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Turn oil woes into green economy with more jobs

By Isaac Kalua | April 26th 2020

Last week featured two big days for the environment. The first of this came on Monday, April 20, when for the first time ever, US oil prices plunged to almost –$40 a barrel.

This means that oil producers were paying buyers approximately $40 for every oil barrel that they hauled away since there was nowhere left to store the oil. The second important day for the environment was two days later on Wednesday, April 22, which was Earth Day, a day that marks the birth of the modern environmental movement on April 22, 1970.

These two days will have a direct impact on the lives of every Kenyan in the coming months and years. The two days are like a T-junction with each day on either side of the junction. If we turn left to the ‘Oil Road,’ we will find a road paved with an addiction to oil. Because of this addiction, the oil producers across the globe produce millions of barrels per day to meet an ever-growing demand.

The US, which is now the leading oil producer globally, produces almost 20 million barrels every day, followed by Saudi Arabia at 11.8 million barrels per day and Russia at 11.5 million barrels per day. Rounding off the top five producers is Canada with a production of 5.5 million barrels per day and China with a production of 4.9 million barrels. Collectively, the top 10 oil producers churn out at least 100 million barrels of oil per day. Although this figure keeps fluctuating, it provides a clear picture of the global oil supply for an insatiable oil demand.

When the coronavirus sprouted in China and flew around the world through infected people, the world largely and rightly focused on the infectious nature and mortality rate of this disease. But another lethal effect of the virus was on the oil industry. Because the world generally ground to a halt, planes disappeared from the skies, as cars, trucks and buses veered away from roads into parking lots. Consequently, demand for petrol, diesel and jet fuel fell sharply. Hence the oil glut that led to negative oil prices in the US.

Lonely skies

However, history has shown oil to be a resilient player that rides expertly on the world’s insatiable appetite for oil. It is therefore highly likely that as the world stirs itself from the current lockdown and begins to operate, the oil addiction will start creeping back. Vehicle engines will begin revving and the roads will fill up with long distance trucks, long distance buses, short distance cars and millions of other vehicles. The currently lonely skies will again teem with thousands of planes ferrying millions of travellers to the four corners of the globe.

If this scenario plays out in this manner, we will be back to business as usual, our oil addiction intact. As a result, pollution will have the last laugh and greenhouse gases will continue puncturing the ozone layer and driving climate change into higher gear. Thankfully, the T-junction also has a right turn, to ‘Earth Day road.’ On this road, oil addiction has been dealt a knockout blow. Now that the lockdown has taught us that we really don’t need all that oil that we consume, we should embrace this new reality.

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We can do this by embracing the green spirit of Earth Day and following in the footsteps of those millions of people who came together on April 22, 1970 and started a movement that pushed the world towards a greener direction with much less pollution in the rivers and atmosphere. The green baton has now been passed on to us and it is up to us to take bold and unending steps on green pathways that will lead us to more renewable energy and less oil; more conservation and less degradation.

Because money determines almost everything, divestment from oil should be accompanied with investment in renewable energy and ecosystem restoration. Practically speaking for Kenya, I implore the national and county governments to take small, yet decisive steps that will heal us from our oil addiction. For instance, they should integrate cycling lanes to roads that don’t have them and ensure that all new roads will have cycling lanes.

We should also restore our forests, marine ecosystems, landscapes and rivers. This will keep our bodies and planet healthy even as it creates thousands of new green jobs. We have enough reasons to think green and act green.

- The writer is founder and chairperson, Green Africa Foundation. www.isaackalua.co.ke

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