Ukraine war

Peter Dykstra: As inevitable as blood and taxes

A brief history of oil and warfare.

Just like the looming disaster in our future, the unfolding tragedies in Ukraine are rooted in oil.


One of the less-remembered aspects of World War I is Britain’s effort to corner the then-nascent market in Middle Eastern oil.

“Oil explorer” William Reynolds drilled seven years of desert dry holes in what is now known as Iran before his first big strike in 1908. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company was born, and the rush was on.

Turkey militarily challenged Britain’s oil control during and after the war. A young Territories Minister named Winston Churchill fended them off, including the first, primitive aerial use of chemical weapons: Barrels of phosgene gas hurled off a biplane.

The Turks had a major oil strike near Kirkuk, Iraq, in 1927. In Saudi Arabia 11 years later, an American-owned well came in—the first strike in what became known as the world’s largest oil field.

In World War II, a major part of Japan’s strategy was to cripple the U. S. Navy, then make a run to capture the oil fields in Indonesia and Malaysia. The Germans staged their ill-fated betrayal of the Soviet Union in part to seize the Caspian Sea oilfields. While many feel the Nazis lost the war with this failed move, it was a loss caused by an Army’s need for oil.

In 1953, fed up with his nation ’s fealty to oil, Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh nationalized Big Oil’s Iranian assets. He fell victim to a coup the same year—even though it took nearly 70 years for the U.S. to admit what the rest of the world had long assumed: The CIA had staged the coup.

Let’s race through a few more oily events.

  • The 1973 “energy crisis” saw a tightening of supply by OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and sent U.S. gasoline prices soaring to 36 cents a gallon (yikes!). A repeat OPEC embargo in 1979 saw prices shoot up to 86 cents (that’s $2.31 a gallon in recent prices).
  • The 1979 Iran hostage crisis roiled U.S. foreign policy and sunk Jimmy Carter as a one-term president. Iranians still seethed over Mosaddegh’s overthrow and dozens of other indignities.
  • George H.W Bush’s 1991-92 liberation of Kuwait after its occupation by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq saw the largest intentional release of oil in history as Iraq abandoned its offshore wells in the Persian Gulf.
  • His son, George W. Bush, looked America in the eye during his 2006 State of the Union speech and said “America is addicted to oil.” Under the remaining two years of his presidency, we did virtually nothing to kick the habit.
  • In March 2010, President Barack Obama authorized an expansion in offshore drilling, stating that technological advances ensure that offshore operations “generally don’t spill.” Three weeks later, the Deepwater Horizon rig explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 and triggering the largest offshore oil spill in history.

And now, with oil and gas as its economic base, Vladimir Putin and Russia is allegedly committing war crimes as he overruns Ukraine.

There's one thing that’s bothered me about America’s odd love affair with petroleum. Many of us are intensely bothered, or even offended, when we perceive that Big Government is keeping us down through excessive taxes or regulation. But we tend to cut Big Oil far more slack when prices shoot through the roof (even when the U.S. “roof” is half that of Europe’s).

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist and can be reached at pdykstra@ehn.org or @pdykstra.

His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher Environmental Health Sciences.

Banner photo: Moldova - People fleeing the military offensive in Ukraine. (Credit: UN Women)

environmental justice

LISTEN: Revisiting our conversation with environmental justice pioneer Dr. Beverly Wright

“The righteous fight in the end will win. Don’t be swayed by all of the noise.”

Today we’re re-airing our conversation with Dr. Beverly Wright, who joined the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast last year to discuss her journey as an environmental justice pioneer.

Keep reading...Show less
Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.
Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way
Coast Guard inspects Cameron LNG Facility in preparation for first LNG export in 2019. (Credit: Coast Guard News)

Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way

This 2-part series was co-produced by Environmental Health News and the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. See part 1 here.Este ensayo también está disponible en español
Keep reading...Show less
extreme heat disaster designation
Credit: VladisChern/BigStock Photo ID: 198752527

Labor and environmental groups push FEMA to classify extreme heat as a major disaster

A coalition of labor, environmental, and healthcare organizations is urging FEMA to classify extreme heat and wildfire smoke as major disasters, aiming to unlock federal funds for community protection and worker safety.

Manuela Andreoni reports for The New York Times.

Keep reading...Show less
eu nature restoration law
Credit: catcha/BigStock Photo ID:456142131

Austria’s last-minute support enables EU Nature Restoration Law

After months of deadlock, the EU's Nature Restoration Law passed, driven by a crucial change of heart from Austria.

Marta Pacheco reports for Euronews.

Keep reading...Show less

Canada passes Bill C-226 to combat environmental racism

Canada's new Bill C-226 aims to develop a national strategy to address environmental racism and ensure affected communities are part of the solution.

Denise Balkissoon reports for The Narwhal.

Keep reading...Show less

Pipeline project faces tribunal over environmental and Indigenous rights violations

The Mountain Valley Pipeline, now operational, was recently condemned at a "rights of nature" tribunal for infringing on environmental and Indigenous rights.

Hannah Chanatry reports for Inside Climate News.

Keep reading...Show less

Supreme Court ruling could impact environmental policies

The U.S. Supreme Court's upcoming decision on the Chevron doctrine could significantly affect environmental regulations, including those on pollution and climate change.

Jody Freeman writes for Yale Environment 360.

Keep reading...Show less
From our Newsroom
nurses climate change

Op-ed: In a warming world, nurses heal people and the planet

Nurses have the experience, motivation and public support to make an important contribution in tackling the climate crises.

planetary health diet

This diet will likely keep you alive longer — and help the planet

New research finds the Planetary Health Diet lowers our risk to most major causes of death.

environmental justice

LISTEN: Jose Ramon Becerra Vera on democratizing science

“In their own way, they’re becoming experts, not just of their experiences but also of the data collection process.”

The oil and gas industry’s radioactive problem: Q&A with Justin Nobel

The oil and gas industry’s radioactive problem: Q&A with Justin Nobel

“Of all the levels of radium in produced water or brine around the world that I’ve looked at, I have encountered none that are consistently as high as what comes out of the Marcellus Shale.”

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.