Krakow Film Festival 2024

Living in the oil machine

CLIMATE / How we got into this oily mess?
Director: Emma Davie
Country: UK

The Oil Machine reveals the perils we face living within an oil-driven economy. The film inspects Scotland’s oil experience in specific and then expands to show us the global relevance. Norway and Scotland had a similar fate with discovering oil deposits underneath their sea territories during the 70s. While Scotland, under the direction of Thatcher, ended up selling most of their licensing privately, Norway had state ownership of their oil reservoir. Nevertheless, the disastrous ecological consequences of their oil exploitation sum up to the same experience.

Personally, I remember well how it felt to grow up in Norway during the rather frugal decade of the 1970s, the decade oil was beginning to be pumped up. I also remember how we embraced the tremendous transformation of society spurred by the oil revenues that created the economic boom of the 1980s. Every aspect of society changed, and we, almost in bewilderment, went with the flow of it. In the urban centres, cafes and restaurants popped up everywhere, and with it, we adopted a completely new lifestyle. The exploitation of our oil deposits had a profound change on the way we consumed, acted and even thought of ourselves. Suddenly we were a significant country with a new self-consciousness. The oil discoveries, in fact, completely redefined how we are. It placed Norway among other significant nations on the map, giving it self-esteem and a stronger voice in world affairs. Today we can barely relate to what it felt to be Norwegian during the 1970s, and with the sudden and brisk affluence came a growing lust for more.

Not only did oil profoundly change our way of living, it actually created a total dependency on a global level. We become fully integrated with the oil machine, and the question remains, how do we get out of this dependency? The Oil Machine very efficiently concludes that there is no other solution but to completely change and redefine our lifestyles.

Oil Machine Emma Davie
The Oil Machine, a film by Emma Davie

Illustrative narrative

Emma Davie, and her predominately woman-based film team, have effectually created an illustrative narrative mapping out the «invisible» machinery of what a fuel-driven economy really is. The camera work by Julian Schwanitz is impressive, and the music composed by Alexandra Hamilton-Ayres appeals directly to our emotions and senses. The experts in the film are powerful people we like to respect; bankers, lawyers, and even representatives from the oil companies themselves. I find their words unsettling.

Apparently, oil has become such an intricate part of our daily lives that we can no longer imagine how we could possibly get out of it, and yet, we are heading for a grand disaster if we don’t rethink our strategy. We are already witnessing the first signs of a global weather system disturbance. If global warming continues at today’s rate, the consequences future generations will face are unimaginable for us. With the sea level rising by seven and a half meters, countries such as Bangladesh and Vietnam will mostly be underwater soon. If we don’t de-fossilise the global economy as quickly as we can, we will end up with a predicated 300 million climate refugees. By giving the power over to the investors and the free market, we have, in fact, given over the steering wheel of our future over to an entity whose only incentive is to create fast revenue. As a high-stake financier tells us from his posh London office, «this will lead to a breakdown in the global economy purged on by the magnitude of crises.» The future predictions that the experts foretell us in The Oil Machine will hit us in about 20-30 years, which, in the perspective of history, means a future just around the corner.

Today we can barely relate to what it felt to be Norwegian during the 1970s, and with the sudden and brisk affluence came a growing lust for more.

Greenwashing only creates eco-anxiety

The Oil Machine makes an appeal to the adolescence, who, after all, will be the generation that will carry the burden of the global crises to come. They are also the generation that is most prone to suffer from «eco-anxiety», which reflects a state of being constantly worried about whether they will have a future. The young activists look with scrutiny at the «green» promises like that written in the «North Sea Transition Deal.» In the deal, the UK government states they are backing the «decarbonisation of oil and gas sector to … safeguard the skills necessary to develop new low carbon industry across the country.» As a youngster comments: «that is just fancy words that make no sense…. Like, you can not decarbonise oil and gas!» While it might sound like «green thinking», it is, in fact, promised solutions heavily relying on technologies that are today nonexistent. How possible can we remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere? Besides, governments like Norway and the UK also promise the industry that they will extract every drop of oil and gas that is economically feasible. That is directly contradictory to the «green future» that they say they pledge to.

Oil Machine Emma Davie
The Oil Machine, a film by Emma Davie

The only remedy

Most of us close our eyes and embrace wishful thinking that the promises made by treaties and governments of net-zero output by the year 2050 will somehow be feasible. However, everything indicates that the world will be unrecognisable by the year 2050, and how we will relate to it is rather unpredictable. While the oil and industry sector promises solutions through future inventions, this is highly speculative. The Oil Machine indicates that our grandchildren must embrace the changes we should have been doing now, depriving our lives back to less consumption and energy use. I imagine their lives more frugal than the Norwegians during the 1970s.

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Margareta Hruza
Margareta Hruza
Hruza is a Czech/Norwegian filmmaker and a regular film critic at Modern Times Review.

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