By Mahid Ahmed
‘The Stone Age didn’t end for lack of stone and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of oil.’ – Sheikh Yamani, Oil Minister Saudi Arabia. This quote summarises the ethos of our generation with regards to the world’s contemporary and future energy needs.
Our entire civilisation is dependent on energy, this can be seen when flying over any major city of the world. Upon looking down in the evening sky you can see thousands of lights, some moving – some stationary, like an army of fireflies. The energy comes mostly from the resources of the earth, i.e. coal reservoirs and fossil fuels remnants of previous ages which have compacted to make a whole lifestyle available to us. It has been beneficial, yet also devastating.
The dilemma confronting us today is that while humankind has come to rely so heavily on these energy resources, it is also constantly reminded of how soon they will run out. According to the ‘Hubert bell Curve,’ oil in America should have run out in the 1970s. That prediction may have been wrong, but the principles underpinning the graph certainly aren’t. Oil reservoirs world-wide are largely depleting and may not be able to cope with humankind’s surge in numbers.
This crisis has caused all kinds of trouble: it created the oil embargo of 1967 in which Arab nations, despite being militarily weak, used oil as a leverage to keep its enemies at bay. Similarly, the Falklands Islands issue, which brought Argentina and the UK into a dispute over sovereignty, was really about oil. Countries like China fear lack of resources and enforce a one child only policy, with recent news of a woman beaten and forced to abort a child, since she could not pay a fee to house her child. Today we live in restless times and, to put it simply, if there’s trouble there’s probably oil behind it.
It is a big mental responsibility to keep reminding ourselves of increasing greenhouse effects, depleting oil reservoirs, pollution, etc. We don’t want to think about that whilst enjoying our reliance on items or machinery which consume energy (phones, cars, or the laptop I’m typing this on, for instance). We leave the government to deal with all of that environment business. I do the weekly recycling and, to be honest, that’s enough for me. I should perhaps be more specific …this is an era of ‘YOLO’. In today’s world you only live once. In today’s world it’s all about you, the individual.
The above view is what materialism has gifted us in today’s world – devoid of religious guidance; we have been lulled into swallowing the phrase ‘Ignorance is bliss’. This laxness has affected us In all walks of life, with a specific example found in ‘Kony 2012’; A video made to highlight the atrocities Joseph Kony has been committing in parts of Africa. It was an educational video, which touched countless hearts and educated many on the previous existing realities. It was a mark of how spontaneous our generation is that a week after 100’s of ‘Stop Kony’ Facebook events and tweets- that people simply forgot. The video was only remembered when the producer was arrested for committing indecent acts in public. The Kony video showed people there was a problem, it educated us, we sympathised, we were angry – yet we had no way of dealing with it. The same principle applies to energy depletion. People know there’s a problem, but don’t know how to help.
Renewable sources of energy have been a ray of hope for us in recent years, it has been postulated that if half of the Sahara desert was covered in solar panels the worlds energy needs would be met 300 times over! If we started gradually, on a worldwide basis, in putting money into this scheme we could definitely achieve this, but there is no shared ambition or initiative to do so. Achieving this would mean sacrificing our daily needs for a bigger investment. Often when the government attempts to erect turbines they are met with vehement opposition due to worries surrounding noise and aesthetics. Nevertheless, the challenges faced can largely be dealt with through re-education. The Holy Qur’an, for example, offers us meaningful direction and guidance in dealing with such matters in the following verse: ”And the earth have we spread out, and set therein firm mountains and caused everything to grow therein in proper proportion.” This quote shows some insight in to our population growth issue, the words ‘proper proportion’ would imply God would cater for our numbers equally yet it is our responsibility to distribute evenly whenever inequity arises!
The Qur’an also addresses the Chinese dilemma, which stems from its communist roots wherein the government believes itself to be the sole provider of its people, in the following verse: ”Say, ‘Come, I will rehearse to you what your Lord has forbidden: that you associate not anything as partner with Him and that you do good to parents, and that you kill not your children for fear of poverty — it is We Who provide for you and for them — and that you approach not foul deeds, whether open or secret; and that you kill not the life which Allah has made sacred, save by right. That is what He has enjoined upon you, that you may understand.”
Ironically, often when predicting how much of a resource we have left, Governments base their legislation on assumptions. I refer to the resource diagram (Mather and Chapman, 1995). The diagram illustrates that there is a limited amount we know about the resources available to us. There are quantities we think we have, and then there are possible amounts which we could have. It is becoming more recognised that Oil reservoirs squeeze oil out slowly towards the surface, which implies that it is not that we will run out of oil indefinitely, rather we must use the oil we have tactically and proportionately to make it sustainable!
Tactical or strategic action will require of us to place pressure on governments to refrain from being greedy and striving to help us arrive at decisions for the universal betterment of mankind. ‘And when thy Lord said to the angels: ‘I am about to place a vicegerent in the earth,’ they said: ‘Wilt Thou place therein such as will cause disorder in it, and shed blood? — and we glorify Thee with Thy praise and extol Thy holiness.’ He answered: ‘I know what you know not.’ In this verse, God shows a difference between us and his angels ‘ I know what you know not’ they obey and have no free will, God has given us free will and knows that in the end Mankind will attempt to do the right thing.
As a student of Geology, I am aware of five major extinction periods – we have benefited from only one of them –‘the cretaceous’. This provided us with the use of fossil fuels, yet encouragingly the Qur’an hints that the Earth will constantly cater for our needs. In one place it is stated: ”When the earth is shaken with her violent shaking. And the earth throws up her burden, And man says, ‘What is the matter with her? , That day will she tell her news.” The word ‘burden’ implies minerals/ ores/ untapped energy created through earth processes – yet we are still to discover!
The Qur’an ultimately instructs us to beware of inequity/inequality- a major reason a Muslim must offer regular charity. If Superpowers used this principle, conflict over resources would disappear since most countries have sufficient resources. ‘Andremember the time when Moses prayed for water for his people, and we said: ‘Strike the rock with thy rod,’ and there gushed forth from it twelve springs, so that every tribe knew their drinking place. ‘Eat and drink of what Allah has provided, and commit not iniquity in the earth, creating disorder.’