By Fareeha Qayoom
The world is in a crisis. Wars are being fought. Economies are in a meltdown. People are dying. What do you think is the problem with the world? Two words – ‘energy crisis.’ Modern life is fueled by fossil fuels – the problem in a nutshell? Energy supply is not meeting global demand: until demand declines, any type of energy will end up costing the same, be it classical kerosene, gas-to-liquid synthetic jet fuel, or biodiesel, regardless of the environmental implications. Meanwhile, the fuel efficiency improvements do not come anywhere close to compensating the price surge.
With rapid growth of industry, world energy demand is rising correspondingly. One estimate claims that world’s oil reserves will be depleted in 32 years presuming the rate of consumption does not change, (it doesn’t mean that the world oil production will be constant for 32 years and then suddenly go to zero). The problem is oil production. Very little oil has been found within the past 30 years and the prospect of finding much more is dim and it’s not for lack of looking.
Obviously, oil must be found before it can be produced. Some of the world’s oil producing regions has already experienced steep declines. It happened in the US in 1971. It happened in the North Sea in 1999. It happened in Mexico in 2006. Oil production in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union has not yet peaked, but it will eventually. Peak oil production does not mean the oil is gone. It means all efforts to increase the oil production rate fail. Peak Oil occurs when the declines overwhelm the increases. World peak oil production is about to happen with profound implications for everyone according to one research. In a few years—within the decade—world oil production will decline—slowly at first but then at an accelerating rate. In other words, we are still buying cheap oil!
Natural gas use is rapidly increasing while reserves are rapidly declining. As recently as five years ago, producers and consumers of natural gas thought that natural gas was the abundant and non-polluting fuel of the future. Electric utilities were encouraged to use natural gas as the fuel for almost all new power plants. Now, natural gas depletion is also a recognized fact. Most of the world’s natural gas is in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union. It is expensive to ship natural gas across oceans in LNG ships, but soon that will be the only option, provided pipelines are laid down that link the ‘developed’ world with the world’s only remaining known natural gas reserves and the nearest ports.
The world is at war – on one end are the ‘terrorists’ (so called extremists popularly labeled ‘Islamic’- motivation: protecting their turf ), and on the other end are the ‘capitalists’ (all religious extractions- motivation: protecting their interests), this is supposed to be a ‘holy war’ but actually it’s a fight over natural resources and who gets to use them first. There is an oil shortage. There is a food shortage. There is a water shortage. There is a money shortage. All the conflicts boil down to one bottom line – money vs. natural resources. In other words, the war is between people who have natural resources and no brains vs. people who have brains but no or depleting natural resources – guess, who’s winning? Pakistan has become the piggy in the middle–and piggy is getting pulverized from all directions!
We may have received a promise of loads of cash for serving ourselves as piggy on a platter (did we even receive a fraction of it as promised? Who knows?) If we did, we never used our ‘blood money’ constructively for any long term development so the only likely outcome is that the piggy may get beaten to death if it doesn’t get out of the fight soon, nukes withstanding. In the meantime, here’s a burning question for the world’s policy makers – do we actually need a 21st century lifestyle? Maybe the only other long-term option available is the removal of our dependency on ‘energy’ and returning to the pre-industrial revolution lifestyle? Maybe we should reject this blind consumer culture which only promotes national debts across the third world–maybe it’ll be easier to find simpler, organic and more natural ways of living and earning a living that can protect our environment; safeguard the physical and mental health of our people, and preserve our heritage than to keep on paying for a lifestyle that we can’t even afford? In Pakistan, the only real assets we have are the land, natural resources and our people and the only ‘real’ industry we have is harnessing those natural resources including agriculture and mining. Instead of increasing the rate of industrialization to cater to the west, maybe we should actually become a producer culture specializing in indigenous products? Instead of selling our raw materials abroad to be made into products and than buying them back at jacked up prices and paying royalties’ on top of it for intellectual property, we should look into value addition (sourcing, design, product development and production) for ourselves? At least, this way we will be leaving our kids the basics like clean air, water and food, means of a livelihood and best of all ‘world peace.
This article was originally slotted for November 2008 but published in the print edition of Valuemag, March 2009, issue 8, under the section ‘from the editor’s desk- March 2009’