The future after oil: Six proposals

By Johan Galtung

Keynote Speech – Doha, Qatar – 2 April 2013

Peak Oil: Challenges and Opportunities in the GCC-Gulf Cooperation Council Countries

Distinguished Participants!

The organizers deserve high praise for setting this key, almost existential for some, issue on the agenda for an international conference. Oil and gas being limited there obviously is a peak–in the North Sea some years ago for Denmark, the UK and Norway. But this conference is not only about whether the peak is behind us, right now, in the future, and in that case when; but about and then what. Diagnosis, prognosis, therapy.

However, the peak may be more due to demand than to supply; more due to the problems caused by converting the energy stored in fossil fuels than to the extraction becoming too expensive to pay off. To the contrary, the more expensive the higher the profits as percentage of the costs, and given the oil-gas addiction the richest in a very inegalitarian world can always pay. In a better world energy for daily needs should be as freely available to everybody as walking on a street, or as health and education in a decent welfare state (they still exist). We risk fossil energy for the few only, not a peak.

On the demand side, all over, more or less, there is a turn to the alternative: the many green energy conversions. “The Surgeon General has decided that smoking is bad for you” has a follow up: “fossil fuels are bad for us“. We are not there, but it also took much time for high numbers to give up smoking. A massive shock, and compelling evidence of a causal connection, is needed. The increase in natural disasters and the erratic climate may soon provide that.

The world sees other peaks. Peak US Empire – not USA – with China coming up, Peak West with Rest coming up, headed by BRICS, Peak inter-state wars with inter-nation violence coming up. It’s a very dynamic world.

China burns coal-oil-gas, but is also a massive pioneer in green energies with photovoltaic and solar cells and electric cars, produced in ever greener ways. In the USA highly effective coal-oil-gas lobbies prevent the greening and promotes ecologically bad extraction. Politicians are bought by banks, banks invest in that extraction.

The world is moving East, the East is moving green. And so are millions. Decreasing demand will be a function of Harm X Green, boycotting the companies causing harm, “girlcotting” the green. Even a 3% effective boycott cuts deeply into profits. Companies, beware.

A country looking for sustainable alternatives should give top priority to economic diversity. Not one sector only, please!, but Primary, Secondary, Tertiary and Quaternary–reproduction–sectors.

Here are six concrete proposals for Qatar:

[1] For the Primary sector: fish farming, off the coast, protected against storms, with fresh ocean water, much less energy intensive than letting the desert bloom for food, and less costly than imports. Fish desalinate the waters that feed them, but need some extra food.

[2] For the Secondary sector: desalination, based on parabolic mirrors reflecting solar energy, with individual desalinators like individual time pieces. Technology for export as money-maker, with a Leontief input-output matrix not too different from today.

[3] For the Tertiary sector: mediation, conflict resolution, like a Switzerland moving East. This is not what diplomats are trained for, paid for, and do – promoting the interests of one’s own state – but promoting the interests of nature, basic human needs and rights, the interests of all nations and states, civilizations and regions, world interests. Ambitious, difficult, and not by negotiation to arrive at a ratifiable compromise, but by dialogue in a joint search for a new reality that can accommodate reasonably well all legitimate interests. For this Qatar, like Switzerland, has to be neutral-nonaligned.

There is no such center for the whole world – for GCC, MENA (Middle East & North Africa) and beyond–for the time being. Thus, SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) in Stockholm focuses on (dis)armament documentation, PRIO (Peace Research Institute Oslo) in Oslo more on violence than peace. Qatar has already given the world a major gift, Al Jazeera–as long as it manages to be non-aligned – with its remarkable ability to give the word (Russian: glasnost’) to all parties. Add one question, “and what would the Middle East/Afghanistan/Libya/Syria you would like to see?”-and Al Jazeera would be the world peace journalism leader.

For the Quaternary sector–healing, reproducing–three proposals.

[4] Not only economic growth but social growth; distribution. Thus, Richard Wilkinson et al in The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone[i] finds less violence. Equal parties meet more easily to solve problems, breeding peace. Inequality in societies, regions, worlds breed terrorism and the more lethal state terrorism. The key is not to take from the rich and give to the poor, but to lift the bottom up. Qatar should not only mediate peace, but be peace.[ii]

[5] Making the soft side of Islam visible to others. When the West engages in its atrocious insults to Muslim dignity under the pretext of “freedom of expression”. Muslims often fall into the trap of (counter)violence instead of being the nonviolence of the Prophet. Abbas Aroua, The Quest for Peace in the Islamic Tradition[iii] says that the Muslim-Arab practice lags behind the Qur’anic base. Seeing is believing; good business practices, museums, Islamic art, seminars, dialogues[iv].

[6] The silence of the desert for silence tourism. Modest, monastery like lodgings, for meditation alone or together, seeking spiritual, inner growth, guided, or not by world religions and world views.

These proposals can surf on two emerging trends in the world: more care for humans and nature, and less materialism, more spiritual values, arts, creativity, and Islamic togetherness, sharing.

Building on these trends is a safe winner. Peak oil, or not.

[i]. Penguin, 2010.

[ii]. In Johan Galtung, Peace Economics, Transcend University Press, 2012, the Epilogue has 121 proposals for a better economy.

[iii]. Transcend University Press, May 2013;

[iv]. In Johan Galtung and Graeme MacQueen, Globalizing God, TUP 2008, the Epilogue is about that kind of dialogue, as a drama.

This article was first published here.

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