Hostage to Oil

oil.barrel.waste,money_graphicOur country has been in the oil business for more than 100 years.  We are an old oil producer.  In the more recent past, we have played a major role in the global LNG and fertilizer markets.  Despite these impressive statements, there is a nagging feeling that there has been little real impact on national development, or quality of life or the level of happiness experienced by our citizens.  If asked how has the energy boom impacted us, my subjective response is that we are“OK-ish”.  However measured against really hard criteria, our performance would be described as abysmal.

Despite energy richness, our infant mortality rate is among the highest in the world, this is so according to Dr. Anton Cumberbatch who appeared before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament.  We were recently singled out amongst the fattest countries in the world.  Our crime statistics are horrendous and I am sure we would fail on any happiness assessment.

But there is one other indicator which causes concern – carbon emissions.  In the per capita global measurement we are ranked among the top 5 offenders.

A Camille Bethel story in the Trinidad Express of November 12, 2012, quoted the Minister of Energy Kevin Ramnarine as saying:  “The sad reality is the World Bank has ranked Trinidad as one of the worst energy-efficient countries in the world, so we have to get our act together.  It (energy) affects our everyday life and I think the culture has to change in Trinidad with regards to how we treat with energy. There has to be a culture of conservation in Trinidad and Tobago”.  The Minister is spot on, however this is no time for platitudes about conservation, it is time for drastic action.

In 2008, multiple Putlizer prize winner, Thomas Freidman published“Hot, Flat, and Crowded which brought a fresh outlook to the crises of destabilizing climate change and rising competition for energy”.  Friedman proposed an ambitious American strategy called “Geo-Greenisn” to save the planet from overheating while making America healthier, richer, more innovative, more productive, and more secure.  

This book should be required reading for our energy czars and decision makers.

While reading Hot, Flat, and Crowded, I questioned what could be a “stand out”action taken to communicate this message of conservation to our population while improving productivity on a national scale.  My conclusion, make owning a car and driving unattractive.  That translates into charging the economic price for gasoline which is sold at US 36 cents per litre compared with  US 76 cents per litre in the United States, US 192 cents in the United Kingdom and US 2.12 cents in Norway.

Maintaining such a low price for gasoline is simply deferring our death sentence.  However implementing a drastic measure will require us to think through the impact on all the drivers of inflation since it will have a major impact on mass transportation, vehicular congestion, productivity, wellness and even happiness.  Tackling this one big problem will ripple through the country and be the economic and social game changer we need.

Given the enormity of such an action, it would be necessary to take a bi-partisan, populace approach to the final decision and its implementation.  It could provide an opportunity for the population to take part in long term decision making and lock the decision making into place so that changing political parties will have no impact.

We have over the years seen what happens when there is no citizen participation in decision making.  It has generally resulted in wastage, corruption,   multiple lost opportunities and the most senseless attempts at the blame game.   Paying a real price for gasoline is significant because we are simply burning up our future every time we fill up the tank. The fact that oil is a finite resource and every barrel extracted is one barrel less for future consumption should frighten us into real efforts at monetization.  The notion of diversification has been on the national agenda for many years and we pat ourselves on the backs saying how well we are doing when compared with our Caribbean neighbours but having a ready supply of cheap energy is helpful to any manufacturing sector.

We need to look at our future through a different lens, the lens of energy conservation and energy efficiency.  Time and time again I have learned that people only take action when there is a consequence.  The time has come to send a major signal to the population.  Until such a major price signal is sent, citizens will continue to consume gasoline“willy nilly” and as a country we will continue to be hostage to this depleting, finite resource “Oil”.

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