Article Extraction Economy

Freeing the Dragon

To think of a future without fossil fuels is to think a very big thought. So I would like to start by bringing awareness to these precious substances which rest in Mother Earth and which we are extracting in so many places. We can think of oil as the dragon-power of the Earth, sleeping deep underground, and bringing forth fire and energy when awakened. But what kind of fire? And what kind of energy? Humanity does not have a way to allow these wild energies to flow freely and healthily for the benefit of all. Instead, they are channelled into a closed structure which depends on keeping the dragon bound and gagged. This captive dragon is the backbone of western civilisation.

Petroleum has created an entire system. It connects the car industry, all transportation, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, textiles, and much more. Crude oil is comprised of a fairly consistent mix of components which are separated into various derivatives at refineries. These derivatives include liquid petroleum gas (LPG), gasoline, kerosene, diesel, lubricating oil, tar, and petroleum coke. The solar visionary Hermann Scheer described refineries as the link in the chain to which industrial interests bind themselves. Each petroleum derivative has a particular role: fuel for transport, asphalt for road construction, other fractions for the production of pesticides, textiles, and plastics. The extraction of oil has created a diverse industrial system, and today there is little that is produced outside of this system.

Within this system, it is impossible to simply change an aspect. Those wanting to change a single detail always find themselves up against the entire system, facing an astonishingly unified and overwhelmingly powerful political lobby. For example, consider what happens if we take a stand for organic agriculture against particular pesticides. Should we be successful, those pesticides would no longer be produced. But the refineries would continue to produce the raw materials which comprise their ingredients, so this would affect the profitability of the entire system. If one wants to bring change to just one sector of the oil industry, one risks resistance from all of the other sectors, which operate so efficiently together. This strategy cannot succeed in the face of the accumulated power of the whole of the industry.

A world without fossil fuels is only possible if we change the system completely. That means building an alternative which works at least as well in all these diverse fields, but which is regenerative instead of destructive. We need to completely change the system if we want to liberate the dragon. Solar panels or solar power stations are, of course, very good steps. But we can only leave the culture of the enslaved dragon if we invest in a totally new system.

We should know two things about the current system. First, it requires sums of money so immense that only the biggest power structures are able to afford the investment in, for example, the planned exploratory drilling in Portugal. These power structures are alliances of governments, global industry, and centralized financial institutions. The petroleum system, therefore, has an in-built centralising structure. It is a structure that creates dependency. Within this system, the power to produce and distribute energy is concentrated in ever-fewer hands and, in our times, the concentration of power always means power over people, power over ecological systems. It is the power of destruction.

The second thing one should know is that this valuable sleeping dragon is accessible only at certain places on Earth. Power-hungry governments and corporations are therefore compelled to control these regions in order to ensure access to the energy sources on which the system relies. It is a matter of survival for these entities to control, possess, and distribute everything that people within this system need. Those who want to have power must have access to the regions in which fossil fuels are found. This is unavoidable and all means are justified to achieve it. War is built into the logic of the fossil fuel system.

And so it is that war over oil prevails worldwide. Many people have died in the quest to access the dragon; entire cultures have been eradicated. Peoples have been expelled from their land, from the natives in America to the inhabitants of the tundra of Siberia. Ecosystems have been destroyed, and many species of plants and animals have been made extinct. Today, the destruction of nature and wars shake the Middle East, remote jungle areas of South and Central America, and threaten the deep sea and the Arctic.

It is a huge challenge to overcome this system. I want to say very clearly that none of us can succeed alone. What does it mean to build an alternative? It is not enough to develop particular technical or social alternatives. We need to work together to create a similarly coherent backbone for a new society.

Tamera’s Solar Test Field aims to bring technological systems, which often already exist as modules, into a functioning whole. It’s not easy. Consider, for example, a biogas installation. We want to use the biogas to heat water. Suitable boilers are produced in China, but we cannot import them because they don’t have the appropriate certification. We need particular nozzles to connect various stoves to the system. We have searched and found that they do exist—in some remote corner of the world. It soon becomes clear that humanity is not investing its intelligence in the development of an overall alternative. There are many cases like this; we feel it is like fine sand in the gears of alternative systems.

The Scheffler Mirror is used to cook. It’s a fixed-focus solar reflector, where the shape and tracking system of the mirror are designed to concentrate sunlight onto a static collector outside the mirror’s aperture.

And we see it as a symptom of our times that, while individual technologies are being developed all over the place, each developer seems concerned only with himself and on working on only one thing. There are solar cookers, biogas systems, Scheffler mirrors, all of which one can see here in the Test Field. But they are never brought together into a system, which is what is actually needed. We don’t want to live with a bunch of individual elements, which would require us to cook in one place, pump water in another, and find food in yet another. We want to live in a system which gives us everything we need.

The Solar Test Field is still a very modest approach to system change. In many of the details of our endeavour, we see the things that hinder the uptake of renewable energies on a larger scale. Primarily, is it that the ability to work together is too often lost due to unsolved interpersonal issues. The human factor in the use of technologies receives far too little attention; almost everything depends on this. And this is why our work on a social model has such significance.

A humane world is not just a question of gentler technologies. If technology is to make a contribution to a more humane world, it must always be connected with a humane ethic. Humane ethics can only arise in new ways of living together with each other. For example, the question of using biogas as an element of a decentralised regenerative system or in conjunction with monoculture and the exploitation of animals; the question of using expertise in decentralised solar technology used to support life in an African village or for military ends—these are not technological questions but ethical ones. The ethical basis for system change is created by community. This is our core research issue in Tamera, and this is why the Solar Test Field is so much a part of Tamera.

Biogas digester – using the designs of T.H. Culhane, biogas means it’s possible to cook when there’s no sun – on cloudy days and at night.

The Test Field was founded in 2009. The construction of the site occurred parallel with a pilgrimage from Evora to Portugal—from stone circle to stone circle. Both events had the same title: From Prehistoric Utopia to a Modern Utopia. The Test Field was inaugurated as the pilgrimage reached Tamera, and a group has been living in and developing the Test Field since then. It is often very concrete questions from daily life which drive development. One very important factor was the contact with our friends from the Peace Community San José de Apartadó in Colombia, where there is often no direct sunlight. Because of this, our solar systems would not be appropriate for their location. We had to look for alternatives and started to work with biogas. Biogas needs biomass, which is abundant in their tropical climate. Our biogas system is now an important complement to solar energy in our kitchen.

I want to mention a person who was particularly important in the foundation of our Test Field: Jürgen Kleinwächter. He is one of few people who have taken on the task of developing a new approach to solar energy. He has invented engines, cooling installations, and other systems, but above all, he has always insisted that we need an integrated systematic transition to an alternative energy system. And that this alternative system is based on the Sun.

I would like to say two things about our beloved Sun. I have already mentioned that the centralization of power is inherent to the petroleum industry. The Sun is inherently decentralised. Its energy is available everywhere and for everyone. The other essential quality of the Sun is abundance. Capitalism is based on scarcity, which must be artificially maintained so that the system of supply and demand can function. But the Sun is constantly giving us 15,000 times more energy than we humans need. This is a very clear message that we are not living in scarcity. We don’t need to save energy. But we do need to take care to choose the right energy sources if we want to live in abundance.

Returning to the picture of the dragon that I began with: deep in the Earth lies an enormous power, stored as potential in fossil fuel. We barely know this power. We don’t yet know the meaning of this power. Maybe this is the power which has set alight hearts around the world—from Standing Rock to Cova de Vapor—to stand for the protection of our planet. Defend the Sacred! One thing is for sure: setting fire to oil, burning it, thereby changing the climate and bringing life to the edge of destruction, is not behaviour that corresponds to the intelligence we believe Homo sapiens to have. Today, we need centres and communities where other possibilities for cooperation with the dragon-powers of planet Earth are researched.



Tamera Peace Research & Education Center’s recently-published book Defend the Sacred: If Life Wins There Will Be No Losers contains this essay and many others. Tamera invites you and activists from around the world to participate in their upcoming conference on resistance and regenerating the community of life, in Tamera, Portugal, August 16–19, and join this work.



About Barbara Kovats

Barbara Kovats was trained as an archeologist. She lives and works at Tamera in Portugal where she coordinates the Solar Test Field, as community-builder and member of the Women’s Council.

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