Monday, 7 March 2011

3 quick questions I have been meaning to put forward in relation to the energy module.......Can biofuels offer a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels? Do developed countries have the right to limit the amount of fossil fuels industralising countries use? And finally Does oil fuel aggression?

We have come to the end of the energy module now and there are a few things that I have been meaning to write about for a while but have just never been able to find the time to do so and so I am going to try and briefly mention some of them now (I say briefly but I must warn you that I am not normally that great at being brief - you may well have already noticed - but I will try my best).

Can biofuels offer a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels?
In theory, biomass is a renewable energy source and the amount of carbon dioxide released from burning it should be offset by that which the plant takes in during its growth. However, in reality, biomass is not as green as it first sounds as the energy consumed whilst transforming the plant material into a usable form of power often comes from non renewable fossil fuels. This means that the use of biomass is not neccessarily going to help to reduce our dependency on oil even if it is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to petroleum-based liquid fuels in countries such as the USA. Brazil also uses biomass rather a lot and around 50% of the fuel used in gasoline powered cars in Brazil is biofuel. However, deforestation is becoming an issue that is increasingly linked to the development of biofuels. Clearing of the Amazon rainforest is a very worrying prospect and in Indonesia and Malaysia, the growing market for biofuels has led to the clearing of peat forests to make space for palm oil plantations. This has directly resulted in Indonesia becoming one of the largest greenhouse gas polluters in the world. A similar thing has also occured in a more developed country as a US tax incentive that was created to encourage the use of biofuels as an alternative to oil has been a significant factor in the clearing of virgin forests to make way for palm oil plantations. As countries are starting to acknowledge the link between the development of biofuels and deforestation, more afforestation and reforestation schemes are being introduced but,even if these schemes are successful, can biomass offer a sustainable alternative in the future? I personally do not think that they can. At present, we have to use fossil fuels to extract the energy from the biomass and so in reality it is not the most renewable option. Also, with the global population reaching the 7 billion mark this year and being projected to grow to 9 billion by 2045 can we afford to use valuable fertlile farming land for the production of biomass. At present, many people go hungry every day and, as the population grows, this problem is only going to get worse. The amount of energy that can actually be produced from biofuels is also questionnable as it is estimated that the corn needed to fill one tank of a SUV with ethanol is enough corn to feed an African for a year. If this is true, do biofuels produce enough energy to warrant using fertile land to grow biomass instead of much needed food? I also don't think that the biofuels are the most financially sustainable option as the use of fertile land to grow corn and sugar cane, for example, for the production of biofuels has been a contributory factor to the rise in food prices. The World Bank have said that global food prices are at dangerous levels and estimate that, since June, this has pushed 44 million people into poverty. If this is true, can we afford to further develop biofuels or should we turn our attention to other source of renewable energy.....

Do developed countries have the right to limit the amount of fossil fuels industralising countries use?
The use of coal allowed the UK to develop and the industrial revolution was based upon this energy source. Nowadays, coal is a popular option for countries like China, who are trying to industrialise. However the difference is that we didn't realise the impacts that our industralisation was having on the environment and now we do. So the question is, as we now realise the impacts that the use of fossil fuels have on the environment, do developed countries have a responsibility to stop/reduce industralising countries use of fossil fuels or should they just be allowed to develop in the same way that we did? China is now the worlds largest greenhouse gas polluter as they emit 7249.8 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year (USA are the second largest with current emissions standing at 7098 tonnes) and as they develop further this is likely to increase. Coal is also the basis of China's development and this is going to have a huge environmental impact as they continue to do so. Although I think that it is going to be important to somehow control the use of fossil fuels to enable development it is going to be very difficult and rather hypocritical of developed nations to do so. Instead I think that the way that we view development and what we define developed as being should be changed as, to be quite frank, the countries that are classed as being developed today are the ones that consume and waste the most energy, emit the most polluntants and led the most unsustainable lifestyles. If the definition of developed, in relation to a country, was changed then the industralising countries would have a different end goal - hopefully a more sustainable one. Perhaps this could be an indirect way of controlling the use of fossil fuels in developing countries, as, if developed countries start to utilise renewables more and lead a more sustainable life then developing countries are likely to try and mimick this in the hope that one day they can reach the same level of development. Personally, I think that something needs to be done to try and reduce the environmental impact of industralisation but I dont think that developed countries, especially seeing as they often led the most environmental unsustainable lifestyles, have the right to limit other countries use of fossil fuels. Instead, I believe that a change in attitude towards development and to how we define it, is perhaps the best way forward - although I am not sure how excatly this change would occur.
Does oil fuel aggression?
If you look back at all the wars and heated disagreements between countries that have occured over say the last 50 years, how many of them have involved oil in some way or another? Well, the answer is rather a lot of them ( I don't think I need to mention them but encase you are not quite sure what I am going on about think about the Gulf Wars, the fact that the USA tried to bomb North Vietnam's oil tankers and the current conflict that is occuring in Iraq). Oil is without a doubt, one of the most sort after resources in the world and so many countries are dependent on it to the extent that they are prepared to fight over it. So, does oil fuel aggression..... well I think that perhaps it does simply because we are so dependent on it and I think that as oil reserves continue to dwindle, countries are going to become more prepared to fight over it. Ever since South Sudan voted for independence I have wondered whether or not this is the best option and whether or not there is enough oil to feed both the north and the south. The majority of the oil fields are located in the south whilst the processing plants, that turn the crude oil into a more valuable product, are located in the north. Already an estimated 2 million people have been killed in a two decade long civil war between the north and the south which flared most fiercely around the oil fields in the south. Many people hope that, instead of provoking a new war, oil could help to initiate peace but I must admit, I do question whether or not this is rather optimistic due to the past between the north and the south but we will just have to wait and see......... and what about the current situation in Libya and other neighbouring countries. We are all aware of the reserves that the Middle East has and so, with this current unstability, how long is it going to be before some of the developed countries try to take control of the situation and secure the oil and gas reserves. Again time will tell but I believe that if the situation continues to escalate, because we are so very reliant on oil, developed countries may not have much of a choice but to get involved to secure energy supplies.

There is something else that I really wanted to write about but I just can't remember what it was (this is going to really annoy me now until I remember what it was)! I actually think I did alright with regards to my aim of being brief (well for me anyway!) and so what do you think? There is no right or wrong answers to the questions I have presented........... do you think that the definition of developed should be altered to try and reduce the environmental impact of industralisation, do you think that biofuels hold the potential to provide a sustainable alternative to oil and the other fossil fuels and do you think that oil provokes aggression and what impact will this have on the future of relations between countries?


  1. Some interesting questions, firsly, yes oil does and certainyl will continue to fuel aggression, but not only oil the fight for resources could well focus on water, we may be able to survive in an oil free world, but with the massive amounts of soot and CO2 raising temperatures and melting the ice sheets, the first serious battle for resources could be between large developing countries whose main water supply comes from glacial rivers, such as India and China. The second resource is going to be farm land, sea level rise could quickly wipe out much of the worlds land that is most suitable for agriculture, and that would leave us in some serious trouble as it takes roughly 3000 years for a metre of workable soil to form.
    On another note, morally, we dont have the right to dictate to another population about how much carbon they can emit, in my mind, we should be supporting them in making green and sustainable choices for their own development, the problem is that we dont want to pay for it, and we cant limit another countries development by restricting their use when they are using fossil fuels to improve the quality of life for their population. The problem here is that Westernisation is often seen as development, and to be honest, we may be economically developed, but environmentally we are not, hence perhaps the global idea of development needs to change?? but what to?

  2. I think that the fight for resources, especailly water, is going to be a messy one and with India's water security already being questionable, the prospects of their population exceeding China's by 2030 and the point that you mentioned about their water supplies being dependent on glacial rivers, India are perhaps going to be the country most in need of water and therefore the most prepared to fight for it. From experience I know that ensuring a safe, clean water supply in some parts of India is hard enough already and surely this is only going to get worse when sourcing any water at all becomes a bigger issue. Something that your comment made me think about was, if countries are already prepared to fight over oil and make it a central feature of war, what are they going to be prepared to do when the dwindling resources are food and water, two of the bare essentials required for our surivival?

  3. With reference to the other point, I too believe that we don't have the right to limit the amount of fossil fuels developing countries use and thereby restrict their development but I do think that an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions needs to be a globally united one to have a substantial and lasting impact. This is why I think the way we both view and calculate development should be altered. I just looked up the definition of a developed country both in a dictionary and online and practically all of the definitions revolved around the words 'high per capita income'. Also the measurements used to calculate the HDI, which is often used to compare levels of development, are centred on the economy. Adjusted income per capita has an obvious link to the economy but even high levels of educational attainment and life expectancy at birth require countries to have a developed economy which allows them to afford to implement both an efficient and available health and education system. So what are we really calculating when we work out how developed countries are - are we just working out how economically developed a country is and surely there is more to development than solely the economy? Like you said, we may be economically developed but we definitely are not environmentally developed and, your post on equality, made me question whether or not some of the countries we consider to be developed today are actually socially developed or not. Although I believe that the global idea of development needs to change to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly one I am rather ensure as to what exactly it would change to. I think it is hard to think about a possible alternative definition for developed as the media often portrays countries like the UK and the USA as being developed, we learn about how developed we apparently are in education and we often try to encourage countries to copy our industrialisation process to end up like us. Also I think it would be extremely hard to change the global perception of development and many countries that are currently regarded as being developed would probably be reluctant to allow this to occur. Provoking this change is going to be hard and perhaps if it is to ever occur, it will occur once developed countries have to alter their lifestyles, when fossil fuel reserves run out, and then once this has happened the definition of development will be altered to support a more sustainable lifestyle.....

    I think it is very interesting but also rather hard to think about as when thinking about an alternative perception of development I found it challenging to remain realistic as it is all too easy to turn around and list the things that, idealistically, need to be involved , but in reality many of these things are possibly unlikely to occur. I found it even harder to try and figure out how you would bring about a change such a large and influential as this. I think this is something that it going to puzzle me and occupy my mind for a long time - much like the idea of a stage 6 on the DTM (perhaps I should refrain from asking such open ended questions in the near future!). Do you have any ideas on what the global idea of development needs to change to or how such a change would be provoked?

  4. I have just had another, rather spontaneous, thought on this subject. Countries that are in the latter stages of the DTM are considered to be developed and many things allowed, the UK for example, to move through the stages of the DTM. Our transition was slow, compared to some other countries today, because, amognst other things, we had to wait for inventions and scientific discoveries. However, nowadays the only thing restricting developing countries is a lack of money. Once these countries can develop an economy that can allow for effective health and education services to be created the rate of development is often rapid. Does this suggest that progression through the transitions of the DTM is dictated my money and therfore so is development, as we know it?