The increase in oil prices has led to protests, which have moved to the center
stage of Indian politics, displacing the protests against reservations in medical
and engineering colleges.
Increase in oil prices translates into higher prices of all commodities. As
Hindustan Times reported oil price hike turns cereal killer (Hindustan Times,
Wednesday, June 14, 2006, p.2 table). Yet the increase in oil prices in world
markets is inevitable because the resource is dwindling and supplies have peaked,
peak oil means the end of cheap oil, and an end to economies organized around
the increasing availability of cheap oil.
Oil is a non-renewable resource. We have always known that yet the
world has been behaving as if oil is in endless supply. And we in India who
have lived in a biodiversity and biomass energy economy are rushing into oil
addiction precisely when the global oil supply is running low and prices are
The Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO), an umbrella organization
of oil expects, mainly geologists who helped find oil fields are now warning
us that there are only a trillion barrels or less of oil left, and the supply
will peak within this decade. "Peak Oil", or the topping point, is
the highest amount that can ever be pumped. Beyond "peak oil", there
will be an overall decline in production and an increase in oil prices. Oil
that costs $5 per barrel to extract could become $ 100 per barrel when confidence
in supply erodes and demand increases, and there is recognition that we are
in a world of shrinking oil supplies, not growing supplies.
Why are we as a country tying our future to a resource that must shrink and
become more costly? As we build more superhighways and mega cities, destroying
the decentralized fabric of our socio-economic organization, we need to ask
how long will this last?
There is another reason to stop this frenzy of oil addiction, and that is climate
change, or more accurately, climate chaos. Climate change is caused by fossil
fuel emissions, and stabilizing carbon dioxide emissions is an ecological imperative.
This is why the Kyoto Protocol to the climate change convention was signed.
The insurance industry, which takes over $ 2 trillion in annual premiums, and
is bigger than the oil industry, is now a major player in addressing climate
change since they have to pay billions out in insurance as cities flood, cyclones
such as Katrina uproot entire communities and heat waves kill.
The costs of climate change to the people of India are extremely high. The
1999 Orissa super cyclone and the Bombay floods of July 2006 are just two better-known
extreme events linked to a changing climate.
This winter, we had no rains during the wheat season, and heavy downpours during
the wheat harvest. Heavy rains before the monsoon in the catchments of the Ganga
and Yamuna destroyed crops so that farmers did not even have seeds to sow. And
in Sikkim, heavy rains led to land slides, which disrupted Gangtok's water supply.
I was in Sikkim during the crisis and we lived on one bucket a day.
The fossil fuel economy is based on two illusions - one, that we can keep up
our oil addiction, and two, that substituting renewable energy with fossil fuel
has only benefits, no costs. Climate change is very high cost of an economy
based on oil. We are starting to eat oil and drink oil. Oil is at the heart
of industrial food production and processing, and long distance food transport.
The wheat, India is importing is not just bringing weeds, pests and pesticides.
It is also carrying thousands of "food miles". Imagine a Tsunami or
cyclone if our food supplies become dependent on wheat from U.S and Australia.
And imagine the cost of wheat as oil prices rise, and wheat embodies more oil
We are also drinking oil, not water. When Coca Cola and Pepsi pump 1.5 to 2
million a day to fill their soft drink and water bottles, and transport them
to the remotest part of India, water embodies oil both in its extraction and
transport. It is increasingly impossible to find clean water in our wells and
springs. But Aqua Fina and Kinley has reached every village, selling water which
has become oil, packaged in a plastic bottle made from oil.
While the political parties protest against the hike in oil prices, society
also needs to start taking a long-term view of the ecological, economic and
social costs of our growing oil addition. We need to start addressing strategic
issues of real and sustainable energy security in the context of peak oil, the
end of cheap oil, and the climate chaos that the era of cheap oil has left as
an environmental burden on the planet.
Read from Looking Glass News
Oil = Urban Ruin
Peak Oil Crisis: A Mid-Summer Review
Saudi oil may have peaked
Petroleum May Be Nearing a Peak
of Peak Oil to the Global Food Supply
Oil Happened on 12/16/2005...
Army: Peak Oil and the Army's future
& Chomsky:Iraq & Peak Oil
Oil and the End of Empire
oil" determined to strike inside U.S.: Yet another memo that Bush didn't
For the Peak
on PEAK OIL - "Economics" News Articles
Oil and the working class
Down the Curve: How Cities Can Survive the Energy Crisis (Peak Oil, Part III)
Commentaries on PEAK OIL - "Economics Commentaries"