Dismantling green colonialism

| 20th September 2021 |

Newnes, a former shale oil mining area, in the Blue Mountains.

The unprecedented oil crash at the beginning of 2020 drove straight into the pandemic lockdowns.

Much of anything that is consumed in the North has been taken from the South.

The year 2020 started with an unprecedented oil price crash, as Russia and Saudi Arabia vied to compete with US shale oil producers.

The plunge in oil prices was unparalleled and drove straight into the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns.

Oil prices reached negative values as some oil producers in the US paid buyers to take oil from them for lack of storage capacity. The impact was brutal among oil companies, especially in the high-cost US shale oil sector.

This series of articles has been published in partnership with Dalia Gebrial and Harpreet Kaur Paul and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in London. It first appeared in a collection titled Perspectives on a Global Green New Deal.


Economic strain was added to already precarious economies with mounting budget deficits and a haemorrhaging of financial reserves in oil-producing countries such as Algeria, Libya, Nigeria as well as Venezuela, Ecuador and Iraq.

Against this backdrop, some wondered whether this signalled the end of the fossil fuel industry and oil dependency. Caution, however, must be exercised.

Adam Hanieh perspicaciously warns that this juncture could be an opportunity for the oil majors to concentrate capital and centralise control of the industry by getting rid of smaller producers.


A transition away from fossil fuels really depends on our capacities to build effective political and economic alternatives.

In the popular imagination, when we talk about energy, we talk about coal, oil and gas. Most of these resources (especially the latter two) are extracted from the South.

In fact, much of anything that is consumed in the North has been taken from the South, whether through agribusiness, intensive forestry, industrial fish farming, mass tourism and I would argue, even the renewable energy sector.


This system is characterised by a belief that the resources of others are for the taking and was set in motion from 1492 with the conquest of the Americas.

Iraq and Libya warrant more attention here as they are the recent victims of the violence caused by fossil fuels and the western fighter jets and bombs that go searching for their abundance.

It lives on through debt, trade and investment structures that have seen limited benefits for the majority of people living in countries rich in mineral and metal wealth.

While certain Western governments portray themselves as pro-environment by banning fracking within their borders and setting carbon emission-reduction targets, they offer diplomatic support to multinationals registered in their territories, just as France supported Total to exploit shale resources in their former colony, Algeria.


This hand in glove relationship between multinational corporations and governments of the countries in which they’re registered - usually in former colonies - continues.

While Chinese companies increasingly appear in the world’s largest companies by revenue, they repeat colonial attitudes towards resources and labour while the remaining multinationals that make up that list appear disproportionately from the US - e.g. Walmart, ExxonMobil UnitedHealth and Chevron - and Europe - e.g. Royal Dutch Shell, Total, BP, Glencore.

They profit from the labour and resources that make up their complex supply chains.

This Author

Hamza Hamouchene is the North Africa programme coordinator for Transnational Institute, based in London, UK.

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