Oil remains the lifeblood (albeit cancerous) of modern day capitalism.
Dictatorships, monarchies, failed communist states, socialist states and even our own little slice of democracy – all of these political systems, and the countries and peoples they control are addicted to the stuff. It has made the world progress faster, further and higher, taking humanity with it, to new levels of social wellbeing and industrial progress.
Never ask what oil has done for us. It has dragged us out of dimly-lit, freezing cold hovels and enabled progress like the world has never before seen. And to this fast pace of progress, humankind is addicted.
Like an alcoholic in a brewery, we have consumed more than is good for us and it is now the morning after. Time to wake up and sober up. Smell the coffee. Time to rid our bloodstreams of oil and everything it represents.
But it’s not that easy, is it? Try skipping your bottle of wine or your cold beer or fancy cocktails and you will soon feel the need to replace it with something else. It leaves a gap, a hole that needs to be filled – much like any addiction.
When choosing a substitute for oil (and coal, gas and whatever other fossil fuels we are consuming) we need to look forward. A placebo will not do. We need results. We need the effects that oil and all the other fuels have delivered. All the warm, illuminated and cooked goodness that we have come to depend on – not just enjoy.
Solar power is here to stay. At least where the sun shines. Wind power and hydropower, are vital to those nations in more temperate zones. And geothermal power – the under-utilised red-haired step-child of the ‘new energy’ movement. So, Earth, Wind, Water and Fire. Who would have guessed? Mother Nature herself, there to the rescue.
But the naysayers believe that renewables, as they are called, will never replace oil and the other fossil fuels. Simply because we cannot store the energy that is created by them and we cannot let industry wait for the wind to blow or the sun to shine to get things done.
Science. That wonderful discipline which seeks to drag us even further from our caves, has its own ideas. Everything from plastic-eating bacteria that excrete fuels, to reimagined photosynthesis that does the same thing. We are an ingenious lot, us humans.
But the granddaddy of scientific advancement in the field of energy production is nuclear power. Fission, as it is called. Developed as an after-thought of the Manhattan Project, which was, with the help of Nazi scientists, the source of the first nuclear bombs, fission has served us well in the last sixty or so years. With just the odd catastrophe, such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, nuclear fission has generated a lot of power that has helped us to make yet another Great Leap Forward into the current digitally challenging age. But it too causes issues. Radioactive leftovers that are difficult to store and potentially life-threatening for tens of thousands of years.
Then we have nuclear fusion (my favourite). Long seen as the elusive unicorn of the power generation industry, fusion is quickly becoming a plausible reality. With investment in tokamaks and all manner of gadgets soaring, it is the next investment bubble-burst, waiting to happen.
Will fusion help to wean us off fossil fuels? Should we leave the remaining oil and coal in the ground or just tax them to the point where it becomes pointless to extract them?
With the close connecting dots of oil, the military machine, industry, global economics and warfare, what will our rogue leading nations have to fight over if there is an endless and clean supply of energy that is cheap to produce?
What effects would such a change in energy production mean from a geopolitical perspective? Would the West stop courting Saudi Arabia and trying to steal the oil that remains in Iran and Iraq?
Would we create a two-tier world, where the first world enjoys the benefits of clean energy and the developing world gets the remains from our dinner plate?
We hear a lot of talk about energy security. We hear a lot about oil and coal being the source of ‘real jobs’ for people. Yet these industries are also increasingly automated (it’s cheaper using machinery and robots than paying people to dig holes into our earth’s crust).
The truth is, there are no firm answers to any of these questions. It is not something that you can read about in the press on a daily basis, despite our environment depending upon our willingness and ability to change.
When was the last time you voted in an election where renewable energy security and the topic of fusion were discussed?
If we don’t talk about these things the politicians will not change anything. Energy policy will remain where it has been for hundreds of years – in the back of a damp cave – meanwhile, all the teenage girls and well-meaning people with placards, marching through our capital cities will continue to cause traffic jams that simply add to the pollution they wish to stop.
When will mankind understand that using scientific advancements for the purpose of controlling and conquering is not okay? When will we see that only by sharing technology, by allowing the scientists and engineers develop real solutions, will change be effected.
We talk about climate change and mass migrations, building walls in the deserts, the casualties to come from flooding in the poorest nations. Surely the Future of Energy is the future of mankind.
So why are we not talking about it? I guess no one wants to admit they have an addict in their family. What would the neighbours think? And should you care?