Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A World Beyond Crude Oil: The Future Looks Bright?

In the past century, it was public health and species extinction concerns that forced us to change existing incumbent energy generation and transport technologies. But at present, it seems we’re stuck with crude oil. Time to move on?

By: Ringo Bones

When it comes to why Industrialized nations opted from horse and buggies to gasoline powered internal combustion engine vehicles or what folks back then used to call horseless carriages once they became available was somewhat obscured by time. Was it the coolness of acquiring the latest novelty item? Or is it the most famous historically documented problem of late 19th Century New York City. Back then horse manure from the alarmingly high number of horse drawn carriages were not only making the city’s air hard to breathe, but causing a local cholera epidemic as it finds its way into the local groundwater. Thus was born the need for the then fledgling automobile industry and the start of America’s – and the rest of the world’s – love for the automobile. Fast-forward to the 21st Century, the problem now is the automobile / car with it’s crude oil sourced gasoline and diesel is slowly – but surely – destroying our environment for more than 50 years via greenhouse gas emissions.

Before a scientific paper was published in 1885 pertaining to how various products of commercial significance like lubricants and furnace oils could be distilled from crude oil, the whaling industry was busy getting rich by hunting whales to near-extinction for a couple of centuries or more. But as Edwin L. Drake devised a way to efficiently extract crude oil from the ground and making the Seneca Oil Company’s New York investors rich beyond their wildest dreams. The global whale population – then the only source of lubricating oil for machinery and furnace oils for domestic heating - were granted a somewhat uneasy reprieve till this day. And yet, the crude oil industry established by Drake more than a century ago is not only endangering our global environment, but also the political stability – not to mention the social equality - of the regions were it is found. Not to mention a disproportionately large number of young men and women who must suffer and die needlessly just to secure our steady crude oil supply. Given the negative impacts of these technologies to the environment and social stability, why are alternatives not being considered?

Remember what Al Gore said in “The Inconvenient Truth” about political will being an inexhaustible resource? The problem is that the United States, which supposedly everyone around the world expects to lead us out from our “unhealthy” dependence on crude oil, is busy practicing obstructionist politics to maintain the global industry incumbent on crude oil. Even the supposed alternatives like corn-derived ethanol only succeeded because it has political backing by the corn lobby. Even then, corn-derived ethanol puts back more carbon dioxide back into our atmosphere in its production compared to what will be removed by not using crude oil sourced fuels. Cellulosic ethanol technology exist to allow us to extract ethanol from prairie grass, yet it will never see the light of day because it has no Washington lobbyist supporting it. Even the “almost zero emission” hybrid cars with plug in proviso are seen by the Bush Administration as a fringe technology and comparing it to anti-gravity levitation devices instead of viable means of reducing America’s dependence of foreign oil. Given that viable solutions to end the planet’s dependence on crude oil are already tried and tested – albeit on a small scale – since the 1990’s, why the delay?

The reasons for not using transport and electricity generating technologies which doesn’t require crude oil sourced fuels - like renewables - is not on whether these technologies are commercially viable or fiscally feasible but more on political reasons. Given that the Bush Administration’s Neo-Conservatives has developed obstructionist politics down to a science, technologies like a bus that runs on tap water will never see the light of day. Even renewable energy systems that got millions of private equity funds invested in it – like solar photovoltaics and wind turbines don’t receive the political backing that they deserve. It seems like to these politicians, alternative / renewable energy systems are the work of the devil. Plus these Neo-Conservatives “is” the petroleum lobby. Just be thankful that they are not around back in February 1841 when the Amistad case was being argued on the US Supreme Court. Bush’s Neo-Conservatives could have easily make the Transatlantic slave trade last till this day, or create a “Whaling Lobby” on Capitol Hill making everyone living in colder climes use oil blubber to heat their homes. Maybe the 2008 US Presidential Election is high time for Americans concerned for the global environment, political stability, and security exercise their political will to make this a better world.