Esther Weisselberg she/her
artwork olivia juett (she/her)
In the run up to the 2020 US Presidential Election, Pete Buttigieg, candidate for the Democratic party, was interviewed by Vogue. In his interview he was described to be sitting down in front of a ‘huge resource and mineral map of Afghanistan’. In the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, this view of Buttigieg, a supposedly progressive Western politician (with a military background), gives a dystopian vision of valuing a country based on its mineral wealth rather than its people and culture. Articles appeared in the Western media asking what would happen to all those precious metals while Afghan civilians were clinging to the outside of US military jets, perhaps powered by the oil found in Afghanistan and other oil-wealthy countries. These civilians are the victims of a conflict waged arguably to access these precious materials and facilitate our growing consumer needs.
Oil is used for everything. To fuel vehicles, to heat buildings, to produce electricity. Western countries will stop at nothing for the opportunity to access more; especially if they can access it without having to pay extortionate prices. An example of this is the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent 8 year war. In the name of saving the world from Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, the West imposed this conflict on Iraqi civilians, with many now believing that it was driven by our want for oil to fuel our consumption needs. A vision of this corrupt desire was seen explicitly after Saddam Hussein’s removal from power by American soldiers. The West and its armies allowed the country to descend into chaos with many government buildings, schools, and hospitals looted. The one ministry that immediately got protection from the US army? The Ministry of Oil.
There are other examples of countries being sacrificed in order to fuel our hedonistic consumption. Since the first engagement between Europeans and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the country has been coerced and manipulated for our own mineral gain. The origins and causes of DRC conflicts are complex however, in more recent years, they can primarily be traced back to spill over from the 1994 Rwandan genocide – an event which Belgium’s colonial rule of the region is believed to have helped incite. Many of the groups involved in the conflict illegally mine minerals such as coltan, often using child labour. These precious natural resources are illegally smuggled out of the DRC and eventually end up in our mobile phones. The desire of Western companies to create ‘the next best thing’ fuels this exploitation and violence. The human cost seems immaterial.
Buttigieg sits in front of a mineral map of Afghanistan, a country the USA and allies invaded to topple a tyrannical Taliban government. The longest war in US history, Bush declared this ‘War on Terror’ after 9/11 and left around 241,000 people dead in the Afghanistan/Pakistan war zone since 2001. More than 71,000 of those killed have been civilians. Due to the previous ‘Wars of Consumption’ that the West have imposed on various countries in the past, our faith that this war was to do with liberating civilians from a terrifying regime, and not to exploit as many minerals as possible, has severely diminished.
Many now feel a sense of distrust inwith our governments who are now put into power through the funding and media influence of the very elites whose big businesses thrive due to the exploitation of minerals in other countries. Forcing war on countries with mineral wealth is the result of the Western desire to keep innovating at whatever cost to civilians and the environment. Individuals then ask the question, what can we do? Individuals are not big businesses. We cannot directly control this capitalistic manipulation of countries rich in minerals and yet poor in the technology we use their minerals to create. However, we can speak up and create more awareness of exactly how these wars are driven by our own consumption demands.
We have a responsibility to deliver humanitarian aid to countries and people who have been affected by the wars and conflict created by our quest for natural resources that fuel our ever-growing consumption. But, we must also tackle the root causes of these conflicts otherwise they will continue to repeat themselves. Perhaps the only way of doing this is to change our modes of consumption into using materials that we do not have to find in other countries. We should also hold those who represent us more accountable. Politicians with backing from oil companies, such as the Bushes’s and Dick Cheney, can be assumed to be ones more likely to start these ‘Consumption Wars’. But perhaps those such as Pete Buttigieg, who appear to value the importance of countries based on the minerals they contain, should not be trusted either, despite their more liberal views.