The Real Price of Oil

First, there are the heat and the drought and the fires. Our world urban-based — but agriculturally reliant — civilization has never seen anything like the last sixteen years. Syrian drought and the lower water levels on the Sea of Galilee were early warning signs. The dictator Assad knew nothing of water management and within a decade or so his displaced (and newly urban) farmers were in revolt against him. On the other hand, Israel now leads the world in advanced hydraulic conservation and remains an island of stability in a bone dry Middle East. Global warming is real and the consequences for humanity can lead to water wars both external and internal.

As water levels across the region sink, the prospects of sustainable economy sink with them. Saudi Arabia may have seen the light at the end of the tunnel. The new Saudi crown prince has decided on a future without unleashing vast amounts ancient carbon into the atmosphere. The Saudis are attempting to build a modern economy based on new and sustainable sources of energy and water. Solar is the key, and the Arabian desert could become a vast incubator for a world hydrogen-based economy powered by the sun. In this endeavor, Israeli technological advancements could become the Saudi’s central partner.

Latest advancements at the Technion in hydrogen-oxygen separation through dual-cell technology have revolutionized hydrogen transport. This is a tremendous breakthrough, because the ease of hydrogen movement is more than half the battle. Solar ocean water electrolysis leading to hydrogen can thereby be injected into fuel cells at any location in the world with the added by-product (besides electricity) of pure water. This could lead to a vast decentralization of energy production, rising rural incomes, and the water necessary for billions of 21st century very small land holders. Such a modern peasantry — with community stakes in both energy and small 3-d industrial production — would be a truly global revolutionary development. The essential character of such a civilization and economy would be Biblical instead of imperial, as our human history of scarcity would be transformed with the abundance of ocean based hydrogen.

In fact, this one Israeli advancement in hydrogen production and transport could lead to an exodus from our current carbon-based urban civilization toward a far more sustainable and decentralized rural-based solar one. Throughout history the drive toward urbanization has been an imperial and military project based on the genuine human fear of periodic famine. A hydrogen/rural future offers the world a sustainable alternative, whereupon war itself would become an atavistic remnant from a dying age of scarcity.

But vast new sources of fresh water, and new abundance in food and energy, must not translate into a society of enormous over indulgence and conspicuous consumption. On the contrary, it should instead be based on the Judaic Biblical values of an agrarian society meeting the needs of everyone. The elimination of global poverty would be the goal of a rural-based, hydrogen-driven Biblical economy. Wealth and class warfare have always been imperial concepts. Wealth is a form of hostility directed against one’s neighbors. The essence of the Biblical message is “to love thy neighbor”. Decentralized hydrogen provides us an opportunity to create a truly loving economy and thereby a loving world.

In other words, from a Jewish perspective, we could be living — if we choose to — in the Messianic Age. Science is miraculously leading the way. But ultimately it boils down to a moral question, because humanity must choose to live. It is now clear that our current urban economy, based on oil, is altering weather patterns dramatically and thereby placing our old industrial agricultural system in jeopardy. Humanity needs to change direction before it become too late. But to make such a positive choice — toward decentralization, clean hydrogen, and eliminating poverty — is not possible without immediate global geopolitical cooperation and goodwill. Unfortunately, these qualities are sorely lacking in our dying oil-based, imperial driven, urban civilization. In fact, Russian-American relations are far more dangerous now than they were during the Cold War. So too are US relations with the Chinese. But the clarity of our pending ecological doom makes conventional geopolitics essentially expendable.

In the Middle East, a regional war sparked initially by a local absence of water (Syria) has led to serious global consequences. The only thing that can save the vast Islamic culture of the Middle East (and beyond) from a social and political dystopia of intense heat and water shortage is a peaceful region engaged in sustainable economic and scientific development. Iran holds the key to the Middle East future. The Iranians can continue on the imperial path they now seek, or they can choose peace. Iran’s lakes and rivers are drying up. The people of Iran are loosing faith in the ayatollahs. I predict that without peace and sustainable water development, Iran will surely face ecological and economic catastrophe within the span of a decade.

Meanwhile the Arab-Israeli confrontation is over. The Sunni Arab states have chosen to live with Israel. Both Arabs and Jews would like nothing better than to provide security with sustenance to all the people of the region. In an era of genuine cooperation and goodwill, the spiritual essence of both Judaism and Islam will enable a truly G-d inspired material reality to emerge as a new form of future development. This neo-Biblical, hydrogen-based modern economy would allow the Middle East to become an oasis of millions of small farms and workshops of modern production. For once, all the people of the region have a chance to genuinely be able to bask in the peaceful morality of the Divine presence.

Since 1948, Israel has been willing to make peace with all its neighbors. However war, tyranny and the silent encroachment of ecological disaster have proven themselves to be the true enemies of the Muslim peoples of the region. Israel — from Biblical times — has always been inherent to the region. Now it is more than willing to help save the religious, moral and material essence of our mutual neighborhood. Peace, without subterfuge, not only remains possible; it is the only way forward. Iran must decide between war and permanent ecological disaster or peace and the greening of the deserts.

In our time, the real price of oil is its catastrophic impact on the human relationship to an agrarian civilization living and breathing within a finely-balanced ecological biosphere. Once the price of this biosphere becomes too hot for our civilization to handle, all hell will break loose for Creation. The alternative to oil and war is to turn the Middle East into a sea of peaceful oases. But we can not allow ourselves to hate and be discouraged. After all, G-d’s long-promised Messianic Age is now both morally and scientifically within sight.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).