When Jack Kilby, an engineer of the Texas Instruments invented the first Integrated Chip (IC) little did he know that his invention would usher a digital revolution. Starting from invention of wheel till cloud computing platforms of the modern world, advent in technology have ushered swathing large changes in human lives, created new sources of income and destroyed old sources.
I am going to write about a similar technological innovation which will impact the oil economy and the side effects arising out it. All of us know about atom bombs and hydrogen bombs. The atom bomb essentially generates huge amount of energy by triggering a nuclear fission reaction, where a nucleus of a heavy atom like Uranium splits to smaller nuclei there by releasing huge amounts of energy. Where as, in case of Hydrogen Bomb, nuclear fusion technique is used, where smaller hydrogen (Deuterium or tritium) nuclei are fused to form a larger nucleus and there by releasing huge amount of energy. The energy released in case of nuclear fusion is significantly higher than nuclear fission and hence Hydrogen bombs are much destructive than atom bombs. Hydrogen bombs have never been used in history. Atom bombs were used on Japan. The energy generated in sun and stars is through nuclear fusion.
Humans eventually learnt the art of using controlled nuclear fission reaction to generate electricity. There is a problem with this is, the materials like Uranium and Plutonium are very scarce on earth and hence not a lot of energy is produced form fission technology. Whereas, the raw material needed for fusion is Deuterium (which is a form of Hydrogen) is abundantly available in natural water, but for the fusion reaction to happen the temperature of power(10, 7) is needed to attain plasma state. The problem here is: there is can be no container which can withstand such high temperatures. So the concept of “magnetic bottle” came up, which will hold the plasma. Humans have been able able to successfully attain controlled nuclear fusion, but are able to sustain it for just few seconds, making it commercially unviable. There is a lot of research going on to make the technology commercially viable. The major effort is being carried/funded by consortium of several countries (US, EU, India, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea) at International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor located in France. It is expected that the technology will be become commercially viable from 2035 -40. And all the participating countries will get the technology for free. And by the way, the technology is safer than current fission based nuclear reactors, as in case there is a leakage, the material will come out of plasma state.
What will happen after that?
- Though building reactors will be costly, there is abundant amount of deuterium in natural water, making electricity ultra-cheap. Entire energy requirements of the world starting from industries, vehicles, space stations etc. will be met from this technology.
- With the improvement of battery technology and this cheap source of electricity, people will shun using fossil fuels.
- Colonialization of space will accelerate.
- Drinking water situation will improve, as extracting drinking water from sea will become viable.
Lets analyze the impact of this on various regions of world.
- India, EU, China, SE Asia etc.: These countries import most of their oil and gas and hence will gain the most. With this new technology, these countries will save a lot of foreign reserves which could be used for development of infrastructure, public welfare etc.
- Americas: Though US produces a lot of Oil, US economy is diversified and hence wont be affected, rather it will benefit (US is a big energy consumer). Barring Venezuela, no other country is dependent on Oil. And hence, these countries are all set to benefit.
- Africa: Barring few north African countries, many other countries import Oil and hence are set to benefit.
- Arab World (and to some extent Russia): In nutshell, this part of the world , especially the Arab world is all set to suffer the most. I will explain how below:
Gradually after the discovery of the Oil in middle east countries, dictators seized power and took control of all oil resources. In order to maintain their hold on power, they provided all kind freebies to people. Due to abundance of petro-dollars, the people literally stopped working and all the work was done by workers from foreign countries. Starting from cleaners, plumbers to project managers all are foreigners. We all know the money they spend in extravagance. Even the women in Saudi don’t cook anymore, women from countries like say Sri Lanka do the work. To further cement the power, the rulers maintained close relations with Ulema (mullah, mufti etc.) and also started spending a big chunk of money on terrorism.
Lets see what will happen after the petro-dollars stop:
- They wont be able to hire workers from foreign countries. And by now they have lost the habit of working and hence the society will find it extremely difficult to sustain itself.
- Many countries are sponsoring multiple terrorist groups. For e.g. Iran is funding Hezbollah. Once the money reduces/vanishes, they will turn against their “dictatorial sponsors” just as Osama Bin Laden turned against US. US had the might to destroy Osama, but without oil these countries wont be able to defeat those groups and lose power to such groups.
- All dictators will vanish, but we cant say if the society will transition to democracy or not.
- Today, Ulemas, madrassas etc. are funded by petro-dollars. Once that stops, the Ulemas will start turning against their sponsors and this may turn out to be a big crisis for Islam.
- I know many Arab men have extravagant sex (Hyderabad has become such a hub for Mutta marriages). Once oil money reduces, you never know, rapes will sky rocket in Arab society.
There is still time. What should Arab world do?
- Stop spending money on terrorism. If you don’t, they will eventually come and bite you.
- Stop building golf courses in desert. Use the money you earn today to create other sources of revenue.
- Gradually reduce hiring from foreign countries and make the people of your own country do the work and develop skills among people.
- Slowly reduce the funding to Ulemas, they will also turn against you once you are forced to stop funding.
The Arab people cannot even lead a pre-oil-era nomadic life as that life is extremely hard and the people have gotten used to comforts.
I will stop here, will leave it to you to judge whether abundance of Oil in Arab is a blessing or curse in disguise.
DISCLAIMER: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The author carries the responsibility for citing and/or licensing of images utilized within the text.