Even though it may seem at times like there is an endless supply of oil, the truth is that the day we run out of this natural resource is closer than you might think.
Humans have been exploiting oil since the mid-1850s. And while the use of crude oil spurred a lot of the growth in our civilization, it’s no secret that the public is largely calling for an end to the use and production of this finite resource.
The issue with a finite natural resource is just that—it’s finite. It takes millions of years to create oil. Yet not only have we used up the crude oil naturally provided by the planet, but we’ve also done so without a strategy in place to recover the damage caused.
In fact, as technology developed and the oil extraction systems became more sophisticated, the amount of oil pumped increased exponentially. Daily global oil production peaked as recently as 2019.
There is, of course, the larger concern about the impact oil extraction and use has on the global ecosystem as a key driver in global warming and climate change. Oil spillage—to be more specific, the over 1 million gallons of it spilled every year—disrupts the natural habitats of living creatures in oceanic and adjacent areas.
Yet itisn’tt just the extraction, production and distribution of oilthat’ss extremely dangerous. Consuming the oil—which is to say, burning it in order to produce the coveted energy—also has dramatic effects on the globally rising temperatures and extreme climate changes we are seeing more frequently.
Switching away immediately from our consumption of natural oil, gas and coal use, of course, is impossible. The global economy is built completely on the leverage of natural resources—from petroleum that fuels transportation on a transnational scale to agricultural systems across the globe—making it extremely difficult to even begin a transition to a non-fuel-driven economy.
But given the speed at which oil is consumed—and the fact that this natural resource is close to complete depletion—the transition to non-fuel alternatives will be inevitable, and we need to start preparing for the change here and now.
The answer to this predicament is simple: The shift needs to happen away from finite resources toward renewable, more sustainable ones. We need to enact two different changes in our approach to energy.
1. There needs to be a complementary source of energy in the short term to kickstart the transition. This is essential to enabling the second part of this approach.
2. Solutions need to be developed which can produce sustainable substitutes for natural gas and oil in the long term.
These changes cannot happen overnight. But with small steps and consistent changes on a smaller scale, we have the potential to build an economythat’ss prepared to say goodbye to crude oil as its foundation and operate based on more sustainable energy sources.
According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, current geopolitical circumstances have the potential to contribute to the expedition of the transition to renewable energy. In light of the recent Russian-Ukrainian conflict, oil prices shot up by more than half in Europe—namely, to over $100 per barrel. This sudden increase in price is just the latest in a long line of environmental and economic pressures pushing us in the direction of renewable energy.
Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency has predicted that year over year, the production and accessibility of solar energy will increase quickly after 2020. And the cost of producing renewable energy continues to plummet quickly—in fact, renewable energy sites are now significantly cheaper than fossil-based electricity production plants. We must continue to seek out such alternative energy sources where possible to reduce overall natural gas consumption.
Countries individually are focusing on building renewable energy infrastructure to continue driving costs down and reducing dependability on natural energy supply, with Denmark notably committing to completely shifting away from fossil fuels by 2050.
On an individual consumer level, the rise in electric vehicle use is another example of a smaller-scale change that, if done en masse, can further contribute to a smooth transition. The supply and infrastructure necessary to provide consumers with the electric vehicles of their choice are well underway, with major players making strides in focusing on the electrification of their vehicle portfolios.
According to Nature, General Motors has committed to stopping the production of petrol-powered and diesel models by 2035. Audi, the German automotive giant, has a more ambitious timeline with the goal to seize production by 2033. These are just two of the many examples who are refocusing their resources and efforts.
At the end of the day, the transition away from fossil fuels toward a more sustainable alternative is imminent. Whether the shift is driven by environmental concerns, the scarcity of the resources or geopolitical and economic pressures, it’s important to begin the transition at this point in time as technological capabilities grow in their sophistication and associated costs—which have been a cause for hesitation for some time—continue to go down.
It’s important to adopt the mentality of “small changes in the near term can lead to better results in the long run” in order to ensure a smooth, efficient and large-scale transition globally.
Originally published in Forbes