Green Tau: issue 56

7th November 2022

The truck system and oil dependency 

In the past employees were not always paid in legal tender (ie pounds sterling in

the UK) but with tokens issued by their employer. These tokens could be used as money in stores operated by their employer. This was know as the ‘truck system’. (‘Truck’ has the meaning in old English of exchange or barter).  As you can imagine it was easily open to abuse as employers could overcharge on the items they stocked whilst their employees would have nowhere else to spend their pay. The employees were trapped in their employer’s economic system. 

In the UK various pieces of legislation were used to curtail the use of the truck system since replaced by further legislation intended to safe guard the rights of employees against abuse by their employers.

Arguably we are trapped in a truck system by the fossil fuel industries and their subsidiaries.
* Look at our homes – the vast majority fitted with a boiler that requires us to buy either oil or gas to use it. 
* Look at our roads – filled with vehicles fitted with combustion engines that require us to buy diesel or petrol.
* Look into the sky – airplanes that carry people and goods require the purchase of aviation gas.
*Look out to sea – cargo ships, ferries, even the gas and oil tankers, all require low grade diesel fuel.
*Look at the shelves in the shops – filled with goods wrapped and packaged in plastic that down the lines requires the purchase of oil.
*Look again at our homes – filled with electrically powered gadgets that  require us to buy electricity of which 57% comes from fossil fuelled power stations.
*Look at the steel industry – most of its furnaces run on fossil fuels, but even where the furnaces are electrically powered, is there enough renewable power available?

The fossil fuel industry has a stranglehold on our lives and our economies. Whatever the price, we have to pay it if we are to continue with our current lifestyles – with our gas boilers, and petrol cars, our overseas holidays, our reliance on imported food and imported consumer goods …. 

Whatever the price, businesses from cafes to ship builders, from hairdressers to clothing manufacturers, have to pay if they are to stay in business. Schools and colleges, museums and sports centres find themselves similarly without choice. 

In return for this the fossil fuel industries make larger and larger profits. Share prices go up. Their shareholders gain value. These shareholders that include our banks and pension funds, our insurance funds and our mortgages providers – even some churches have fossil fuel investments. The fossil fuel industry has a stranglehold over our economy. Even governments tread warily. Actually not just warily: governments actively support the fossil fuel industry fearful of what would happen to the economy if the oil flow was cut off. 

Does it have to be like this?

Can we as individuals, as an economy, as a nations, as a world, reduce or kick completely our dependency on fossil fuels? 

Yes but it will involve massive changes. Investment in new oil, coal and gas production has to stop. Can the fossil fuel industry (be persuaded?) to divert its money into renewable energy?

Can pensions funds and banks etc divert their funds into renewable energy companies?

Can governments divert subsidies to the renewable energy sector or to the insulation of homes, schools, hospitals and community buildings?

Can governments and local authorities divert money to the provision of better public transport and cycle infrastructure rather than road and runway building?

Can industry be encouraged to switch from fossil fuel to renewable energy? 

Can the retail industry be encouraged to swop from plastic packaging to minimal or no packaging?

Can households be encourage to invest in heat pumps, solar panels  and the like –  with grants for those who are struggling financially?

Can individuals be encourage to give up their combustion engines in favour of cycles and electric vehicles – maybe with car sharing schemes?

Can individuals be encouraged to forgo air travel in favour of trains and ferries?

Can individuals be encouraged to minimise the amount of plastic and electrical devises they consume?

Can consumers ask for change from the shops and businesses they buy from?

Can individuals ask for change from their banks, pension fund providers etc?

Can individuals ask for change from their local authority and their government?

It seems we all have a part to play. 

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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