Dawn of the Green Energy Era: The Cycle of Oil Comes to an End
The 20th century saw unprecedented growth, largely due to fossil fuels. We built our daily existence around its production and consumption. Our use of oil has given us more jobs, leisure time, cheaper goods, and affordable travel — just to name a few benefits. Oil has made our lives richer and more efficient.
But it came at a cost.
Oil spills have destroyed ecosystems. A disregard for regulations has led to health catastrophes around the world. Politics and wars escalate over the precious resource.
Yet we continue to perpetuate and witness the devastating effects of our dependence on oil. While the COVID crisis has inspired many to reconsider their energy consumption and their impact on the planet, oil is still a necessary part of our daily existence.
So as we enter a new century, we have the opportunity to start a new energy cycle. COVID marks the end of the golden oil days and the dawn of the green energy era.
The Beginning of the Oil Boom
At the end of the 19th century, it became clear that oil would be the most efficient and important fuel for every industry, and transportation was becoming its largest market. The automobile had just been invented, and shipping companies realized that oil would be a more efficient fuel than coal.
When the first World War began, countries felt an even greater sense of urgency to modernize manufacturing and build their economies around oil consumption. The Rockefellers dominated the industry in America as other petroleum empires rose in Russia and Saudi Arabia.
And in response to the growing market, other industries also took advantage of the opportunities to expand. Royal Dutch Petroleum, for example, established pipelines and refineries, and eventually merged with Shell Transport and Trading to form the Royal Dutch Shell Group.
From there, efforts to profit from oil never stopped. We continued innovating and building based on the assumption that oil was our best source of cheap energy — even though we always knew it was finite.
The Repercussions of Our Dependence on Oil
Throughout the 20th century, our insatiable consumption of petroleum led to incredible wins and losses for humanity.
For example, the plastics we consume today are largely a by-product of oil processing. As a result, growth and expansion became significantly more affordable due to petroleum’s constant production. Transporting goods became cheaper by weight, global travel became more accessible, and means of communication can now fit in the palms of our hands.
Its low cost and ubiquity also led to disposable products that improved global hygiene. Single-use syringes, gloves, and even garbage bags have arguably led to a healthier society.
But our excessive consumption of fossil fuels has also had dire consequences. Our irresponsible use of plastic has led to terrible pollution and destroyed natural ecosystems.
The fallout of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continues to affect wildlife and tourism. More recently, the decaying oil tanker off the Yemeni coast has led to a precarious situation that not only endangers the Red Sea ecosystem, but also the fishing economy.
We have built so much of our lives around the consumption of fossil fuels that it feels like an intrinsic part of our existence. But the planet is telling us we can — and must — find alternative sources for energy.
How COVID Accelerated the Green Energy Market
COVID decimated industries at the beginning of 2020, and oil was no exception. While resolving the pandemic has taken priority, climate change continues to be an ongoing issue. But COVID initiated an economic crisis, which means that the solutions to both can be addressed simultaneously.
At the peak of the crisis in April 2020, oil demand drastically decreased and Brent crude dropped below $20 a barrel. Meanwhile, renewable energy use increased during the pandemic, ranging anywhere between 44 and 93 percent throughout the EU.
The energy sector’s growth over the next few decades will likely be in renewables instead of oil. And although oil will receive monetary support in the short run, anyone who’s looking towards the future knows that green energy is on the rise. The question is: who will be the Rockefellers of the new world?
The Growing Case for Green Energy
Renewable energy makes the world less reliant on the countries that control the limited number of fossil fuel reservoirs. Instead, it allows countries to harness their natural resources and convert them into reliable sources of energy.
As a result, the new forms of energy encourage innovation and growth within those countries. And in response, their growing markets can attract diverse talent from around the world who want to pursue careers in green technologies.
The rising workforce does not seem interested in an archaic industry, but instead would rather make their own way in green energy solutions and ease the environmental burden on the planet.
In 2019, the globe witnessed an international youth movement calling for greener policies and action. It will be wise to create companies today that they will want to work for tomorrow.
Regulatory Efforts to Support Industry Growth
In addition to private investment, governmental bodies around the world are also encouraging green initiatives. In response to the economic fallout during the pandemic, the EU dedicated $572 billion to invest in renewable energy efforts throughout their member countries.
Many of these countries have already seen an incredible increase in clean energy production, even before the stimulus. Germany’s green energy output in Q2 2020 averaged 54 percent of energy usage, largely due to the infrastructures created as a result of their Renewable Energy Act (EEG) in 2000.
But it wasn’t an overnight accomplishment — it took years of research and innovation. And we are quickly seeing the benefits of those efforts.
While it has yet to be passed and enacted, presidential candidate Joe Biden has revealed a $2 trillion plan to transition the U.S. to a climate-friendly infrastructure. The comprehensive proposal includes ideas to reinvigorate the renewable energy industry, as well as reward consumers for making greener choices.
The collaborative efforts between private industry and public policy can accelerate our transition from the oil cycle into the renewable energy era. Moving forward, it is imperative that we focus on the innovations that move us forward, rather than cling to the achievements of the past.
A Green New World
Our dependence on oil gave us a monumental leap forward. Humanity achieved incredible technologies and advancements in science over the course of a hundred years.
But that cycle of oil dependence is coming to an end. Luckily, our exploration of renewable energy has the same potential to be just as fruitful, if not more so. Who knows what new materials or inventions we’ll make next as we embark on the 21st century.
Change is never easy, and human progress doesn’t happen overnight. But with proper investment and innovation, employers and policymakers can successfully facilitate that transition into the new era of green energy.