Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Crude Oil-Based Economics: Still Economically Viable?

After the high energy prices of July 2008 has done it’s worst to our fragile global economy still reeling from the credit crunch, will the present under 115 dollar-per-barrel crude oil prices be a viable long-term solution?

By: Vanessa Uy

Now that the furor over high-energy prices has (hopefully?) died down, does this mean the worse of the energy crisis is now far behind us? Well, not exactly. The crude oil prices which are steadily declining (hopefully)on a weekly basis is by no means immune from the Machiavellian-like machinations of commodities speculators, less than democratic nation-states, and most of all OPEC.

Throughout of its 47-year history, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries or OPEC has been a cartel in name only. Given that the people who still care about OPEC’s historical track-record probably experienced first hand back in the time when gasoline was still sold at 10 US cents or 25 US cents per gallon, probably compares it to some post-Pablo Escobar narcotics cartel. Forever endangering the democratically elected governments of Latin American countries by financing local terror groups. The question now is, is OPEC really like a narcotics cartel devoid of any semblance of Corporate Social Responsibility?

Sadly, this was proven back in the March 2008 OPEC meeting in Vienna. OPEC member oil companies declined to increase their production quotas despite fairly legitimate reasons to do so. At this time, crude oil prices were teetering just above 100 US dollars a barrel. Plus, the United States is either near or already in an economic recession with much of the rest of the world feeling the knock-on effects. OPEC ministers were nonchalant despite of the dire situation of our global economy back then. The OPEC ministers even choose to a consensus of reducing overall production because the inevitable global economic slowdown will probably reduce crude oil demand anyway. Is there something wrong with this picture?

What is wrong is that a fall in crude oil prices is one of – if not the main – mechanisms in which an economic recession or retail slowdown corrects itself. As crude oil prices now a mere shadow, relatively speaking, of its almost 150 US dollar a barrel peak back in July 2008, the US economy did got a little better. Despite the housing market still at a slowdown, everyone at the US Federal Reserve must had patted themselves in the back for formulating a monetary policy that saved the US economy – i.e. it strengthened back the US dollar. But the question now is, can we keep crude oil prices under 100 US dollars a barrel until the year 2050 were economically viable alternatives to crude oil fueled systems will be invented?

The problem with this scenario is that replacement technologies for our crude oil incumbent industry will never be invented if the economic incentives for doing so are not there. Despite the environmental harm, not to mention the political instability plus the cost in human lives of our young people in their prime dying in some senseless war just to keep crude oil prices artificially low. Our Quixotic search for cheap crude oil is one of the main stumbling blocks for the development and implementation of environmentally renewable energy technologies like solar photovoltaic cells and wind turbines. Imagine if Halliburton and their ilk were around back during the days of the Amistad Case. The whole world would probably still be engaged in the Transatlantic slave trade and using whale blubber to run our cars, heat our homes, and generate electricity.

For the sake of the global economy, America – the world’s last true superpower – must take the lead in developing new technologies to free the whole world being shackled to a crude oil incumbent economy. Or are the policymakers on Capitol Hill too blind to see that America's addiction to foreign (especially OPEC’s) crude oil has made the US economy a virtual mendicant to every other country’s Sovereign Wealth Funds. Plus, the present US Government can’t even provide justice to the genocide victims in Darfur, Sudan because the US Government borrows money from one of the perpetrators – i.e. Beijing Government – just to buy America’s present crude oil needs from OPEC.