Very recently, and without too much fan fair, the world's largest ship floated out of the Geoje shipyard dry-docks in South Korea after over a year of construction. Reflecting the world we live in, it was not a Titanic sort of affair, but the first maiden voyage of the Prelude floating liquified natural gas (FLNG) facility. At the moment its only a floating shell, the rest of it still to be completed before its tour of duty begins in 2017 off the coast of Western Australia. First of its kind, its not really a 'ship' as it has no independent form of propulsion and must be towed by tugs and its also not just a processing facility but also the drilling platform. Once parked over Shell's Prelude gas field, it will be able to tap the field, process the gas, liquify it (thus shrinking it to about 1/600th of its regular volume), and unloaded it to LNG transport ships. Its all very beautiful, really...
The twelve year old in me awakes every time I see something of this scale take shape and I rejoice at the sheer scale of what human kind is capable off. Yet a tinge of guilt arises every time as well, as it seems that it's very much in bad taste in polite society to rejoice too much at the grandeur and achievements of the petroleum sector. Evil oil companies and all that. This is unusual to me as petroleum, and resources in general, drives the world as we know it. Yet human kind has always been prone to coat this hard reality with romantic platitudes. The Trojan War is a fine example. As Jared Diamond points out in his seminal 'Guns, Germs, and Steel' it was a war fought over copper mines, the primary mineral of the time, not Helen's facial attributes.
This brings me to Iraq war. It has been over a decade since its inception and it has become almost a banality to discuss its causes. I will follow the trends of the time and let that one lie. I will say this: I would find it almost comforting if it was just that, a war for oil. Few serious thinkers would advance this argument, and I myself agree that the reasons were myriad. But as a thought experiment, imagine it being truly over something as noble and seemingly pure as human rights: a war fought to free the suppressed people of their tyrant. This opens up some interesting avenues. Isn't health care a human right now? Rest and leisure are on there as well. Last time I checked, US ranks pretty poorly on both counts, as do many EU countries… You see where I'm going with this.
There are probably a thousand books that can be, and have been, written on the fluidity and cultural roots of human rights. It is ultimately an argument between whether they are truly universal or a product of a particular time and society. As a realist, I fall under latter category, a contentious position to be in modern liberal academia. Here I will only say this: technological achievements and engineering feats of oil companies is something to be viewed with awe and pride, recovering resources to be made available to the entire world on the free market. Simplistic? Banal? Perhaps, but also rather comforting.