In a Grain of Sand: Pressure and Time

Dahlia Rizk

Last week the ENST Department hosted a screening of the film, “An Inconvenient Truth”. For better or worse, much of the attention surrounding this documentary is often focused on Al Gore, who in his own words “used to be the next President of the United States”. However, too little focus is placed on the message behind the film: the overall global climate has been reaching record high temperatures in the last decade or so and, no, turning up your air conditioner will not solve the problem.

I’m no climatologist, but I’d say that the biggest contributing factor to global warming lies in our consumption of petroleum. We use it to run our honking big SUVs, to operate machinery, to fly jets, to run heating and cooling systems, to shine our shoes, etc. Additionally, much of the world economy relies on the buying and selling of this commodity. Think of what happened to the global market in 1973 when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries decided to rub its nose at its customers (i.e. Europe and the United States). Compare that to sledding down Colgate’s ski hill, only in 1973 the downward slope wasn’t half as fun.

The oil industry is not exactly a walk in the park; it’s highly centralized, environmentally unfriendly and complicated. Having a father in the oil business and living near some of the world’s biggest refineries for some of my life (where we pay around 80cents/gallon), I can also tell you that it does dilute efforts to create a local and diversified economy. This can be said of the world’s biggest oil producers, from Saudi Arabia to Russia to Venezuela. With most of the profits landing in the hands of a few, it’s no wonder the yearly operating budget of Amnesty International would pale in comparison to that of the latest Saudi queen’s (or queens’) shopping spree in Paris.

But one undeniable fact about oil remains: it will run out some day. And while this is information with which many are familiar, I don’t see anyone turning off the heat for the upcoming Hamilton winter or taking to the streets with bicycles. We must all surely dislike digging out $3 for a gallon, but what we probably dislike even more is the notion of shifting from the lifestyle that the oil economy has allowed us.

Any geologist will tell you, real change takes only two things: pressure and time. Pressure on governments as well as independent organizations for more research on alternative energy sources, to strengthen and implement the Kyoto treaty and to make existing renewable sources of energy, such as wind or solar polar, more mainstream and affordable. And naturally, all these processes will take time-at least a few decades.

But with this pressure and time, we are sure to see developments that can alleviate the problems we see on the world stage right now. With less reliance on petroleum, we can expect to see a turnaround in global warming, less of the frenzied (and often deadly) squabble for oil among governments, and a more diversified economy in oil-producing countries.

And no need to worry about my father’s career. He’s retiring soon.