Homophobia remains deeply ingrained in many parts of the world.
Some of the worst offenders are petroleum-producing nations.
The deluge of oil money leads to corruption, an embrace of
fundamentalism, and stunts growth in culture, politics,
science, and education. These combustible ingredients lead to
human rights violations and create particularly hostile
environments for women and LGBT people.
A series of new discoveries and technological innovations in
energy production threaten to turn the old order upside down.
Powerful countries long dependent on foreign oil, such as Japan
and the United States, could potentially be energy independent
within a decade or two.
The first innovation is known as “fracking.” This process
allows for the extraction of previously inaccessible oil and
natural gas from rocks, by shooting a mix of water, sand, and
chemicals deep into the earth. This technique has drastically
increased homegrown energy in the United States, although
environmentalists are rightfully concerned that fracking could
pollute the water supply.
A second new technology offers the means to affordably
transform Canada’s tar sands into usable energy. Many people
are familiar with this process because of the intense debate
over the Keystone XL pipeline – which would stretch from
Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Canadian Prime Minister
Stephen Harper was in New York last week to help overcome
objections to the pipeline from environmentalists and
A third, and most promising possibility, is the commercial
development of methane hydrate. This substance is found in the
ocean and occurs when water molecules trap “guest molecules” of
natural gas in frigid ice cages. An article in The Atlantic by
Charles C. Mann describes the energy as “ice you can set on
fire” and claims that “by some estimates, it is twice as
abundant as all other fossil fuels combined.”
This evolution may finally free industrial countries from the
shackles of rogue oil nations. However, there is concern that
drastic changes to the status quo might lead to instability for
traditional petroleum exporters.
“OPEC nations cannot afford to see rising North American
production drive down global oil prices either,” writes Globe
and Mail columnist Konrad Yakabuski. “Were that to happen, it
would sow political unrest in places like Saudi Arabia that
have been shamelessly buying off their populations to keep the
Arab Spring at bay. The consequences of regime change in Saudi
Arabia could be deeply unsettling for global security.
Mann concurs in The Atlantic: “If methane hydrate allows much
of the world to switch from oil to gas, the conversion would
undermine governments that depend on oil revenues, especially
petro-autocracies like Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Iraq, Kuwait,
and Saudi Arabia.
Would that really be such a bad outcome?
It is worth considering the impact such momentous reshuffling
of the world order might have on human rights. Traditionally,
developing nations that strike a gusher are corrupted by the
enormous wealth. To add a veneer of piousness to their
immorality, they often buy off the clergy, which gives
religious figures a disproportionate amount of power – as long
as they don’t directly challenge the state. This dynamic
stifles creativity and leads to oppressive conservatism in
places as diverse as Russia and Saudi Arabia.
The easy money can also distort economies and offer a false
sense of security. This often leads to underinvesting in human
capital – such as science, medicine, high tech, and education.
The collapse of traditional petrol societies has the potential
to transform these countries for the better. Sooner or later,
Saudis will conclude that prayer won’t pay their air
conditioning bills in summer, and Russians will figure out that
the Orthodox priests will not cover their heating bills in
winter. For their nations to succeed, they will have to invest
in their people and in the future. To succeed in the
international marketplace, they will need to compete for the
best and brightest – and this means treating women and LGBT
people as actual human beings who have something to offer.
While some worry about instability in such places, in my view,
nations where gay people are terrorized and women treated like
pets are already unstable. They are also unviable if not
propped up by petroleum. While new technology – as well as
advances in cleaner alternative energy – can give America
energy independence, perhaps it can also lead to the
independence of sexual and religious minorities after the old
oil regimes come crashing down.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything
But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay