A happy future seems possible “if man finds a way to chain the black, cruel demon”, that “evil power” that “lures whole nations into the abyss through dream images of undeserved wealth”. The fact that this massive settlement with the lubricant of the global economy does not yet include its devastating climate balance is due to the fact that it is almost a century old. Upton Sinclair's committed novel "Oil", which explores the connection between industrial exploitation and capitalist milk and honey (and also inspired Paul Thomas Anderson to his Oscar-winning drama "There Will Be Blood"), appeared for the first time in 1927. The oil industry was already a generation old had driven greed to unprecedented heights. It was to be suspected that a lot of blood would flow for oil.This explains the furor of Sinclair, who speaks from the lines quoted in the last paragraph of his voluminous book.

Lip service is not enough

The demonization of fossil fuels in the global climate movement has a similarly resolute effect, albeit for different reasons: Anyone who buys a combustion engine will bring storms and floods over their neighbors.

The underlying suspicion may be that the end of the oil era will be postponed by its profiteers for a long, too long time.

In addition, false prognoses about the depletion of the reserves have accompanied this age from the beginning, while more and more new oil fields were discovered, and more and more dangerous methods of extraction were developed.

We are like addicts who would do anything for their stuff.

Paying lip service to getting clean is the easiest exercise.

And yet the understanding seems to have gained acceptance recently that the farewell must be initiated now. In Norway, this has just been felt by the conservative government. Also the two-part series “Oil. Power. History "by director Andreas Sawall, who specializes in historical documentaries, gives the impression that the last paragraph of the great oil story has been reached, and not only because it is said that way -" The most important question of the future is how quickly we can do it, without the black gold ”- but also because the tone is so calm. The portrayal, which goes back to Edwin Drake's successful drilling in Pennsylvania in 1859 (the starting signal for the derrick boom), tries to achieve a fairness that adorns obituaries.

Blessings of modernity

So Sawall doesn't shy away from mentioning the blessings of industrial modernity and the age of plastic. A nylon stocking is not yet a moral surrender, and the enthusiasm for the energy stored in crude oil was once touching. At the same time, the industrialized countries' hunger for oil fueled late colonialism. All the armed conflicts relating to the raw material, from the bombing of the refineries in Romania, which are important for Germany in the Second World War, to the wars in the Gulf, are presented here in a clearly comprehensible manner. But even the improbable alliances that were founded in this way do not necessarily give rise to hope, such as the one between the USA and Saudi Arabia, whose existence, it is to be learned, owed Roosevelt's cultural sensitivity (Churchill, competing for access,offended the Arabs).

The leisurely nature of the film also has to do with the fact that the media-savvy physicist Harald Lesch, whose trademark is professor-Protestant stubbornness, serves as the competent main interlocutor. When he doesn't quote statistics, he says sentences like: “Friendship ends with oil.” The only information the film allows itself to be investigative whisper - that Shell, as emerged secret documents showed, everything about the Shell since the mid-1980s Greenhouse effect - has been known for three years; and since 2015 we have known that it was no different at Exxon (which does not even appear in the film).

But a well-made, information-dense overall overview from the point of view of archive images has its own value and does not have to shine with news. The focus is on the important, well-known chapters of the “Oil Power History” story: John D. Rockefeller's astronomical wealth, which even the break-up of the Standard Oil Company increased, the laborious production of synthetic fuel from coal in Nazi Germany, the CIA and MI6-directed dismissal of the Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh after his nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, OPEC power trials with the West after the Yom Kippur War and the first Gulf War (oil price shock and driving bans), the discovery of the North Sea oil, Saddam Hussein's attack on Kuwait and its consequences,the fracking and the untimely upswing of the American oil industry, the currently more than seemingly overcome collapse of the industry due to the corona pandemic (super tank congestion on the world's oceans).

Of course, the details at the edge of this development are even more interesting.

So we watch the commodities trader Marc Rich, who was later hunted by the USA, as he - with the knowledge of all those involved - connected arch rivals, for example, delivered Iranian oil to Israel, from where it in turn went to Franco's dictatorial Spain.

In the fight for oil, things are slipping, democratic values, but also dogmatic ideologies.

All in all, Andreas Sawall shows, we had an ambivalent relationship with this demon who devoured entire nations, a toxic one that often felt pleasant.

It is a good thing that we are now parting.



The story

runs today from 8:15 p.m. in two parts on Arte.