has two characteristics that make it of particular interest from a global civil society perspective. First, oil is a global commodity in as much as it has been traded on the global market for decades. Both exporters and importers of oil have experienced the forces of globalisation, from interdependence to loss of sovereignty, before it became a pervasive phenomenon. Second, oil brings together concerns as diverse as war and human rights, development and environmental sustainability, governance and corporate responsibility. Therefore, oil campaigns involve the building of cross-border and cross-disciplinary activist networks and alliances.
This chapter first considers the character of oil as a global commodity, then looks at the groups, networks, and individuals engaged in this debate with the aim of identifying the main arguments. Finally, it examines the relationship between these arguments and our positions on globalisation (Kaldor, Anheier and Glasius, 2003).
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