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What if oil disappears?

The first word that comes to our mind when we think of ‘oil’ is a lifeline. Isn’t it? Oil is quite simply the backbone of modern life. It’s in the food we eat, the houses we live in, and in the cars, we drive. Indeed, it’s the most important commodity, the economic fuel of the world. Over the last 150 years we have taken out about a trillion barrels from the Earth, and most experts forecast that the equivalent of another trillion should still be there for us to extract.

But imagine one day that you wake up to a breaking news story that reads something like “Oil reserves across the world run dry!”

The immediate reaction would be to stock up on petrol or diesel. And subsequently, you would drive your car or motorcycle to the nearest petrol station, where you would witness a never-ending line of vehicles. The pump owner would have instructed the workers to shut down for the day, as he is smart enough to realize that he is now sitting on a resource more valuable than gold or diamonds. You would drive from one pump to the next, and if you are lucky to find a relatively quiet one, you’ll get the fuel at probably a hundred times the normal rate. You don’t care about the price, since scarcity seems to be telling a more horrifying story about the future.

It has been one day since the news broke.  Across the oceans, huge tankers carrying millions of barrels of oil are on the move, but not in the usual direction. In the wake of the crisis, Russia and Saudi Arabia have called back their ships. In the meantime, the government gives a statement that it has a safety reserve of 36 million barrels that would be used for emergency services like hospitals. By the third day, the coal extracted from mines across the country lies in wait for trains to arrive and take them to power generating units to be converted into electricity. But the trains don’t come as they have not able to refill their diesel engines. Meanwhile, Power stations have used up almost all their reserves and hydropower stations are breaking down in the absence of lubricating oils. And the nation begins to go dark.

Without electricity, cooling water doesn’t reach nuclear reactors and finally, the generators go down, and so do the reactors. Commercial flights are grounded and people across the world are stranded. The government continues to use its reserves to keep lifesaving critical services up and running. By now the International trade has come to a stop. Every country is on its own now. The economic fallout is rapid; the growing, widespread panic forces the government to halt stock trading. All of a sudden, two trillion dollars of oil stock become worthless; more than a million people directly employed by the oil industry lose their jobs and are reduced to having to find their way home by any means necessary. The uncertain economic future also forces thousands of manufacturing plants to shut down immediately, which sparks protests from the millions employed in the industry who also lose their jobs. The government conducts relief efforts, dropping food in areas most affected but it is not possible to satisfy every human basic need in the crisis. Armed gangs patrol supply routes and raid households to get a hold of what little is left.

Oil exporting countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq are the worst affected. Freshwater is scarce and now the food imports have stopped and ultimately, Saudi Arabia uses what it has left to desalinate seawater to grow food crops. Things become even worse in Saudi Arabia, which is in the midst of an economic disaster. 90 percent of their income from exports came from oil, with all that gone the country collapses into ruin. With no ships docking at the ports, the entire population suffers. This is just a glimpse.

In the middle of this crisis, there is one nation- Brazil, where vehicles would continue to run as Brazil is one of the few countries where a large number of vehicles run on ethanol. In terms of biofuel production, the Brazilians are decades ahead of the Americans and other western nations. Across the vast agricultural lands of the Earth, farmers take inspiration from Brazil and start planting sugar cane to speed up the production of ethanol.

A world without oil forces governments around the world to make tough and brutal decisions. In this case, should they tell the farmers to plant crops for food or fuel?

Now coming back to the reality:

There is a popular theory in the context of Oil- the Peak Oil Theory. It began in 1885 with a warning by the State Geologist of Pennsylvania that oil was a temporary phenomenon, and undoubtedly, we have been repeatedly warned about the crisis of oil. In 1920 the director of the U.S. Bureau of Mines warned that in the next two to five years, oil production will start to decline. Similar concerns were expressed at the end of World War II. Again, in the 1970s a former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission told that “We are living in the twilight age of Petroleum”. An eminent earth scientist, Marion King Hubert predicted that children born in 1965 would see all the world’s oil used up in the lifetimes.

Hubert’s theory was embraced by a retired geologist, Colin Campbell, who wrote in 1996 that oil production would peak in 2000. Advocates of ‘Peak Oil’ maintain that we have used a trillion barrels of oil, have a trillion left which at the present rate of usage will last 40 years. Others in the industry are of the opinion that we have three trillion barrels left. All the above facts seem to be scary but ignorance could be even more harmful.

The government should realize that future is at stake and it needs to lead the nation towards sustainable life. Biomass, Ethanol, and vegetable oil should be suggested as alternatives to fossil fuels and their share in total production should be expanded slowly and gradually. The global community should take the effective implementation of the clauses of the Paris Summit and other global initiatives that are associated with improving climatic conditions as well as those policies that encourage the nations to shift from non-renewable energy to renewable sources, thereby reducing the dependence on oil.

The global community, regional relations, and the nation itself are the key pillars that could avoid such virtual and scary phenomena to become a reality episode of one’s life. Now, it’s we that need to decide the course of our lives.

By Ayush Bansal

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