Migrating out of the Oil Age

About 200 years ago, extraction of coal and the development steam engine kick started the industrial revolution. About a hundred years later, the discovery of Oil in Pennsylvania  pushed mankind into a new age, namely the “Oil Age”.

The discovery of oil revolutionized our transport. The rich energy density allowed us to travel further and faster on land, air and sea. World shrunk and markets got globalized. It wasn’t just transport but the discovery of oil also let to discovery of gas fields. Both Oil and Gas took the energy use in particular electricity use to new strata. Running water became common. Buildings got electrified. Heating and Air conditioning, refrigeration systems came into households.

Not only energy use per person increased but consumer goods  also grew exponentially. This growth in goods, products or stuff as we call it,  was on the back of plastics, which was also a by-product of Oil. Plastics not only started replacing wood, metal, clay, ceramics, glass & leather but also helped us in making us entirely new products that would not be possible with traditional building materials. Even cloth bags were replaced by poly-ethane bags.

The Problem

Today we are surrounding by products that are by-products of oil. From plastics to resins to waxes to polyester to tarmac on the road. The modern world and its infrastructure has been carved and shaped by Oil and fossil fuels.

Apart from transport, consumer goods and usage of energy, there is one more item on the list that is driven by oil. It is the food that we consume. Our planet now produces enough food to feed 7 billion people. If we look at the population growth over time, we see that the discovery of oil coincides with the growth sprout in the last century.

Global population over the last century

Global population over the last century

The population growth is a result of food availability. It should be noted that this large quantity of affordable food became available because of the use of artificial fertilizers. Artificial fertilizers like ammonia only became feasible because of the methane gas, which is another by-product of oil.

Today the food that we eat encases the huge amount energy that went to produce it. Other than the fertilizers, the pesticides the farm machinery, the water supply,  the processing of food and its distribution requires energy. Bulk of this energy is hydrocarbon energy coming from fossil fuels.

The food is packaged in to plastic bags and transported around the world. Today we are importing bananas from Philippines, Apples from Madagascar, oranges from South America and Tuna from the Pacific. The food that we consume often has thousands of sea miles on its transportation. It has been reported that for every calorie of food that we consume there are 9 calories of hydrocarbon energy that goes into producing it and putting it on the table.

The life-style of the modern civilization is heavily dependent upon oil. We are consuming almost 90 million barrels of it every day. Our transportation system is

bellowing CO2 and other gases at an alarmingly high rate. As a result we have ushered the age of anthropogenic climate change.

The Solution

There needs to be a paradigm shift in our way of thinking. Our reliance on oil has pushed us into an artificial culture that is far removed from organic and natural way of life. This synthetic life that we lead will have to change drastically to prepare us for the post oil era.

It is not just the way we are eating and living but also the way that we are working that has resulted in further emissions. Our work places are and dwelling are separated by miles. In the UK, the average commuting distance is over 40 miles. In the US the average commuting distance is over 50 miles. Suburban sprawl has exacerbated the daily travel.

The challenge that we face is great.  If we break the problem down into four distinct areas of resource consumption, they  would be as follows :

  1. Energy
  2. Transport
  3. Food
  4. Goods/ Articles

We need to focus on every one of these areas to make a realistic and holistic impact. Research was carried out for low carbon future. A good guideline to follow would be to live and work locally and consume locally sourced food/goods. This greatly reduces the transportation and hence the negative environmental impact. It is easier to lead organic way of life individually, much difficult to achieve it at the organization level.  Therefore one must begins from the grassroots i.e. home.

Renewable energy similarly is the hope for the future. It has grown leaps and bound in the last decade. In many regions around the world, Solar energy has proven to be the cheapest mode of energy generation. Nonetheless, intermittency of Renewable Energy is still a concern. Work is being done in the area of  Grid level  Energy Storage batteries, that would help renewable energy to meet the base load and cut free from conventional energy means. If installing renewable energy is not an option than one can switch to supplier of renewable energy.

The attitude of conversation should come first and foremost. Conversation is by far the most effective method of reducing your environmental impact. Therefore conservation of energy or goods should be prioritized ahead of using renewable energy or using locally sourced items.

There is a lingering question that if we switch to green measures, would the organization lose its efficacy and outreach? The answer is “not necessarily”. There are businesses that have thrived implementing green policies and practices.

There is a business opportunity  in curbing the negative environmental impact.  This is because business are able to meet customers’ expectations who are getting more and more conscious of their environment and ecosystem.

If every organization fosters a culture where rampant profiteering at the cost of environment is discouraged, than we can achieve a lot.

This article was inspired from the works of Michael Ruppert (Investigative Journalist).

Please feel free to share this article to spread awareness.

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