Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth, by Rachel Maddow (author, narrator)

Random House Audio, October 2019

This is a fascinating and scary book about what the oil and gas industry has done, to the world in general, to Russia in particular, and in lesser ways to the USA.

Discovering the great natural wealth of large deposits of oil and natural gas ought to be a great boon to a country--and it can be. If it has a strong, functional government committed to the national welfare, not just the private wealth of the ruling class, it can be. Even countries that aren't at all democratic, such as a number of the Middle Eastern oil powers, have managed to raise the income, education, and health of much of the population, not just the privileged ruling classes.

But others haven't. Maddow first introduces us to Equatorial Guinea, and the complete lack of benefit to the economic lower classes there, while the ruling family and their friends rake in the billions.

Then she moves on to a more detailed examination of what oil has done to Russia--killing off the infant democracy that Yeltsin, by no means free of corruption himself, very nearly got started, to be replaced by Putin's oligarchs and Russian mafia.

And also what it's done even in the USA, with lasting, bizarre tax breaks for the most profitable industry in the history of the world, along with environmental damage that's hard to regulate and control even when the law technically clearly requires it. Oil is corrupting even here, and we feel the effects of it. Yet we do have a functional government, still, and when there's enough popular anger, the government responds, and the effects do get controlled and cleaned up. Even in the oil state of Oklahoma, the fracking-created earthquake swarms are finally being contained and reduced. It's not perfect, but it's not the tragedy that is Putin's Russia.

Note: Technically, it's not fracking that causes the earthquakes. It's the disposal of the fracking liquid, injected deep into the ground, too deep, so that it reaches rock formations that are extremely vulnerable to destabilization by it. And no, that doesn't only happen in the fracking industry--but that's the industry that's doing it on a very large scale, and the industry that has enough money, power, and influence that it took years to force them to start being a bit more careful. They'd much rather have forced scientists to stop talking about it, and they very nearly succeeded for far too long. So it's not fracking that causes large increases in man-made earthquakes in previously seismically stable areas. It's the fracking industry. But for most of us, in the face of determined industry insistence that any regulation or taxation will be disastrous for the most profitable industry in history, that's pedantry and distraction.

But what's unexpected and startling--even to Rachel Maddow herself, as she's noted on some of her recent shows--is that some of the names in this deep dive into the oil industry are suddenly big in the news now, as the Russian oligarchs and Ukraine's struggles and Trump's official and unofficial presidential advisors are suddenly at the heart of our impeachment investigation.

There's a lot to be learned here, and it's unexpectedly relevant. And Maddow is an excellent reader of her own work.

Highly recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

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