Weighing the Economic “Benefits” of Oil With Global Biodiversity Conquest

We tell ourselves that we persist with our usage of oil because it’s good for the economy. We tell ourselves that we could never switch to a world of renewable energies because it’s simply impossible. We couldn’t handle it. We don’t have the necessary infrastructure. Is this really true?

You’ve likely heard about the Deepwater Horizon incident, where 800,000 birds, 65,000 turtles, and 11 workers died, 1,300 miles of the U.S. Gulf Coast were blanketed in oil, and $32 billion put into cleanup. Yet another example of demolition produced by our insatiable need for oil.

Every time I hear the insufferable excuse of the economy’s benefit, I bring up this example. Does what was just described sound advantageous for human prosperity? If we consider the downsides and benefits, such as damages from the emissions, the costs correlated with oil spills, and the downfall of our ecosystems, can we truly call oil an economically sound decision? For the first time since dinosaurs, species are becoming extinct faster than new ones evolving. The rate of species extinction is now 1,000 times the natural rate. Do we not owe biodiversity something greater?

“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

-Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Chair, Sir Robert Watson

There are a lot of angles one can take when trying to fully comprehend the root causes and outcomes of oil. This piece will address that of the economy, the aspect that most people see as a hand-in-hand strength of oil. However, the assets are different than most commonly portrayed by society. Usually we think the primary weaknesses of oil (and the use of other fossil fuels) are those associated with environmental detriments, and the primary strengths are those associated with economical amplification. But the environment is directly interlinked with the economy.

Let’s take a closer look at biodiversity, defined as “the biological variety and variability of life on Earth.” Biodiversity predicates the health of the planet, and in return everything humans do — including, of course, the economy. Every ecosystem is underpinned by biodiversity, and without it, life will, simply put, cease to exist. All species play a role in the web of livelihood: they all provide their own essential resources. What’s something we all need? Food and water. So let’s explore that industry.

The production of food is reliant on biodiversity for pollination, disease mitigation, medicinal plants, agriculture, and the list goes on and on. Without biodiversity, ecosystems collapse — ecosystems that humans are contingent on for survival. This will force us to face the fact that food will become increasingly scarce and vulnerable to pests, and water will shorten in supply. Furthermore, the murky and lifeless ocean will deteriorate billion-dollar fishing and hunting industries. Picturing that reality is terrifying, because it’s a reality humanity cannot survive in.

That is the depiction of economic destruction.

Economic destruction looks like an existence where people can’t breathe the air, where we have to worry for our children’s wellbeing, and the generations to come. We choose to be complacent and accept such consequences happily and ignorantly. We need to have the ability to live. If we really want to base our economy with oil, then we might as well prepare for a future where we all have a miserable existence.

Humans, time and time again, have failed to realize the dependence that the economy has on biodiversity. If we disregard our biodiversity, then we disregard the economy.

The common excuse at this point, then, is that we can’t do anything else. We’re stuck. While the fact that we need oil is partially correct, it’s important to note that the economy does not just rely on oil. A few months ago when oil was worth below $0 and companies were having to pay people to store their oil, the economy continued to progress. This wasn’t a one-time chance based situation: oil prices have been dropping significantly over the past 10 years. More and more car companies are switching to renewables — and why? Because not only is it the right thing to do, but this is what their consumers want.

Obviously, it’s easier said than done to simply not use oil. It doesn’t stop at learning the connections between oil’s degradational effects on all the environment, economy, and society. It starts there. Exposure. But this isn’t the first time you’ve heard about the climate crisis and the role that fossil fuels are playing in it.

What can you do? Continue to learn, but shift your attention to other aspects of this calamity. It’s easy to recognize a problem, but it’s more difficult to do something about it. Inform yourself of alternative energy sources and go that extra mile to build your own proposals and projects. For example, have you heard of fusion energy? Have you heard of enhanced solar power through nanomaterials like quantum dots? Seek understanding, get involved, and educate others.

The key to our prosperity and health will require us to make a change. We must start taking care of what we have left of our planet and stop degrading our ecosystems. By doing this, we are destroying ourselves and our futures. We are doing a disservice to our biodiversity. The worst thing we can do is continue to talk about change and never implement it, or do so when it’s too late. When will we realize our time is running out?

Innovator at TKS ~ Sustainable energy through nanotechnology