How The Energy Crisis Hobbles Us

In the search for the last oil and gas reserves on the planet, both environment and democracy are under pressure. Some countries have developed strategies to tap these last few resources even in places they never had rights. We can take the Arctic region for instance, where countries are flocking in to claim ownership of the region- all because the Arctic ice is melting.We have the planet’s carbon dioxide (CO2) increasing rapidly making the climate very complicated and dangerous for humans. Fossil fuel burning has been the single largest contributor for increase in CO2 level. Governments and corporations of world are doing anything and everything to grab any oil and gas reserves. In the process, indigenous people in many regions are displaced; water and soil are depleted and polluted; and the pristine nature that signifies peace is disturbed.

Now, even if the beneficiaries (Government and Corporation) of this oil race continue with their disturbing habits of greed and power politics, how long will they be able to sustain with the current limited fossil reserves. We have reached ‘Peak Oil’, which means the end of the road for remaining reserves is very near. With this arise the issue of Energy Security. Energy security has two main philosophies- first is the politics of power and influence, and the second is easing ourselves from conventional energy sources by focusing on clean and renewable sources and international cooperation. Thus, Energy Security and the Climate Change are the two most important issues today.

Between the two diametrically opposite issues of energy security and climate change issues, nations are in an awkward position as to how they should react. The current world political affairs are defined by the first philosophy of energy security mostly. The diktat that’s going on by oil rich countries is creating problems after problems internationally as well as domestically.

With Russia’s resurgence, polarisation in the world has deepened. Besides the US, the European Union and Russia, there are other players- China, India and so on- in the equation. Today’s international politics is in a complicated state. Russia has emerged as a power through its expansive oil policies under Putin. It is a major energy supplier in Europe and Asia. Its new policy based on the power of Gazprom, the natural gas company, has substituted the role of the Red Army. Europe and others are in a fix now because they need oil and gas from Russia and at the same time they cannot rely on Russia in the long run. They also need to maintain their sovereignty in political and economic affairs.

The US depends on oil imports from the Middle East, Venezuela, etc. for their economy and they remain the single largest consumer of energy. They have been playing this oil politics in the Middle East for quite some time. Emerging nations like China and India also have their foreign policies directly linked to energy. They both wish to act on par with the US, Europe and Russia in this new world order. Energy consumption in both these countries is increasing. Then there are nations like Japan, South Korea and others that also depend on oil imports for their overall economy. There is no option because everybody needs energy for existence, development or industrialisation. China’s requirement will double in the period 2005-2015 (source: Chinese government). Right now, China stands second in energy consumption after the US. (It is now believed they have overtaken the US) India is also doubling it during the same period. This entire dependence and interdependence on oil and gas means that global CO2 emission is going to increase many fold. And we haven’t even considered coal here.

Looking further at India, it is facing energy poverty mainly because of its population and its need for industrialisation. It doesn’t have enough oil and gas reserves to carry their growth plans. Therefore, energy has been the mostly discussed topic for a while. This is where the current nuclear energy agreement with the US comes into play. India needs a global recognition for its nuclear programs so it is able to meet their energy requirements. In return, the US needs India to fend off China in the region. Everything everywhere is give and take even in foreign policies.

Where does this all lead us?

The current world fossil fuel reserves will surely be depleted after a while. Even if the world discovers a few more reserves, the ever increasing consumption will more than cancel out the output. It is here that focus on new alternative sources of energy is required. Nuclear energy seems to be one option. Other renewable sources such as solar and wind are another viable options. With global terrorism and security threats plus the problems with radioactive wastes, nuclear as a massive civil energy is a big problem. We simply cannot afford terrorists lay their hands on this technology. The attention therefore should be given to solar and wind and other clean sources. Technology plays a big part in it. Even the current system that uses oil and gas should be made more efficient so that we have more transition time to other sources. European countries are doing the right thing here but they need to transfer their technologies to other countries, especially to the developing nations.

International cooperation therefore is the call of the day. The sooner we cooperate we will have better ways to react in both energy and climate crisis. A legal system of energy policy needs to be developed and followed considering these two killer issues. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has been doing good work but the world today needs a different kind of mindset. Maybe the Gs of the world- G8, G20 and G77- can be used as a platform.