We hear about oil every day.  Prices fluctuate because of supply and demand. We see it on the receipts for our food, gasoline and heating oil bills.

Americans love to complain about gasoline prices, however for some reason, they would rather pay higher prices than trying to using less.

It is not as easy as some make it sound. It is infrequently suggested we take a long hard look at what makes oil, what it is. Scientifically, it is a collection of hydrocarbons and aromatic compounds, nicknamed “black gold,” and is incorporated into virtually all consumer goods in some way or another.

The history of oil is fascinating in and of itself.  Modern civilization’s appetite for oil has only grown as societies have gained greater knowledge of the potential of this resource.

The book and documentary, The Prize by Daniel Yergin, discusses the development of the modern relationship between the West and Middle East when American and European oil companies discovered huge reserves of oil. Today, much of the prosperity in certain countries is due mainly to oil.

But not all that glitters is gold. While some countries have benefited greatly from extracting and selling this resource, other parts of the world have suffered. Yolanda Gordillo, a teaching assistant at F&M, and a personal friend from Ecuador, discussed how after Ecuador became an oil exporter and OPEC member in the early 70s, the subsistence of the economy became overly dependent on oil.

Under the military dictatorships of the 70s, the oil revenues helped fund social infrastructure, even though the already wealthy class was growing in size, while the majority of the population saw few benefits.

The indigenous Cofan, Siona, Secoya, Huaorani and Quichua peoples were “displaced” by Texaco and other trans-national oil companies exploiting Ecuador’s oil reserves.

The Tetete people of the region have disappeared completely.

Environmental issues from open pits of waste from drilling rigs contaminated air, soil and water, both below ground and in local rivers, creating cancer rates among the area’s peoples (indigenous as well as not) into numbers much higher than that of the cities, prompting a lawsuit from the indigenous people against the Ecuadorian government and the oil companies, said Gordillo.

Today, thanks to some renegotiation of oil contracts, Ecuador receives more substantial royalties, improving the economy and helping the country pump less oil, noting a rise in eco-tourism with the trans-nationals better complying with environmental regulations.

The Amazon rainforests and the people who live there still suffer from the original environmental devastation born out of the oil boom in the 70s.

Ecuador is not alone; other parts of the world have suffered environmental devastation. These other countries saw the benefit of oil wealth, mainly keeping the already rich and powerful about the same, without much benefit to those already impoverished.

Resources on oil including documentaries, books and other media are available, and becoming informed on this commodity as a whole is the best economic policy we have.

That has shaped the industrial age, yet has brought out the worst in humanity. Ah oil! Ah humanity!