Wealth in the modern world is based on oil. As a result, oil creates conflicts. Hydrogen doesn’t have to be stolen; it is not a source of power struggles. Hydrogen is everywhere.
Energy is the basis of wealth. The Roman Empire was founded on slave labour. Wealth in the modern world is based on oil. Oil generates conflict. Many current conflicts are centred around the oil fields in the Middle East. But the civil war in Sudan and the ethnic conflict in Nigeria can also be traced back to oil. Countries like Ecuador, Colombia and Angola have oil, but it has never made them wealthy because the yields were lost due to domestic conflicts.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, control over natural resources – read coal, oil and gas – has been considered a critical factor in countries’ foreign policies. The recent American invasion of Iraq was purportedly about ‘weapons of mass destruction’, but no one can deny that United States’ foreign policy is influenced by its oil interests. The Gulf War in 1991 cost between $60 and $70 billion. According to a recent Newsweek analysis the current occupation of Iraq is costing a billion dollars a week. The Americans are paying a high price for their cheap petrol.
At the same time, that oil is feeding an extremely vulnerable system. The West’s energy supply is dependent on a complex infrastructure. Oil, gas and coal are transported to large power stations from which electricity travels substantial distances. The average barrel of oil – extracted in the US – is transported between 1,000 and 1,300 kilometres before reaching its destination. Electricity travels on average over 300 kilometres before being used. The system is not very efficient. Worse yet is that it is an easy target for would-be saboteurs. The dramatic terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 implicitly highlighted the near impossibility of completely protecting power supplies – not to mention the added danger of nuclear plants. Power stations have already been the targets of attacks in Afghanistan, El Salvador, Cyprus, England and Italy.
Logically, a growing group of young people in the Islamic oil nations of the Middle East sees oil as a weapon to rectify the unjust balance between the world’s rich and poor. Following the oil crisis in the 1970s, King Fadh of Saudi Arabia told his Muslim brothers that ‘the main resource to depend on after God is oil’. Oil and Islam are inseparably linked in current international relations; 10 of the 13 members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are Islamic. Security is not a product of those relations, however much President Bush wants to make us believe otherwise.
The alternative is an energy supply that is not geographically bound. That cannot be concentrated in the hands of a few. A local energy supply from which every world citizen can equally profit. This is the perspective offered by the hydrogen economy. The hydrogen economy breaks through many of the balances of power that currently make the world unsafe.