Behind The Oil Myth – A Personal Epiphany

OK, this is not a book post – nor is it any kind of a review, it’s one of the rare ‘other’ posts I warned you I would be making.

I recently got a reminder on Facebook  of a post I made a year ago. It described the sudden realisation I had come to during a conversation with one of my kids some time previously. In light of the news we’ve had about the pervasive, invasive effects of plastics in the last twelve months I thought it worth re-sharing.

Why is the oil industry so powerful? Why can the U.S. justify going to war, and staying at war, maintaining a ‘presence’ in oil-rich countries, and why does our government keep backing them, even when (Tony Blair) they have to manufacture evidence and ignore the will of the people in order to do so? Just why are these people so all-powerful and so completely untouchable? What about renewables? We know they work, how come the Oil Industry isn’t threatened by them? I used to wonder this, and it wasn’t until one of my kids asked me that I had the sudden epiphany that answered the question for me.

Now maybe I’m late to the realisation, but when it came a couple of years ago it was pretty breath-taking and it’s occurred to me that a lot of other people may still not really understand the answer to this question, not because it’s complex or hidden but because it’s so far out into the open it’s actually invisible in plain sight.

The Oil Industry – or the Petro-Chemical Industry (which includes other fossil fuels) to give them their proper title – have their claws sunk so deep into our day-to-day existence that they are quite literally unchallengeable. And it’s not because we all like to drive our cars, or get buses or fly off on holiday; it’s not even because we like food delivered to our local shops by truck, or white goods from Taiwan by ship. It’s far more subtle and pervasive than that.

It’s plastics.

All synthetic plastics (save a minuscule percentage now recycled) derive from the fossil fuel industry. So here’s the question: How much plastic do you use every day?

Start at the beginning: were you born in a hospital? Disposable aprons, gloves masks, syringes, canulas, tubing, saline bags, blood bags; the flooring , the light fittings, the light switches, the panic button you press to bring the nurse, the bottles of medication, possibly even some of the medication itself. Are you reading this on a phone, PC or tablet? You’re using plastics. Got a TV, DVD player, stereo, mp3 player, flash drive, games console? Do you listen to vinyl records, CD’s, the radio? Use headphones? All electrical wiring is coated in plastic, and even the most basic of tools, like a saw, have plastic handles – power tools, have buttons and switches and washers, and often cases too.

Got a baby? Whether you bottle feed or express and store breast milk, use plastic spoons, bowls, cups – you’re feeding your baby courtesy of the petro-chem industry. Do you like to clean your house with environmentally friendly cleaners? Still your dishwasher, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, mop & bucket, toilet brush (bristles, even if not handle), sponges all contain plastics. Plastic seals, plastic buttons, plastic edging, plastic parts. PVC windows.

What are you wearing? Unless you’re wearing 100% cotton, linen, wool, leather, hemp or silk you’re wearing petro-chemicals – from the soles of your shoes, to, the zippers on your jacket, and the fabric of the zipper; the elastics in your underwear, the lycra in your leggings to the acrylic your jumper is made out of petro-chem products. In fact if you’re female and you’re wearing ‘nice’ underwear that didn’t cost you a years average salary then you are definitely wearing petro-chems – there’s a whole branch of plastics devoted just to lingerie. Ann Summers wouldn’t exist without plastic. Polyester, which now probably accounts for a bigger percentage of the low-end clothing market than cotton, is actually the single most common plastic on the planet. Check your clothing labels. See how much you are wearing.

Image courtesy UPSTREAM

Your carpet, the acrylic paint on your walls, the oil paint on your door frames, the little twiddly thing you’re fiddling with as you read this. The veneer coating on your furniture, your picture frames, your kitchen cupboards. Got plants? Like nature? Did you take a picture of it with your camera? Did you put your house plants in plastic pots, did you water the garden with a plastic hose? Keep fit? All that ‘gym wear’ you’re wearing, all the cardio machines you’re using – all chock full of plastics. Hell, even the gun industry got in on the action (Hello Mr.Glock).

Carrier bags, the lid on your coffee jar, the wrapping round your food, the bag your apples are in , the till you checkout through, the uniform of the person serving you. Your glasses, the aglets on your laces, the glue you use, the bowl you wash up in. Your biro, the ink in your biro, your razor, the bottle of shampoo, in fact EVERY cosmetic or cleaning product comes in something that is at least partially plastic, even the eco products. Kitchen knife handles, food processor, pan handles, storage boxes, dustbin, bin bags, the tray the chicken you bought for dinner was on, and the absorbent pad that soaked up the blood. The cover on your ready meal, the parts in the microwave you heat it in, the handles in the cutlery you eat it with, the sofa you sit on whilst you eat it, the rug under your feet (pure wool rug? check the canvas it’s woven on and the thread it’s stitched with). And on your car it’s not what goes into the fuel tank – the light units are not glass anymore, the window seals, the door handles, the dust covers on the tyre valves, the dashboard, the mirror housing, the upholstery. Your bath, your cushion-vinyl flooring. The washers in your taps, the plumbing that drains your bathwater away. The plugs. All the plugs. The socket plates, coat hangers, combs, brushes, hairbands. Jewellery, watches, activity monitors. Teddy bears, fluffy cushions, your really cosy dressing gown and slippers, and onesie. Your daughter’s nightie, her socks, her school uniform, book bag.

The cover of your paperback is coated in plastic to protect it. Glossy magazines, printer’s ink. Your washing line, laundry basket, your pencil sharpener, the window in your shed. Your reading light, the non-slip coating on the back of your bathmat. The toys your child plays with. Lego. Feltpens, crayons. Rubik’s cube, poker chips, the playing pieces in most games.

Almost every single action you take through every single day of your life will bring you into contact with plastics. Even just sitting still looking around you and realising how much of our day-to-day functioning today is facilitated by or dependent on the Petro-chemical industry, you are almost certainly in contact with plastics somehow. In fact unless you live and entirely tech free existence in a field (in which case you’re not reading this) it is actually IMPOSSIBLE to get through each hour, and most minutes, of your day without utilising plastics, however indirectly.

The ‘oil’ industry oligarchs don’t give a shit about you running your car on electricity, or powering your house from the sun – they control the single most ubiquitous product on the planet. They’re not going to take governments to war for the black stuff. They’re taking governments to war so that they can sell you your entire life, from double glazing and cheap clothes to the idea that you can have perfect skin forever, and restyle your home whenever you want.

And they can keep doing it because we consume plastic at rates we don’t even understand. And then we throw it away, and consume more because it looks slightly different, and because somewhere down the line we were sold the idea that ‘plastic’ defines ‘disposable’.

There’s a lot being said over the last few years about the disproportionate power and wealth wielded by those who control the flow of oil out of the ground: a general and growing feeling that they figure far too large in the lives and careers of the politicians who make the decisions around our daily lives: that they need to be toppled from their ivory towers and that this can be achieved – in part at least – by reducing our dependence on oil. Similarly, it might be imagined that the disturbing news of the last year regarding the insidious nature of synthetic plastics would have helped to undermine the manufacturers’ power-base, that they would finally be back-peddaling from a position of  responsiblity for such irreversible global damage.

We are deluded.

In December 2017 U.S. plastics manufacturers planned an investment boost that would increase production by 40%, and threats to convert to clean energy become meaningless when the oil companies – predictably – start moving into renewables now they are becoming profitable.

We are never going to challenge the power these people wield until we are prepared to radically change the way we live.

It’s not the politicians they own. It’s us.

Books · Review

Fire & Fury

You can’t make this shit up!


By  now you will have read a number of (probably contradictory) reviews for this book, which will probably have given you quite a lot of detailed (and probably contradictory) information about the book.

imageSo here’s a very brief answer and overview to help you if you are still wrestling with the question “Should I buy this book, should I read this book, will I be left wishing for those hours of my life back ?”

Well, it’s a doddle to read. It’s actually quite interesting to read. It’s not going to tell you any more outrageous stories about Trump than you have already heard. But it will confirm them, and it will add texture to some. He really didn’t expect to win, he really was just on another self-promo binge.

All of that doesn’t mean the book doesn’t hold surprises. I had no idea Ivanka and Jared are DEMOCRATS (!!??). Oops! I guess I just gave that surprise away…but it’s worth reading about the chaos that’s causing in a White House voted in to place by hard core Republicans. Steve Bannon really is the sad little, alt-right man-child you always thought he was, and not the towering power-house of a political tactician that he accidentally appeared as for a moment or two.

imageAnd childishness. So much childishness from so many purportedly adult people. Most of my sticky-notes mark points where the degree of infantile behaviour was so bad that it actually stood out from the day-to-day sulking and tantrums. It quite simply has to be the most insane government a western democracy has ever hosted. Then there’s Trump’s clear belief that the role of POTUS is actually that of an El Presidente-style, junta-leading, banana republic tyrant whose sole purpose is his own aggrandisement and pocket-lining.  Like I said at the start – you actually couldn’t make this shit up.


But none of this is revelatory or extraordinary enough to warrant the hardback price, so my ultimate advice – wait until it’s in paperback.

Books · Review

100 Years of voting

One hundred years ago today women finally won the right to vote in the UK. Here is some of the reading I shall be doing over the next few weeks to remind myself of the struggle that brought about that most important of changes, and how there is still progress to be made.

Book · Review

New Year, New Mug, New Books

All the Janes bring me joy to start my New Year.

First on the list is Jane Harper’s New book Force of Nature. I loved her debut – The Dry – last year, so I’m excited to see if she’s done as well this time. It’s always a concern of mine that a new author will have a wonderful first book, but then the follow-up will be disappointing.

Back in the days when you could get a publishing contract for just one book, those who only had ‘one book in them’ could still be published without the pressure of being expected to produce more. These days, when publishers want a three book minimum, I have read a few books which have never been well-followed-up. I wonder sometimes how many great books we’re missing out on because the authors can’t produce a second that will at least satisfy the contractual demands of publishers.

After that, some political history.

Feminism is very current, once again, and  whilst I am passionate about it I feel that I have never really read enough into it. With that in mind I have devoted a small corner of my personal library to space for books on the subject. So far they have all been recent texts dealing with contemporary issues, so I was very happy indeed to receive this reading copy of Jane Robinson’s book Hearts & Minds.  Though the book is new the story it tells is of one of the key moments in the actual advancement of equality.

The Pilgrimage was a six-week march beginning in June 1913, organised by the NUWSS.  Groups of women proceeded from one of the three starting points (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Carlisle and Land’s End) and followed a common route to the finally assembly point in London. The purpose of the march was to show the establishment how many women actually wanted the vote – that it was not just a few shouty, brash Suffragettes – and how much they wanted it, and also to explain to other ordinary people why the Suffragists wanted the vote and felt it was so important: meetings were held along the route of the march to that end. The Pilgrimage was not without violence, though it was invariably inflicted on the pilgrims rather than starting with them, but in spite of the best efforts of their detractors to silence and intimidate them on July 26th 1913 50,000 women arrived in Hyde Park. They had made their point.

It is shocking, though unsurprising  (most British civil rights movements are ignored by our education system) that this incredible achievement is not taught in schools. Everything I know about the march I know from researching it prior to requesting the book, and that, right there, is why I am so eager to read this. Even those of us who consider themselves ardent feminists have often forgotten or never learned the history of our own movement beyond a few key names and buzzwords. It’s good to see more of the history of the movement finally being brought a wider audience.


Books · Review

This Is Going To Hurt

by Adam Kay
A trip through the modern NHS in easy and accessible anecdotes.

This Is Going To Hurt

On the surface of it this is an engaging and often hilarious collection of anecdotes from someone who worked as a doctor in the NHS for several years. There is an abundance of stories for those who love to hear about the quirks and peculiarities of humanity. Dark and funny things that will make you laugh out loud whilst simultaneously making your toes curl.  The de-gloved penis.  The dehydrated cocaine users. The homeless man who preferred to go back out on the streets rather than run the risk of MRSA.

Referring to the diaries he was obliged to keep during his years as an obstetrician, Kay has pulled together a raft of stories and thoughts ranging from simple one line ‘notes-to-self’ to more lengthy tales of patients he cared for.

The happy, the funny and the occasional simply uplifting make for an easy and read that clips along nicely. I had this in audio book form and it was a little over six hours long. It is easy to pick up, slightly less easy to put down.

You may also have seen this  book  referred to as ‘heart-breaking’.

And it is. Because in writing a highly entertaining  memoir Kay has found the perfect vehicle to deliver some brutal truths about the state of our NHS these days. To highlight the lies being peddled by the Secretary of State for Health and the government.

This is not a treatise on the issues facing the National Health Service and the people who work there-in delivering health care, there is no lengthy analysis – he simply punctuates the usually funny, sometimes tragic stories with brutal realities he has experienced first-hand:

Being told that he would have to come back for a weekend halfway through a two-week holiday abroad because the cover he had had to arrange himself fell through;

Falling asleep in his car in the hospital car park before he even managed to start it and waking up the next morning only to find he’d slept so long he was still late for work. On Christmas Eve;

Working out that with the unpaid overtime he was expected to put in his actual wage was £6.60ph – less than if he’d worked in McDonalds.

This is far more important book than it is really given credit for. I would recommend this book for everyone who loves stories about the peculiarities of people, and it’s a must read for all those who love the NHS. It should also be mandatory reading for anyone who has ever nodded their head when Jeremy Hunt’s lips have been flapping.