Energy Pyramid – Oil and Freedom

Its hard to say precisely when enough events collide to coalesce into a crisis. Its now 3/6/2011. Events in Egypt,  Libya,  Yemen,  Bahrain and Tunisia indicate they are undergoing revolutions in the name of freedom. What is striking about these events is that they are occurring in the heart of the world’s richest oil region. Are these uprisings about distribution of wealth, the idea of freedom, democracy or simply control of oil?

In an unfortunate twist, its hard to imagine that any of these goals will be achieved. History teaches us that wealth is rarely shared. Freedom can be temporary or enduring depending on having a critical mass of people that either by design or accident come together to construct a society where there is opportunity and stake in the success of that freedom. The odds are long against that and it may have more to do with the culture of the people involved. I fear that this region of the world, despite a noble heritage doesn’t embrace the concepts freedom and democracy. Finally, there are very powerful forces from every part of the world that wants nothing more than to control this region’s oil. The future of the world’s economies depend on a stable flow of oil. That is why the democracies of the world have pandered to the oppressive regimes that flourish in this same region.

All kinds of questions arise once we start going down the road of judging others and ourselves about this situation. What are the ethics, when we trade-off stability against the freedoms of the population inside the oppressed country? Many people outside these countries could suffer significantly if oil’s price spikes or if oil is short. All implications need to be evaluated before we moralize about just one part of the situation. Principles are important. As you have read my other articles you can appreciate that I am a strong believer in principles. Let’s illustrate this contrast. The principle about one person’s freedom and life is extremely important. However, if preserving one person’s rights ultimately means the loss of hundreds or even thousands of other people’s freedom and lives then there is strong case to put the individual’s rights in perspective. The greater principle would be to minimize the impact on the greatest number of people. This argument can be turned around. Unless you preserve the rights of every individual it can lead to the loss of even more people’s rights and freedom unless we are diligent about exercising the principle of protecting an individual’s rights.

The real ironic twist is that the same people want to control the oil are afraid of democracy in the Middle East. In their minds democracy has a much better chance of setting the stage for Islamic fundamentalism than of providing a framework for stability. Democracy may just as well mean that there will be chaos and unpredictability. Let’s not kid ourselves. People look through a prism and see the basic nature of man. The colors they see are the ways they believe others will act. Will they use reason and project a picture of the future where they trust a populous vote to deliver a better outcome or do they fundamentally believe that the masses need to be led by a small group of people that know better than the masses?

The uprising events in the Middle East is an amazing opportunity to view how we think about ourselves and our own capacity to make rational decisions on how to best live together. It is a crisis if the uprisings just leads to more chaos. The residents of the Middle East are inescapably part of a world community, bound by the oil resources they possess. The people outside that depend on this oil can not view these people as just another region to exploit. This could be an opportunity to figure out how to best use a limited resource and map out a future that is organized and fair.

The Uprising Crisis is part of a much larger crisis. We are not solving the Global Energy Crisis! The Uprising Crisis is compounded by the population growing, both inside and outside the Middle East. In a perverse political and religious attitude, the people of the Middle East believe it is admirable to have larger families. This young population has a huge unemployment rate. This amplifies the anger within the Middle East. So the larger population was essentially planned but the supporting jobs and infrastructure was not.

Outside the Middle East the same scenario is unfolding. Our demand for oil keeps growing due to population growth and standard of living improvements in the third world. Every one of these factors amplifies the crisis of the Middle East. We can not ignore their problems because we are so dependent on them.

This lack of understanding and planning for our resources and population makes it impossible to have confidence that our political leaders and general population understands the relationship between freedom and responsibility. There is no doubt in my mind that the issue of the world’s dependence on oil is on a collision course with oil producing countries and regions.

Extrapolate the data on availability of energy and population growth and you learn that access to ample, cheap energy in the form of oil, natural gas and coal has contributed to the huge population growth around the world. When that balance shifts the consequences will be horrific. Freedom will be one of the first principles to be sacrificed. If we want to preserve our freedoms then we better balance our energy needs and supplies better, now and into the future.

I do not care if you are rich or poor, we all have a personal responsibility. Our individual responsibility is to have fewer children and put less stress on our limited resources. One of our greatest freedoms is to plan our own family size. Do not take that for granted. It can either be limited by design or will be done by the physics of supply and demand. All individuals can chose to be less wasteful and buy more energy efficient cars, transportation, appliances and devices. Personally I would rather plan for it than have wars and famine as the balancing drivers.

The role of the government is to manage our energy needs. The general population is incapable of planning and managing energy. Further, it is laughable to believe the private industries will plan for more than their own profits. We individually need to put pressure on our government to plan properly.

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