By Soroor Ahmed
Be it India or China or anywhere in the western world, especially in European Union countries, the media is, of late, busy highlighting the serious shortage of coal and rise in the prices of natural gas and oil. It is feared that the crisis is likely to aggravate in the winter when the demand of fossil fuel usually increases to keep the houses, offices, educational institutions, hospitals, market and work-places, etc. warm. The demand is obviously much higher in colder countries of the north. Most of these countries are developed ones and can afford to provide heat even at the much higher economic and ecological cost.
Besides, these were the countries hit hardest by the corona virus pandemic. The truth, however, is that the world is not actually facing shortage, but we are over-using all sorts of resources. An overwhelming percentage of energy is consumed in the industrial sector, transportation and keeping the living as well as work places warmer.
Though the shortage of coal, oil and natural gas is attributed to the sudden rise in their demand after the end of the second wave of corona virus yet there is political dimension too. For example, Russia, the largest supplier of natural gas to European Union countries is reportedly using its energy as a weapon. It supplies 35 per cent of gas to EU and is using this to pressurise the member-countries to stop treating Moscow as an adversary. The strategy of Russia, which has now a very good relationship with China, is to wean the EU away from the US-UK combination. It is because of this reason that the gas prices in Europe have increased four-fold since the start of 2021.
Here one is reminded of the 1973 Arab-Israel War in which oil was used as a weapon by Arab countries. In no time the prices of oil increased four-fold – from three to 12 dollar a barrel. The move had a great impact on the global economy as well as politics.
So far the sudden shortage of fossil fuel is concerned, it is said that the re-opening of the industries and other related activities after the corona virus have suddenly increased their demand. It is also said that heavy rain and floods in countries like China and India have forced the suspension of mining works in coal-mines. But these are just apparent reasons.
As the scientific and technological advancements have made it easy to exploit all sorts of resources, the capitalists of the globe have gone all out to use this opportunity to mint money.
Any warning on the rise of pollution and climate change is rubbished by the capitalists’ lobby. Those opposed to the rampant exploitation of natural resources are dubbed prophets of doom who are against development.
No doubt some efforts have been made by individuals and organisations to create awareness and set things right. Yet it is also a fact that many of these moves have been taken with selfish interest. For example, the major economic powers have over the decades shifted the industries creating pollution to the poor countries of the Third World. But such selfish moves are not going to check the overall deterioration in global climatic conditions.
The need of the hour is to re-define the very concept called development. We often compare the per capita use of electricity as a yardstick for development. What we overlook is that the consumption of electricity in the countries of cold climatic conditions – most of them situated in the northern hemisphere – would naturally be much higher when compared to the tropical and equatorial regions. The people of colder countries cannot survive without the centralised heat system in all the houses or business establishments.
The more human beings use the resources the more we pollute the environment. Yet those who are running the world are not concerned about it.
Experts are of the view that the day is not far off when we would exhaust all the resources in the name of development.
For example, instead of improving the mass transportation system we are engaged in haphazard building of highways and flyovers just to give boost to the sale of cars. Ironically, the more roads and over-bridges are constructed the more there is congestion on the streets and the cities are becoming more polluted.
After the advent of internet – and even more after the introduction of the post-pandemic concept of work from home – it was argued that there would be less rush on the streets as a large number of work-force will perform their duty from their respective homes. But the rush on the streets has not decreased after the end of the second wave of corona virus.
It is sad that the pandemic which killed millions of people across the world has not taught any lesson. There is sudden rise in air travelling in the post-corona days. Even at the height of Covid-19 as high as one crore people travelled by air in the United States on a single day on December 23, 2020, that is on the eve of Christmas. Almost equally high number of people travelled in the country on the occasion of Thanksgiving Day in November. Mark it this has been the situation when there were restrictions on the international flights due to pandemic.
According to the Global Footprint Network (GFN), humanity has used up all biological resources that the planet regenerates during the entire year in much shorter time – in 2021 by July 29. Similarly, in 2019 too we used up all the resources in the first seven months. It was in 2020, perhaps largely due to corona virus that humanity took about a month more time to use up all the biological resources. If the Earth Overshoot Day was observed on July 29 in 2019 and 2021, the same was observed on August 22 in 2020.
Qatar has topped the list of countries in the world in this context. If the entire world uses up all its biological resources at the rate of Qatar then February 9, 2021 should have been observed Earth Overshoot Day.
This means that the modest gains accrued from the pandemic have been lost the very next year. This is notwithstanding the fact that in 2021 too, a large part of the world was in the grip of Covid-19, yet humanity jumped back to the same 2019 level, so far using up biological resources is concerned.
With economic activity returning to normal after the pandemic, it is apprehended that from the next year we would use up all the resources in a much faster pace.