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The earth around us is suffering, not due to the break out of wars everywhere and not because of diseases and epidemics that humanity believed that it had gotten rid of for good, such as malaria or smallpox, or new diseases such as bird flu, mad cow disease and rift valley fever. Moreover, it is not a result of the dominance of fear and apprehension amongst human beings or because of the emergence of cultural barriers once again after having believed that they too had been broken down permanently with the revolutions in communication and transportation. No, the earth is not hurting for the aforementioned reasons, though such reasons are troubling to the mind; rather, the earth is suffering because of the pressures exerted upon it by some of its human inhabitants.

Day after day and year after year, there is increasing talk on environmental issues and the waste of vital resources at the hands of human beings. The level of consumption by humans over the past twenty years is equivalent to what our predecessors had consumed over hundreds and hundreds of years.

The atmosphere is in a bad condition and the ice cover that protects the earth is melting at an alarming rate. The earth’s temperature is continuously on the rise, hurricanes are taking place in an unusual manner, wildfires have destroyed forests due to the rises in temperature and so on and so forth…these are just some of the results of environmental changes. For example, the city of Nairobi, which was built above the mosquito line, has now been invaded by mosquitoes as a result of global warming. This was highlighted in the frightening docufilm directed by former American Vice-President Al Gore entitled ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize along with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Debate regarding global warming, its damaging impact on earth, the necessity to reduce the emission of harmful gases as part of the “greenhouse effect”; all these issues have or will become important parts of political agendas and this is a fact that has caused political figures such as Al Gore to be received with great suspicion. This is because he was a partner to the war on Iraq and contributed as senator and as vice president to decisions regarding the war and supported the arms industry. His concern for the environment caused him to divert his “speedy” efforts to this issue and win the support of masses. The issue cannot be ignored anymore, not even by the biggest capitalist countries. The issue seems to be a dangerous one; the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change commented in its historic report on the global warming phenomenon saying that the best efforts to reduce levels of carbon dioxide will not be enough and that “the world should focus on adapting to sudden and irrevocable changes in weather.”

The next president of the United States should take into account such issue even though President George Bush Senior once described an environmental activist as crazy since he wanted to impoverish the American economy by yielding to such nonsense. Gore’s film proves that, now and after years of sustained effort, the issue can no longer be deemed nonsense!

What has this got to do with oil?

Here we will delve into a political, economic and scientific arena that requires a group of experts with a large degree of neutrality even though it is somewhat difficult to find impartial people. However, it is acceptable that spectators and amateurs, such as ourselves, participate in the debate since the matter concerns the future of our existence on earth.

Firstly, we know that the developing countries, including those of the Arab world, have a constant and pressing complaint that reaches the degree of paranoia, in some cases, about the purity of slogans raised by the West as they are often used as a pretext to interfere in their internal, political, economic and social affairs. This phenomenon started from the call to protect minorities in the 18th and 19th centuries to other slogans about the urbanization of communities, human rights, democratization, the peace process with Israel and combating terrorism and so on and so forth. So could an issue such as protecting the environment be an exception to this “suspicious” group of slogans in the eyes of the developing world?

Why isn’t the issue of protecting the environment and linking the issue of oil to earthly disorders another satisfactory excuse for the impoverishment of the developing world, including the Arab world? Why can’t the real value of oil be lowered by promoting research on a cleaner alternative for energy?

This is an obsession that can never be underestimated, at least in the public’s subconscious. But if we delve deeper into the conscious world, we will find that concern about environmental problems and climate change is an inherent interest in most third world countries. The most important question is: where does the responsibility lie for damaging the climate and causing global warming?

According to Al Gore himself, America alone bears more responsibility for polluting the environment and consuming energy than the rest of the countries in the world put together. The United States alone has the highest level of aviation traffic (which means the highest consumption of aviation fuel) as well as the highest level of road traffic. Edward Goldsmith is one of the founding members of the Green Party in England; he had devoted his family’s wealth to campaign against nuclear disarmament and filed a lawsuit against the United States because of global warming and this lawsuit is still being considered. According to Goldsmith, the United States alone is responsible for a quarter of the world’s pollution.

The whole world, except the United States and Australia, endorsed the Kyoto Protocol that aims at reducing greenhouse gases.

The problem then is not about the developing world or its oil but rather it relates to the “lifestyle” of the developed world and our ways of oil consumption; oil is innocent of this accusation.

Does this mean that oil is free of any guilt? Never! It is still the “black gold” but its blackness is not the “main” problem; the problem lies in the patterns of consumption of the West, namely the United States.

The issue then is just as King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz said in his speech to OPEC leaders regarding what has been mentioned about the impact of oil upon the environment and climate, describing such perception as, “An issue where truth and lies have been mixed”. He announced an initiative by Saudi Arabia that states upon allocating 300 million dollars as a base for a program that funds practical research related to energy, environment and climate change; such initiative was subsequently joined by some Gulf States that contributed to funding.

Finally, if some parties in the United States want to talk about the “addiction” to foreign oil then this is not a problem. However, if they claim that the oil of Gulf States or other countries is the main environmental issue then they should remember that the nuclear threat on health and environment is a permanent danger that is going nowhere. They must remember that the danger came from them; from Hiroshima and Chernobyl to nuclear experiments in the Pacific. As long as there are debates on the depletion of farmland, they should remember that every last meter of land in the United States is exploited to bring profits to major corporations a hundred times more so than in countries like India for instance. They should remember that the greed of agricultural companies is what has resulted in hybrid and genetically modified crops.

The party that is being harsh in its dealing with the environment is the West, not the East. Oil is simply a tool that if used in a correct and sound manner, will not be harmful, at least not to the extent that they seek to depict, until another safer alternative for energy is found. Nevertheless, what is being said now about “foreign” oil crime is not free of dirty accusations.

From now until the death of oil as a source of energy, the challenge is: Will oil states succeed to really benefit from this exceptional wealth that history will never ever repeat? This is the main question.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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