We like to start our new years off by reflecting on the significance of the last one. I see 2011 as a tipping point, when the human race officially, devotedly and abjectly, gave itself over to petroleum. As of 2012, there is no longer any pretense: oil, natural gas and coal are the new gold standard, the absolute ruler, that controls economies, politicians, navies and commuters. In our quest for unfettered access to petroleum, we are prepared to kill oceans, overthrow governments, proliferate pipelines, devastate boreal landscapes and frack groundwater. We are even prepared to invest more energy to produce a unit of petroleum than that unit actually contains. And we are  passively watching as the atmosphere slowly chokes on petroleum effluent. We blame China as the world’s CO2 bad guy, as our coal exports to that nation reach record highs. 2010’s devastating BP oil spill is now just a minor historical footnote,  and our frantic attachment to petroleum remains unchanged.

Andrew Nikiforuk, in his seminal book Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, equates petroleum production with the erosion of democracy. Regions and countries with petroleum deposits, like Alberta, use petroleum revenues to keep taxes low. The fundamental democratic equation that balances taxation with representative government is erased. If a big chunk of my salary pays for government budgets, I’m going to watch closely how they operate. If petroleum finances the government, I don’t give a damn what they do.

We find it baffling and incomprehensible as we watch someone casually throw their life away in favor of crack cocaine, when life has so much to offer. Be baffled no more: look to our universal addiction to petroleum for the answer. We are casually throwing our world away.