In a recent commercial on oil conservation in India, a kid stuck in traffic jam with his father, notices how none of the vehicles are turning off their engines even though they have been stuck for several minutes. With a very worried look, he turns to his father to remark, “The way all of you are wasting oil, I fear there will be none left when I grow up!”
Aren’t we actually stealing from our kids?? We are using up the fossil fuels without any consideration for their future needs. Most parents start saving for their children’s education and future as soon as they are born. They make loads of investments in several avenues to ensure that their children have a bright future. On the other hand, by mindless consumption of our natural resources we are just pushing them towards a future without light!!
According to some reports (different reports put up different figures), we are likely to run out of oil by 2050 and natural gas a few decades later. 2050 or 2070 is not very far away –someone born now will be just 40 years old then! I am 22 years now and I hope to live till that age!! People of my age will start planning for their retirement maybe a decade later, so what are we doing to make this issue a part of our ‘retirement’ plan??
I attended a lecture by an eminent environmental economist, where she argued in favor of an extra tax on oil. This tax is what she terms as “user cost.” To put simply, the current price does not take into account the opportunity cost of not getting to use the oil in future. As it is a scarce resource, there should be some restriction on how much it is to be used. Hence, she advocates the concept of user cost.
The price of oil is not “market-based” but highly distorted due to the presence of a powerful cartel, OPEC, as we all know. On top of that, governments of respective countries (especially developing and underdeveloped) tend to subsidize the oil, to ensure the poor have access to it. Under such a situation, I have serious doubts if a user cost (tax) will be levied. But then again, as the economist pointed out, “if we don’t take these difficult decisions within the next few years, we might be too late!!”
The user cost concept is due to the scarcity of the non-renewable resources like fossil fuels. There is an additional concept of “carbon tax” that economists and environmentalists feel should be levied on fossil fuel as they pollute the environment –the opportunity cost of not getting to use clean air in future!! As Maria puts it, we have to think of a fresh and integrated approach to these multiple problems.