Meeting oil demand a trickly affair
By Op Rana (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-08-27 07:51

Meeting oil demand a trickly affair

It's surprising that the modern oil industry is just 150 years old and we are already talking about the end of the "age of oil". The year, 1859, when oil was first drilled successfully - in Titusville, Pennsylvania - is like fraction of a second away from our times in terms of the Earth's age.

Only the dodo seems to have survived for a briefer period after man discovered it. But then the dodo was hunted to extinction not out of greed. It became extinct in the late 1680s, almost 170 years before Charles Darwin published his earth-shattering work, The Origin of Species, (incidentally, it was published in 1859, too) and almost three centuries before we realized the importance of biodiversity and the threat of climate change.

To say we have overused oil would be a gross understatement. To say we needed to do so for the benefit of humankind would be an exaggerated overstatement. It took us just one and half century to (almost) exhaust what nature took millions of years to create. We knew long ago that oil contained 83-86 percent carbon yet we continued using it at random, as if there was no end to it. Even when we know almost nothing in this modern world is produced without energy - mostly bad energy as in fossil fuel - we continue not only to overuse everything at our disposal, but also to waste them.

In our mad rush to make money, we commercialized things that were freely available in nature. Instead of being content with supplying safe drinking water through taps, we started bottling it, and thus increasing the use of plastic and creating more wastes. True, some food products may need to be packaged and stored in giant freezers to keep them "fresh", but what about water.

Meeting oil demand a trickly affair

Let me divert for a moment and recount an incident that took place about 11 years ago in my city, Calcutta, in India. I was standing outside a school, waiting anxiously to hear the initial result of my daughter's admission test to kindergarten when a harried couple walked out scolding their daughter. Seeing the sweet little girl in tears, I was moved to ask them as politely as I could what was the matter. The father replied, dismissively, that the girl had given a wrong answer to the simplest of questions and ruined the chances of her admission. And what was that? The question: Where do fish live? Her answer: "In the refrigerator." Fish is staple of Calcuttans, and since modern-day parents cannot go to the market everyday, they buy it in bulk and store them in refrigerators. The child should have been rewarded for her sharp observation, but instead what she got was punishment.

The child was not ignorant. Her knowledge was based on what she saw her parents doing. Merely telling a child that fish live in water is not enough. It should be shown that they actually do so.

The so-called modern lifestyle (especially in cities) is at the bane of the problem facing mother Earth. This change in lifestyle has fueled the demand for more fuel. But instead of trying to change our ways and teach the next generation the benefits of austerity, we are running after newer sources of energy to satisfy our ever-increasing demands. The fact is no other source(s) of energy can meet the demand that we have created with the overuse of fossil fuel.

Renewable energy alone is not the answer to the world's climate change maladies. Changing our economic goals and lifestyle to adapt to an austere way of living is also part of the answer.

E-mail: oprana@hotmail.com

(China Daily 08/27/2009 page9)