Chakra Living

Prabhupada's Answer to Peak Oil Crisis

by Hare Krsna dasi

Posted June 8, 2005

As most people know, the world will meet its peak oil production or "Hubbert's Peak" within 30 years at most, more likely 5-10 years.

On the micro level, this means that in thirty years you won't be able to eat a chapatti or slice of bread like the one you had for lunch today -- one which depends on heavy inputs of fossil fuel:

  1. Petroleum to fuel the tractor and plant grain
  2. Natural gas to create nitrogen fertilizer
  3. Petroleum to manufacture herbicides and pesticides
  4. Petroleum to fuel tractor for harvest
  5. Natural gas to dry grain
  6. Petroleum to ship grain
  7. Petroleum products to surface roads
  8. Electricity -- often based on gas, coal or petroleum - to grind grain
  9. Electricity to process and package grain
  10. Petroleum to ship the flour or bread to market
  11. Petroleum which the consumer uses to transport the flour or bread home
  12. Natural gas or electricity to cook chapatti
  13. We won't even mention all the fossil fuel required to manufacture the tractors, semi-trucks, road construction vehicles and automobiles required to implement this whole process.

If this is an example of what it takes to produce food and market it, clearly a permanent energy crisis will produce drastic changes.

On the macro level, unless we have a solution to this problem, results are catastrophic. A reviewer sums up the forecast of five energy experts: "[Unless a solution can be implemented by 2015 or 2020] we will have to undergo several decades of punishing scarcity until a new energy regime has been put in place. Worldwide economic activity will contract during this period, billions of people will starve or suffer, and the major industrial powers will engage in ceaseless 'resource wars' over any remaining pools of petroleum." ("Crude Awakening," Michael Klare, The Nation, Nov 8, 2004)

Even though peak oil production implies that nearly 50% of the world's petroleum remains,when supply diminishes at the same time as demand (from both industrialized and developing nations) increases -- prices will skyrocket to levels that threaten the economy.

Each alternative has drawbacks:

  1. Develop unconventional oil sources - deep sea, tar sands, the arctic, and politically instable areas. *Too risky, costly, and environmentally hazardous.
  2. Liquid natural gas (LNG) *More expensive to handle and transport than oil. Gas facilities cost billions of dollars and take decades to pay off, posing massive financial risk for energy companies. Greater security risks in shipping and processing. Major new sources politically unstable.
  3. Coal *Too polluting. Scrubbers can remove sulfur, but not carbon dioxide. Coal fired power plans in US already generate one-eighth of world's carbon dioxide emissions, contributing to global warming. No economical way to control carbon emissions.
  4. Nuclear power *Profound ecological risks and political challenges; nuclear plant costs at least 2 billion dollars to build, requiring massive government finance.
  5. Solar, wind *Relatively high cost energy, intermittent power supply, lack of dispatchability, leaving 80% of the market they can't supply.
  6. Hydrogen fuel cells *Most existing supply of hydrogen comes from natural gas; other sources too costly, undeveloped or problematic. To retrofit 1/3 of US gas stations for hydrogen would cost 30 billion dollars. Cost of fuel 3 times current cost of gasoline.

    These are the alternatives examined by major energy experts. With the possible exception of wind power, all are centralized highly technological. Some cannot even get on the market without billions of dollars of investment.

    If funding is a challenge for developed countries like the US, it's impossible for poor countries.

    One last alternative is more easily available:

  7. Conservation *Often opposed or undermined by energy industries; slows but doesn't stop depletion

Most proposed alternatives are impossible or very expensive to use for shipping or agricultural traction. Farming is already so unprofitable that vast areas of America's Midwestern plains are being depopulated because young people can't make a living farming. How will food be produced when farmers can't afford equipment or increased energy prices? How will it be transported hundreds of miles to consumers?

Thirty years ago Srila Prabhupada offered solutions to the petroleum crisis that should be considered again:

Bhagavan: The biggest problem now is that they have built up a type of society in which their needs are all coming from petrol energy. To produce what they need today is all coming from this petrol energy which they are importing basically from the Saudi Arabian countries.

Prabhupada: Yes.

Bhagavan: Now, recently, in the last war in the Middle East, Saudi Arabians raised the price of the oil over double now, I think, as a pressure to the Western countries to do things in their favor. Now they realized that the market for oil is in such great demand that they don't have to lower the price after the war, but they are going to keep the price. And actually the price is still increasing. So this is causing inflation.

Prabhupada: So this problem will be solved as soon as we are localized. Petrol is required for transport, but if you are localized, there is no question of transport. You don't require petrol. Suppose in New Vrindaban, we stay, we don't go anywhere. Then where is the need of petrol?

Dhananjaya: I remember, Srila Prabhupada, you were saying that all we require is some oxen, and the oxen can carry.

Prabhupada: Yes. The oxen will solve the problem of transport. That bullock cart. Just like Krsna, when He was transferred from Gokula to Nandagrama, so they took all the bullock carts, and within a few hours they transported them, the whole thing, their luggage, family member, everything.

Bhagavan: How far can a bullock cart travel in one day?

Prabhupada: At least ten miles, very easily. And maximum he can travel fifteen miles, twenty miles. But when we are localized, we don't require to go beyond ten miles, five miles. Because we have created a rubbish civilization, therefore one is required to go fifty miles for earning bread, hundred miles, hanging.
(Rome, 05/27/74)

Bulls can be engaged in plowing and transporting. Nice bullock carts village to village for preaching. Make the farm the center and go ten miles this side, ten miles that side, ten miles this side, etc., with four bullock carts. Sell books and preach and live peacefully on the farm. People used to engage the bull for this purpose. So there was no problem which way to utilize them. First of all this artificial way should be stopped, and the bulls should be engaged in plowing and transporting, and smashing the grains. To avoid machinery, petrol, machine oil, by nature's way. (Letter to: Balavanta 01/03/77)

The Rome conversation concludes:

Satsvarupa: Is this an ideal solution or a practical one?

Prabhupada: This is practical.

Cuba is the practical example. In 1990, Cuba had the most industrialized agriculture in all Latin America. In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed and oil to Cuba stopped.

How did Cuba feed its people? Did it adopt a high-tech solution requiring billions of dollars?

No. It switched to a localized economy, based on organic agriculture. It trained 400,000 teams of oxen for plowing, transport, and crushing sugar cane.

Just as Prabhupada stated in 1974, ox power proved to be the practical solution to petroleum shortage. A variety of energy forms will be needed, but in discussing the coming energy crisis, we should remember Srila Prabhupada's advice.