This morning I woke up to the news that the first round-the-world flight of a solar-powered plane was completed. There were a lot of technical difficulties along the way as one might expect when something is done for the first time and I don’t expect to be flying to Yellowknife in a solar plane anytime soon. Still, it was still a remarkable achievement and a probable signpost of things to come.
On the same day, another news report talked about the dramatic decline in the number of oil rigs operating in North America. Since last year, the number has been cut in half. Despite persistently low oil prices, demand for the black goop continues to moderate. While bad news for oil producing regions, it may be excellent news for the rest of the world.
While oil is decried for its polluting qualities (250,000 liters are currently fouling the waters of northern Saskatchewan) and for its contribution to climate change, it is its impact on global politics that may be the most pernicious. Oil fuels the terrorist activities of ISIL and has led to social, political and military conflict across the globe. While North Americans haven’t actually come to blows on their own soil in recent years – they have been sent to fight in the oil wars in the Middle East for years. Conflict in the South China Sea, with Beijing ordering the construction of fake islands to spread its influence, is completely about access to oil reserves that lie under those waters.
The end of oil would create massive social disruptions (these are already occurring in Venezuela and Nigeria where falling oil prices have placed strains on governments and economies) and would undoubtedly impoverish some countries – though not Norway who cleverly banked their oil revenues. Even the Canadian economy would not be immune to the long term decline of oil prices – but we have the advantage of diversity and while some regions would lose out, others would stand to gain from shifts in energy consumption away from oil and toward solar, wind, hydro and other alternatives.
Energy use is likely to continue to grow over time and in the past that has always meant the growth in the consumption of oil. But as alternatives to oil like solar (and, by the way, you can thank Obama in large part for that) gain ground, we may be able to raise the standard of living of people across the world without the price of pollution or global conflict. After all, the sun shines and the wind blows wherever people live on this planet – with equal distribution a major irritant for global conflict will disappear. And oil will cease to be the bankroll for dictators and terrorists.
That would be a sunny future indeed. And that’s ten minutes.