Synopsis : The human greed for oil is insatiable because the entire industrial world depends on oil .We burn oil in millions of tons daily to fuel our vehicles, ships and planes. We burn oil to fight wars. This massive consumption of oil globally has its consequences in terms of greenhouse gas effect that increases the global temperature and causes desertification and melting of glaciers. Now there are alternatives that this blog focuses on.
Long ago there was a time when people used to ride in horse drawn carriages. They came in various shapes and model from a simple one horse drawn carriage called ekka to two horse drawn one called tonga in India. In England they made quite luxurious carriages called phaetons and broughams with plush leather upholstered seats, two big brass lamps for lights in the dark and a covered cabin almost like a car being drawn by two or more horses.( Source -Google photo)
There was a footman riding on the foot board behind the carriage to warn the public of the approaching vehicle and serve as a servant to open and close the doors for the classy riders. These fancy carriages have disappeared from the roads in India but I remember one when I was a kid. But In England one can still them on some special occasions. The coachman had a bag under the carriage just below the horses to catch the poop and often a bag of mealies for the horses as well. ( Source : Google photo)
Ordinary folks in rural India and elsewhere used palanquins to carry women. They also came in various models but the common one was carried by four sturdy footmen, two in the front and two in the back because paved roads in rural parts were nonexistent so the palanquins were the choice of transport for women who did not like to walk through mud and wanted the comfort and privacy. These palanquins were perhaps a copy of similar one back in England with perhaps a bit of modification. They too have disappeared from the roads now as new paved road networks are spreading all over the country. ( Source: Google photo)
Back in Europe and in America the era of industrial revolution was approaching that led to the invention of the internal combustion engine so it was not a stretch of imagination to make use of this new engine to do all sorts of things like pumping water to running machines in factories. But the most amazing use of this engine was in the transport so the car was born that changed the history of mankind.
( Google photo of a primitive car)
A German engineer called Diesel developed an engine that worked on heavier fuel called diesel and did not need a spark plug to ignite the fuel air mixture but car makers did not take him seriously so at first diesel engines were ignored. The inventor was in deep debt he could not get out of and took his life not realizing that someday his engines would be used worldwide but alas he did not live to see it. The diesel engine revolutionized the road transport because it was used to drive trucks, locomotives and in all sorts of places from factories to boats to submarines and even planes.
The world now was hooked on oil that was discovered in the deserts of the Middle East and other parts of the world. The Bedouins who lived in the desert of Saudi Arabia and elsewhere had seen the black oil patches in the desert here and there but they did not know how to make use of it and preferred their camels or horses. Besides the camels were and still are more suited to travel over sand so they ignored the black oil until the internal combustion engine and diesel engines were invented.
This crude oil could not be used as such so the Europeans and Americans took leases of vast tracks of oil fields they developed by searching and digging oil wells and built the refineries to refine the crude oil. They had developed the technology and had the money to do it so they set up the pipelines and refineries all over the desert sand in Saudi Arabia and other oil producing nations and recovered the cost of development by buying the oil very cheaply and selling at a good profit.
The demand for the refined oil now called gasoline and diesel fuel was insatiable as the spread of its use everywhere brought in the modern era to various countries. One by product of the refinement of crude oil was bitumen that was now used for paving the roads by mixing it with fine gravel and compressing it with road rollers.
This development of asphalted roads everywhere opened up the inaccessible parts of the world so the use of vehicles of all sorts from cars to trucks to buses spread rapidly all over the world making it easier to travel and transport goods over vast distances with relative ease.
The spread of railways was more expensive and time consuming but making roads over more or less flat terrain was easier because a road could curve and bypass a difficult part unlike the railways that had to run more or less in a straight line . So at first the railway engines relied on cheaper fuel called coal or wood to generate steam that ran the engines but that would change as new and more efficient diesel engines started powering the railway. Now in India one hardly sees the old steam engines anywhere although I used to ride in steam powered rail cars when I was a child and was very impressed by their size and thunder. The whole platform of the station shook when it glided in and the horn was so loud that it put fear into our little heart. ( Source : google photo)
Then came the electric railway engines that now power the trains in many parts of the world. In Japan and China they are now called bullet trains that travel at high speed and whisk you from place to place in no time at all.
But the demand for fossil fuel has increased and not decreased all over the world specially in countries that do not have such deposits and are dependent on oil producing nations that are a few only. So most non oil producing nations are totally dependent on the imported oil and are at the mercy of the cartel that controls or manipulates the price of oil named OPEC.
At first the oil sold for a cheap price of less than a dollar per gallon so the use of mass produced automobiles spearheaded by the Ford motor co. became widespread in the United States and in Europe that used the newly made paved roadways and highways. This also led to the establishments of suburbs everywhere where most people now live.
Then in Europe too the mass production of automobiles like 2CV by Citroen and Volkswagen in Germany and minuscule Fiats in Italy led to the common people owning cars for the first time in their life and attaining greater mobility but the upward moving middle class wanted more than a 2 CV or Fiat so the expensive gas guzzlers came followed by more SUVs and the like but European countries do not produce gasoline except a few so the imported gas costs a lot more than in other countries. ( Photo of 2CV –source Google)
European cities that are old were established for horse drawn carriages so the streets are narrow where parking is a serious problem. Many car owners do not have garages so they park their cars of both sides of the road leading to traffic congestion and other problems. You can see the old ladies in uniform giving out parking tickets and place them on the windshield of illegally parked cars. In America one can find the speed traps to catch erring motorists everywhere but that is mostly a trap set up to make money and nothing more.
The boom in the oil production and refineries in the oil producing countries led to their own development with the oil money so some countries are going overboard with spending this huge amount of money they constantly earn. You can see this in Dubai where in the middle of the desert they have built a modern city where you can do roller skating on ice or throw snow balls in modern malls . They have built roads and massive urban settlements where bougainvilleas bloom where there was nothing but sand a generation ago.
Massive desalinization plants have been set up so people have clean drinking water in abundance for the first time in their life. The Bedouins are giving up camel riding in some parts and riding in SUVs and 4 wheel drive monsters because of the oil revenues. In Saudi Arabia and other countries there has been a breakneck speed of infrastructure development with new roads, schools and hospitals, new housing and irrigated farms where all sorts of things are grown.
Elsewhere in the word the oil has hastened development of roads and other needed infrastructure where bitumen is used to pave new roads. The refining of crude oil produces many by products like bitumen, gasoline of various grades, kerosene, jet fuel and even wax, diesel fuel and refined oil used for engines.
The cleaner and refined jet fuel has given unprecedented rise in air travel so millions of people fly everyday traveling from one part of the world to other in hours. Massive ships transport people and goods and crude or refined oil all over the world because they use diesel powered ships.
The downside of oil consumption:
I discussed so far the effect cheap oil had in the development of infrastructure and transport etc. but it comes with a price. I remember a time when the crude oil was just 4 dollars a barrel but then it started to rise to unprecedented levels and reached over 100 dollars a barrel that made oil importing countries many difficulties because everything you buy is tied to oil whether it is food or the bus or train ticket.
It causes high inflation and misery for the fixed wage earners who see the devaluation of their money leading to reduced purchasing power due to high cost of imported oil that fuels the economy. The oil price has come down to about 60 dollars per barrel but it is still high so has an adverse effect on the world economy. Poorer countries suffer the most.
The rise of the middle class in countries like India and China where millions of people own small cars or want one badly has led to massive traffic jams that extend for miles on any given day. I have earlier mentioned about traffic and parking problems in Europe and North America but now this is spreading all over the world . The annual road accident deaths in countries like India and China are shocking in sheer numbers and keep on rising as more and more vehicles hit the road. In the United States more people die in road accidents each year than all their losses in the Vietnam War for example.
The problem of massive oil spills:
We have all heard and seen the effect of massive oil spills in the ocean when an oil carrier runs aground somewhere like the case of Exxon Valdez in Alaska or BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico causing massive pollution, destruction of marine life and causing the death of birds and other wildlife. The oil is then brought back to the shores that leave thick muck on the beaches for miles and even reaches inland that destroys the ecosystem. The magnitude of such oil spill is hard to imagine but it happens once too often as more and more massive ships are built that carry millions of gallons of oil everywhere.This is a potential threat to the ocean and the environment so what can people do to avoid such disasters?
The alternate source of energy:
So people everywhere are pushing for an alternate source of energy like wind, solar, hydro power and nuclear energy but we all know what happened in Chernobyl or Fukushima so many countries are developing wind and solar power farms that will supply their energy needs in the future.
Wind, solar and hydro power are called clean and renewable energy because they do not pollute the air and are limitless in generating power. So large solar farms are being set up in India, China, United States, France, Spain and other countries. Indian wants to generate 100 GW of power from solar alone in the next 10 years and is well on its way to get there. ( source : Google photo)
In Spain and France they harness the solar energy by reflecting mirrors that concentrate the solar po
wer onto a tower where it heats the water to generate steam that then runs generators to produce electricity.
(source : Google photo) In Iceland they generate power through the geothermal projects because they have an abundance of geothermal energy because of volcanoes. In the Philippines not too far from our place, they generate power from geothermal plants so there is the worldwide trend toward the development of renewable energy source so that one day all countries will meet their energy through wind, solar and hydro power.
It will reduce their dependence on imported fossil fuel and they will produce clean energy that does not pollute the air.
The opponents of clean energy:
You and I think that clean energy is good for everyone so that some day we will be able to breathe cleaner air and save our oceans from pollution but the power companies do not like this trend and oppose because it may hurt their profit margin so in the United States they are lobbying against the development of clean energy sources and are stopping people from using solar panels that generate more than enough energy for them. They do not want to buy this excess energy of solar power to feed into their grid.
The oil producing countries are also not very keen on this new trend. Imagine if the whole world someday became energy independent then who will buy their expensive oil that is their only source of income?
Electric cars of the future:
We all know that the gas and diesel vehicles worldwide produce massive quantity of pollutants that create the green house effect that is having serious consequences due to climate change. The climate change is real no matter how some stupid people claim otherwise. The El Nino and la Nina are weather phenomenon that is affecting every country in the world. The Kyoto protocol that many countries signed up and followed through in Paris agreement is a necessary step in the right direction to fight climate change but a lot more needs to be done to counter the ill effects of climate change.
So the development of electric cars like Tesla and others are so exciting. One car maker in Europe claims that its car can run 450 miles with just one full battery that can be recharged in a short time. Others are offering a fully charged battery at convenient locations that can be re loaded to a car in less than a minute where you leave your battery to be recharged by them for others. Such cars are not cheap but the prices are coming down due to competition and soon there may be the one you and I can afford. Who will then buy the gasoline or diesel cars that pollute so much?
The new electric cars are completely wired to the internet and some of them can self drive using computer technology and cameras. In such cars you will be able to just relax and enjoy the ride while the car drives itself. This technology is already here and will develop more in the future. People are already talking about self driving buses and even trains and planes although I will not dare to fly in a plane without a pilot yet. There may even be self steering /piloting ocean liners someday. The power of technology is endless.
Once I wrote about the possibility of an air powered car someday which is not a stretch of imagination at all. A car can run on compressed air that a compressor will provide but initially the compressor will need a source of power like a battery which will recharge itself as the car runs.
May be a completely solar power car could be developed just like the solar powered plane that made a flight round the world not too long ago. I am sure the engineers are working on such projects that one day may become a reality.
The point is that all countries need to get away from the dependence on fossils fuel and need to be self dependent using only renewable energy because fossil fuel is finite and will run out one day.
Those who do not develop the solar, wind and other sources of clean energy will be left behind and will continue to pollute their country increasing the health hazards for their citizens.
The greed and dependence on oil does nobody any good in the short or long run so leaders need to be more pragmatic and look to the clean future that benefits everyone.
Note : My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese languages at the following links :