Life after oil

10th March 2006 at 00:00
The winning essay in the TES ScotlandCosla competition is by Edinburgh teenager Kathleen Rutherford

In the time that it takes you to read this sentence, 600 tonnes of oil will have been used. There are 500 million cars on the planet. Every day in Beijing alone (a city famous for its 9 million bicycles), 1,000 new cars are added to the roads.

In the course of one year, each American person eats food which has been produced using about 1.5 tonnes of oil.

We live in a society where it is almost impossible to escape from oil products. The covers we sleep under are made from oil-based products. The (oil) radio alarm wakes us. The light is turned on (oil). We put on our (oil) clothes and head off to the (oil) office in our (oil) cars.

We are so directly involved in the use of oil that it is amazing how little attention we pay to the fact that oil is running out, and fast. If this oil crisis is to be addressed, the only way to make great progress is to motivate the people who have the power to make a difference - the general public.

What is it about oil which makes it so incredibly dull to people? For me, the problem is that issues associated with oil are too big to conceive.

Despite hearing from people in informed positions that our lives in 2080 will be a world away from the way we are living now, there is something illogical in my head which repeatedly says: "No, it won't."

This issue of scale is a major factor in many people's lack of interest in the oil crisis. For example, when people are told that the ice caps are melting due to global warming, the average person does not give it three seconds' thought, yet if they were told that the polar bear in the zoo was going to be killed they would be outraged - despite the fact that hundreds more polar bears would be killed by the melting of ice caps. Unless something has a direct negative effect on our lives, we care very little.

Unfortunately for us, this IS going to affect us. We will undoubtedly face a situation in the near future when more energy is used up to extract oil than can be gained from what is extracted. Oil prices will rise exponentially, becoming almost unaffordable. In short, the world will face economic catastrophe.

With every solution that has been offered to prevent this, come major impracticalities. Hydrogen, for example, has been put forward as a renewable and efficient source, often used as the solution to all our problems, yet the reality of hydrogen is that it has never been run successfully in a car engine over a long period of time, it is extremely difficult to transport and there is no energy-efficient way to produce it as yet.

To me the only remaining solution, which could produce successful results despite being extremely difficult to achieve, is simply to reduce the use of oil on the planet.

Would life really be so bad with reduced accessibility to oil? In one sense I believe that the standard of living might even improve.

If people were forced to produce their own food, not only would they have a healthier diet but it would reduce carbon emissions by a vast amount.

If people were limited to one car per household, more time would be spent walking, again contributing to a healthier lifestyle.

But the changes need not even be of this magnitude. Lights in offices could be switched off at night. Putting TVs on standby could be made impossible.

Computers could be turned off when they are not in use and central heating turned down a notch or two.

These actions may seem small but on a global scale they could make a massive impact.

Oil has given us a great time but maybe the moment has come to move away from this oil-based society, which has not only created wars, but decreased the ozone layer and increased cancer risk.

If this was done by slowly reducing the amount of oil we are able to have each day, habit would take over and we would become so adapted to life without oil that it would seem strange ever to have been so dependent on it.

If this approach cannot be achieved, I believe the cold turkey state our planet will be left in when the oil is finished will make it a very dangerous place to be.

"My father rode a camel. I drive a car. My son drives a jet. His son will ride a camel" - Saudi saying.

Kathleen Rutherford is an S5 pupil at James Gillespie's High, Edinburgh. She wins pound;200 for herself and pound;200 for the school's English department

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