Upon first glance at the articles, I wondered why such an outdated piece as “Cheap Oil!” from Time magazine published in 1986 was included, but it turned out to be one of the most interesting pieces to read in light of the ecological and financial circumstances of the time it was written and today. As oil slipped to $10 a barrel in 1986, “many economists” thought that the “bargain petroleum would bring a go-go era of healthy growth that could last until the early 1990s” (Time, “Cheap Oil!” 1986, pp.1-2). As far as economics go, this prediction appears to have come true, but so have other less positive predictions. “The country could return to the dreaded dependence on foreign oil that it has largely escaped,” the article also predicts (Time, “Cheap Oil!” 1986, p. 2). During the years of cheap oil in the 80s, “the oil bust . . . spoiled the economics of alternative energy sources as well,” says the Time article, but “America’s energy-conservation record is not likely to be reversed” (Time, “Cheap Oil!” 1986, p. 8). If only that had proved as true as the economics prediction.
The effects of cheap oil have had lasting echoes into the 21st century not only on the economics of our world, but also on the efforts to preserve the biodiversity and world ecological systems. In a 2002 Time article, Gustavo Fonseca, the senior vice president for science at Conservation International said, “It sounds counterintuitive, but you have to build economies around protection” (McCarthy, p. 2). However, as the population as increased by over 6 billion people and growing industrial economies especially in China and India have demanded more energy resources, it seems that building economies around energy sources has only increased, while little attention is given to the idea of building economies around protection or sustainability.
Alternative energy sources have not been given up on, but the effects of these do not appear to be any more positive than simply sticking with burning fossil fuels. “Propelled by mounting anxieties over soaring oil costs and climate change, biofuels have become the vanguard of green-tech revolution, the trendy way for politicians and corporations to show they’re serious about finding alternative sources of energy . . . and slowing global warming” (Grunwald 2008, p. 1). Yet, in the name of alternative biofuel energy, much is being done to worsen global warming, with the rain forests or Brazil being transformed into production sources for biofuels and making it the country with the fourth highest carbon emissions when it used to be a powerhouse of carbon storage (Grunwald 2008, p. 1).
The rain forests are known as powerhouses of biodiversity as well. With their loss comes the likelihood of extinctions of many species. University of Michigan ecologist Bradley Cardinale said, “Loss of biological diversity due to species extinctions is going to have major impacts on our planet,” including things like “nature’s ability to provide goods and services like food, clean water, and a stable climate” (University of Michigan 2012, p. 2). An editorial in the July 26, 2012 issue of science journal Nature reported that a large team of conservation biologists and researchers “found around half of the reserves are experiencing a severe loss of biodiversity . . . that destructive activities such as forest clearance, fires and logging increasingly reach up to the edge of the protected areas” (“Protect and Serve,” p. 2).
It seems clear that biodiversity is suffering. In retrospect, it appears that the era of cheap oil did nothing to help the situation the earth is in currently. Economies like that of the United States, China, and India were not built around the idea of conservation or sustainability. It appears that people worry about conservation only when it begins to affect their pocketbooks more strongly, making hybrid cars like Toyota’s Prius popular. In retrospect, it is easy to say that the money saved by the USA and other nations in the 80s oil bust should have been invested in conservation-centered economies so that “the economy can keep cruising down the road instead of sputtering to the curb once again,” as the authors of the 1986 Time article warned (“Cheap Oil!”, p. 9). America is dependent on foreign oil once again, there appear to be few ecologically friendly options ready for the mass market of consumers, the economy is sputtering, and biodiversity is shrinking. It is not the end of the world, yet, but the trajectory of progress must be changed to preserve the healthiest world for all.
Cheap Oil! (14 Apr. 1986). Time. Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,961087,00.html
Grunwald, Michael (27 Mar. 2008). The Clean Energy Scam. Time. Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1725975,00.html
Lavelle, Marianne (21 Sept. 2010). The Solvable Problem of Energy Poverty. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/09/100921-energy-poverty-cookstoves/
McCarthy, Terry (26 Aug. 2002). Let The Run Wild. Time. Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1003117,00.html
Protect and Serve (26 Jul. 2012). Nature 487, 405-406.
University of Michigan (2 May 2012). Ecosystem effects of biodiversity loss could rival impacts of climate change, pollution. ScienceDaily. Retrieved 29 Jul. 2012 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120502133106.htm