Monday, November 28, 2011

Living in an Oil Country

The first sign that the region is oil-rich is, well, a sign. Drive down any road in Muscat and you’ll see petrol stations (aww, cute British English!) everywhere. Each one advertises their oil price on a large sign outside, similar to the ones seen in the US and UK. But wait… what’s this? The numbers aren’t removable? Or LEDs? WHAT? Yes, yes, that is right. The numbers are painted onto the signs. They don’t change.

Well, you’re saying, that must be false. Or it must be a ridiculously high rate.

But the truth of the matter is that petrol is cheap here. Regular is 114 baisa per liter. Super is 120 baisa. To do the conversion, it’s about 30 cents per liter, or about a dollar per gallon. And, like I said, it doesn’t change. Each petrol station, whether it be OmanOil or BP or Shell is the same.

To put that into perspective, my host family can fill up an SUV for 5 Riyal, or $13.

Which brings me to another point: people here have a lot of cars—usually one for every driver in the family. Often, there are more. The reason why is that they can afford to keep them up. The cost here to fill up a Hummer is less than what it is in the States to fill up a Prius. And, to an Omani, a person in a fairly recently developed country (after all, it was only forty years ago that Oman really began to modernize or have really any kind of economic growth), it’s pretty darn cool to have a Hummer. And pretty cheap to maintain it.
The truth is that I have seen practically no hybrid cars during my three months here. Most people prefer to drive large gas-guzzlers—not because they are gas-guzzlers but just because those are the cool cars.

All of these Hummers and SUVs and large cars make me wonder: what about the environment? Does it not matter here? And yepp, there’s my answer. No, it doesn’t matter; at least not to the extent it does in the United States. Why? Because of cost. If petrol in the USA were as cheap as it is in Oman, we definitely wouldn’t be trying to find greener, higher mileage methods of transportation. And if it were as expensive here as it is in the USA, people would definitely be out in hybrid cars. Maybe there would be a real public transportation system.

This brings me to the conclusion that environmentalism is completely grown from money worries. Europe, where petrol is outrageously expensive, has fabulous public transportation and people who do drive use small, better-for-the-environment cars. So, does the environment really matter to people, or are they just worried about their wallets? The cynic in me seems to think the latter. Patterns around the world seem to prove that. Perhaps it would be better if oil were to completely run out, so we would only be able to rely on renewable resources—solar, wind, hydropower, and geothermal. But even these new “green” ideas rely on oil to get them started. For example, solar panels are often made from plastic—an oil product.

Essentially, modern society is completely dependent on this resource that will soon run out. It’s predicted that Oman’s oil reserves will be void within 20 years or so. Oman’s economy relies so heavily on oil for sustenance, as do so many aspects of the Omani lifestyle. Even countries that have oil resources will run out someday, and that will hit the world pretty hard.

And those are Emma’s thoughts on environmentalism. Yes, environmentalism is necessary right now, but the only reason we pursue is so that we can uphold our modern, fast-paced lifestyle, not because we really care too much for the Earth. It seems to be a sad truth, but we’re all guilty of it. But who knows—maybe the depreciation of our oil resources will end up being beneficial overall. Even if our new collective human interest in environmentalism is only based in our need to keep up with our lifestyle, it’s good that we are starting to take action in caring for our planet Earth. 

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