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Raffique Shah


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Guzzling our gas and oil, leaving nothing for tomorrow

December 18, 2005
By Raffique Shah

There are times when I question the sanity of our politicians. I look at the Opposition UNC and see more acrobatics than ideas, more seedless raisins than Dole and Del Monte can put together in a year's production, and theatrics that would be the envy of any circus operator. It is a party that seems destined for the dust. But then I listen to Prime Minister Patrick Manning crowing at the PNM convention and I realise that as a nation we are caught between two very hard rocks that are closing in on us, ready to crush us if we, as a people, cannot rescue ourselves.

Last week, after he repeatedly trumpeted several multi-billion-dollar mega-plants that his government has managed to woo, Manning said smugly: "Ladies and gentlemen, when these projects come on stream, this tiny nation will become the third biggest consumer of energy, on a per capita basis, in the entire world!"

Now, anyone who has a good grasp of the global state of fossil fuels will know that if anything, the world needs to consume less, not more, oil and gas. At current consumption rates, experts predict that oil and gas reserves will run dry in 20 to 50 years.

We may never get there, since the possibility exists that the strong (meaning the USA and its consumer-crazed allies) will use their might to wrest control of what is left long before fossils run out. George Bush's misadventure in Iraq was motivated by two objectives, neither of which had anything to do with weapons of mass destruction or the removal from power of the Republicans' one-time point-man in the Middle-East, Saddam Hussein.

Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world, and from Washington's perspective that alone was worth destroying an entire country, killing hundreds of thousands of its people and sacrificing several thousands of its own soldiers in the process.

More important was the containment of China. Some months ago international columnist Gwynne Dyer wrote an incisive piece about the US "encirclement" of the sleeping giant that has finally come awake. From controlling the oil-and-gas fields in Iraq to subverting Moscow via control of the oil-rich former Soviet states around the Caspian Sea, and wooing one-time foe India, the USA seems hell-bent on containing China's ineluctable march to become the superpower of the 21st Century. It will fail, of course, since they know only too well that "dem Chinee 'ent easy"!

A few months ago a top China general warned America that if ever it contemplated a nuclear confrontation with his country, it must be prepared to "write off" a huge chunk of western USA. China, he added, was aware it would lose a large part of its country and people. But with 1.3 billion souls versus the USA's 250 million, what does it matter?

I digress, though: when elephants do battle, ants must stand aside lest we be crushed. Back to Mr Manning and his boast of our high level of energy consumption. The PM is no fool (at least I don't think so!). He must know that in the global scheme of fossil fuels T&T is least important.

Our proven reserves, in a best-case scenario, will take us 20 to 30 years at current levels of usage. So why do we hasten to extract as much of it as we can, accommodating huge, gas-guzzling aluminum smelter plants, yet another steel plant, and sundry heavy industries that are sure to deplete our natural gas in a shorter time?

Rank stupidity, I say.

Let me put it this way. The massive industrial plants we have already established will bring us revenues far in excess of what we need. Recently, Central Bank Governor Ewart Williams said our foreign reserves currently stood at substantially over US$2 billion, and with several other "funds" into which extra-revenues are pumped, we are sitting pretty, cash-laden. We already boast of being the world's biggest producer and exporter of methanol.

Wishful thinking among oil importers is that oil (and gas) prices will slump sometime soon. Mark my words: oil will never again dip under US$50 a barrel. So our future revenues are almost guaranteed. Why the rush to make more money than we need? Why deplete our valuable resources at a rate that is not sustainable, at least not for more than 20 years?

Greed, I say. We are the greediest bloody generation the world has seen. We want to consume it all today. Leave nothing for those who will be around in 2050.

Let them inherit a bare-ass T&T, its soil and waters polluted beyond belief. Because well before our reserves run dry, those who today rush to dazzle us with billion-dollar investments, will leave us with run-down, cannibalised plants as they move to more sandy oil pastures.

Let us eat a little and live longer. Please, Mr Prime Minister, let us not leave a legacy of depleted resources and scorched earth. Future generations will never forgive us.