By Frank-Jürgen Richter
Let’s start off with a simple fact. The fact is so simple, yet so profound that though anyone reading this certainly already knows it, it warrants repeating: In the not-so-far future, we are going to run out of fossil fuels.
Take a second to think about what that really means. There are more than one billion cars worldwide, not to mention the countless industries, factories and cities, which rely on fossil fuels for power. When the oil runs out — and it certainly will — we’re going to be left high, dry and motionless on the highway.
Knowing this information, there is a related problem that deserves even more attention: Global warming. A recent report indicated that the number of scientists who disagree with man-made global warming is less than one-half of one per cent of the scientific population.
Yet in the wake of the knowledge that we are running out of oil, combined with the knowledge of global warming being caused by that very oil, I have discovered a dangerous game taking place. The game is a race to find the next stopgap on the way to the end of oil.
All across the world, businessmen and women are working feverishly to find new ways to produce oil or oil alternatives that will continue to feed our dangerous addiction to oil after all of the dinosaurs have been mined away.
These oil alternatives are ubiquitous and you’ve probably heard of a few of them, as companies across the globe rush to market them and capitalise on the world’s collective desire to quite literally drive our planet into the a wasteland.
In the many countries, ethanol derived from corn or sugar is on the rise — and very popular with right-wing politicians — and I recently discovered a new technique by which abandoned paper mills are being used to convert wood chips and wood pulp into usable crude oil via a unique chemical process. There is also natural gas, whose use has been on the rise across the globe as oil companies who control the natural gas business seek to stay in the game. Finally, there is the ever-popular algae-produced crude oil. As anyone who has battled addiction could surely tell, finding an alternative addiction solves neither the problem at hand nor the problems that lie ahead. This is exactly the trap that we are falling into. These stopgaps toward the end of the age of oil are nothing more than that: Temporary solutions to a much larger problem.
In the United States, this is being played out. Political rivals are still battling as we speak over the proposed pipeline that would bring oil from Canada down to the US state of Texas. According to those who are in favour of the pipeline, it means securing the crude oil we need to power our future. According to those who are against the pipeline, this means nothing more than another temporary solution. The pipeline may bring the United States more oil for now, but it won’t change the fact that the oil itself is a finite resource.
What’s worse about these various stopgaps is that they still do not solve the main problem caused by burning fossil fuels in the first place: Dangerous, toxic emissions that drive the warming of our planet. Global warming is a fact in the modern world and even though we want to keep the lights on, we must constantly be aware of the long-term price we pay every time we flip that switch or fill up our tanks.
Wood pulp crude oil, algae-produced crude oil and plant-based ethanol are all renewable sources for the fuel we need. Renewable energy resources are, of course, a good thing, but all of these sources also produce greenhouse gases when burned, and those gases contribute to global warming. Stopgaps they are, but viable alternatives they are not.
By thinking about the near-future rather than the long-term future, some of our most forward-thinking scientists and businesspeople have ignored global warming in the face of mounting pressure to keep the world’s gas tanks full. We are living in a time of unprecedented innovation and unparallelled knowledge, yet we choose to make use of these resources in ways that endanger our planet and endanger future generations.
While the geopolitical nuances of worldwide oil consumption and production may be confusing to some, it all comes down to the mindset we want to hold. The oil is running out, but in facing that problem do we want to make life as easy as possible, or build a better, greener and more sustainable world for our children?
Frank-Jurgen Richter is founder and chairman of Horasis, a global visions community