The oil crisis is real. It’s better we acknowledge it and change our lifestyle than stay in illusion and live recklessly.
The industrial revolution, which began 150 years ago, is entering a decisive phase as resources run scarce and may no longer be plentiful to satisfy its ravenous appetite. Human industrialized society has nearly used up resources that took nature millions of years to create. For how long our earth can support this reckless living is the question of the moment.
On many fronts, the crumbling of this colossal industrial apparatus is becoming apparent. Most dire is the problem of peak oil, the imminent oil shortage. Oil is the lifeblood of modern civilization choke off the oil and civilization quickly seizes.
With no viable alternatives in sight, human society will be facing a crisis of unprecedented scale. Previously, calamities were local in nature. An oil crisis now would be a global disaster because the world today shares a common fate thanks to inter-dependence and inter connectivity. Earlier, we suffered in isolation, but now we all go down together. When America produces bio-fuels, there are food riots in Africa. When there are skirmishes in Nigeria, a government is toppled on the other side of the globe.
Today Oil is Flowing in our Veins
We have allowed oil to become vital to almost everything we do. Ninety percent of all transportation, whether by land, air, or sea, is fueled by oil. Ninety-five per cent of all manufactured goods involve the use of oil. Ninety-five per cent of all food products require oil. Thus the three main uses of oil worldwide are food, transport, and heating. And in the near future, the competition for oil will be raw and real. But still reliable supplies of cheap oil and natural gas underlie everything we identify as necessities of modern life, not to mention its comforts and luxuries: central heating, air conditioning, cars, airplanes, electric lights, inexpensive clothing, recorded music, movies, hip-replacement surgery, national defense. You name it. It all depends on oil.
Imagine a day of your life without oil! It is almost impossible to escape oil’s influence. Did you wake up to the sound of a plastic alarm clock after a restful night? And did you put on eye glasses? Then you started your day with petroleum. The plastic in the clock, and well as the frames and plastic lenses in your glasses, owe their origin to oil. When you get ready to shave, your shaving cream, the handle of your razor, and your deodorant contain petroleum products as important ingredients. Your bathroom PVC door and toilet seats, where do they come from? You guessed it. Then comes your toothbrush, an outright petroleum-based product, and toothpaste, with petrochemical-enhanced artificial coloring and mineral oils. You are living with oil in your mouth if you are wearing dentures, as they are mostly petroleum based. After you shower, when you put on your lip balm, you have used a petroleum product once again.
Getting dressed, you rush to answer a phone call. Your phone is made from oil-based plastic. Your tiny tot requires a diaper change; the linings are fathered by petroleum too. After shower, when you put on your formals, you are again draped in oil because that is where all synthetic fabrics originate from. And when you put on your leather shoes with synthetic soles, once again you step into oil. Then you quickly spray yourself with cologne or perfume. It is oil too. Then to avoid drizzle, you put on your raincoat. Lo and behold! You have wrapped yourself with another layer of oil.
And what about the streets? You guessed right! Streets are paved with asphalt, a sticky byproduct remaining after refining crude oil. Of course, no need to discuss what goes in your car to make it run or to keep it lubricated. Then, as you insert a CD into the car stereo (or a DVD at home), you have handled oil once again. So it is with the credit and debit cards in your wallet. And yet the same again with your wallet whether it is leather or rexine; leather too requires petrochemicals for tanning and processing, while rexine is another product that relies on petrochemicals for its existence. In your office canteen, your breakfast comes off a non-stick pan, another petro-product. Of course food production and transport is also at the mercy of petroleum because most fertilizers and pesticides are harvested from oil. And all this is beginning to give you a headache, the aspirin you are thinking about taking comes from the same place as all the rest.
We are practically drowning, from toe to head, in an ocean of oil. Thus almost every current human endeavor from transportation, to manufacturing, electricity, plastics, and especially food production is inextricably intertwined with limited supplies of oil and natural gas.
World Energy Forecasts A Bleak Future
At present, the heavily industrialized United States, with only five percent of the world’s population, is using more than forty percent of the world’s energy output. But how long can this last? The rest of the world is racing to industrialize and catch up to the United States, but the world’s limited energy reserves make the end of the energy bonanza inevitable. There is a Saudi proverb that says, “My father rode a camel; I drive a car; my son flies a jet; his son will ride a camel.”
Carl Jung, one of the fathers of modern psychology, famously remarked, “People cannot stand too much reality.” One such reality is that one day we will have to bid oil goodbye. It is not a question of if, but a question of when. And the thing is, we don’t have to run out of oil to start having severe problems with industrial civilization and its dependent systems. We only have to slip over the all-time production peak and begin a slide down the arc of steady depletion. In other words, we won’t have to run completely out of oil before we are rudely awakened from the dream of modern civilization. The panic starts once the world needs more oil than it gets; the key event in the Petroleum Era is not when the oil runs out, but when oil production peaks.
Just like the Titanic was thought to be unsinkable, the upcoming end of cheap oil seems to have surprised markets, and the exponential increase in demand for fossil fuels seems to have come as an unpleasant surprise. The alternative sources of power solar, wind, nuclear, tidal are not as energy dense, portable, or as readily usable as fossil fuels. History tells us that complete development of new energy sources (coal and oil in the past) takes a long time at least half a century. That’s not enough time before the peak in fossil energy extraction will expose the fallacy of limitless growth.
Recently, in the US, the National Petroleum Council, a body of 175 authorities that reports to the US government, presented a 420-page report that is considered the most comprehensive study of the oil industry ever carried out and includes the heads of the world’s big oil companies, including Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Occidental Petroleum, Shell, and BP. The report concludes that the global supply of oil and natural gas may run short by 2015.
It’s now or never. Today we stand at a crossroads. The time to act is now. We have to spread awareness and make the masses conscious of the problem heading in our direction. Many of our short-sighted politicians and officials are too busy filling their coffers, and we cannot expect any concrete measures from them. This is the time to build a mass opinion to save our resources, to save our planet. It is surprising that, both on official as well as grassroots levels, so few people are aware of this imminent cataclysm, and that so little is being done about a problem that can easily choke the very lifeline of our civilization. People are going about their lives, driving around in SUVs, hopping from continent to continent in jets, as if nothing is happening and the world governments will just handle everything. But the reality is that we can no longer take cheap energy for granted. On national and international levels, energy planning has to filter down into our lives. Every short walk, every cycling scuttle, every switching off a light or turning off a tap will give human society an extra lease on life. Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, while speaking on energy and the environment in October 2006, rightly put it, “We have a window of only 10 to 15 years to take the steps we need to avoid crossing catastrophic tipping points.”
Human beings constitute a very insignificant portion of the cosmos. Acting like masters of the universe is an illusion. Thinking that we can fight nature is a hallucination. The solution lies in aligning ourselves with nature rather than trying to put up a brave front. Living a life in harmony with nature is the only way a civilization can survive long enough to pass the test of time.
Ultimately we have to change the basic philosophy of life. We have to change the way we live. We have to do away with extravagance and reconsider our materialistic worldview. We have to recognize the problem as over consumption, not overpopulation. The crisis in resources is a direct outcome of over-consumption, which in turn is the consequence of our excessive material pursuits. Up until a few centuries ago, people all over the world, including in progressive Europe, led simple God-centred lives in which the main focus was spiritual elevation. Material progress was assigned a place of secondary importance. This lifestyle was in harmony with the available natural resources, so it left no destructive footprints on the natural world.
For the first time in human history, in the pre-industrial Europe of the Middle Ages, there was a paradigm shift as far as the purpose and destination of human life was concerned. This was also a turning point for the world ecology. The idea contained in the phrase “What profiteth a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul” began to fade away. As human society began to move away from God, it became more and more callous to nature and life in general.
Faith in God necessitated faith in the “other world” and thus one’s earthly years were not taken as the be-all and end-all. Asceticism in some form was also associated with religious practice. And all this counted favorably for natural resources and the environment.
Indian civilization also shared the vision of a divine purpose in life. Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.2.6), a five-thousand-year-old treatise, contains this passage about the ultimate purpose of human life: “The supreme occupation [dharma] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendental Lord.”
But the seed of modernization fructified in Europe, and the American Dream was the mature fruit of that seed. This fruit the American way of life has become the goal of the entire world. Unfortunately, this way of life is not at all sustainable.
Materialism inflicts a heavy toll on limited resources like oil because materialism is the idea that everything is either made only of matter or is ultimately dependent upon matter for its existence. It is possible for a philosophy to be materialistic and still accord spirit a (secondary or dependent) place, but most forms of materialism tend to reject the existence of spirit or anything non-physical.
There is a growing understanding that addressing the global crisis facing humanity will require new methods for knowing, understanding, and valuing the world. Narrow, disciplinary, mechanistic, and reductionist perceptions of reality are proving inadequate for addressing the complex, interconnected problems of the current age. The currently dominant worldview of scientific materialism, which views the cosmos as a vast machine composed of independent, externally related pieces, promotes fragmentation in our thinking and perception.
Dr.Sahadeva Dasa is the temple president of ISKCON Secunderabad. He is the author of the book ‘Oil Final Countdown To A Global Crisis & Solutions.’