Editor’s Note: This issue of Montreal Serai — “Old Age and Youth in a Changing World” — has featured two pieces of writing by young people, Savannah Stewart’s story “Alzheimer’s” and Meghri Doumanian’s essay “War is a Wrong Kind of Culture.” Adam Black’s reflection below — “Giving a Meaning to Business” — represents another young voice affected by events in the 21st century, in this case a business student influenced by the research of the famous writer/activist Michael Klare.
As a student, I entered a Commerce programme at Montreal’s Dawson College with the intention of going into business and making money. Prior to reading Michael T. Klare’s “Resource Competition in the 21st Century,” an argument first developed in the 2001 book Resource Wars: The new landscape of global conflict (New York: Metropolitan Books), I never really cared exactly what I was going to do within the business world. I am resourceful and have many ideas, and I thought that as long as I would be making a lot of money, it didn’t really matter what I did. But Klare’s article changed my philosophy and outlook on my future career and possibilities. A professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, Klare also serves on the board of directors of Human Rights Watch and the Arms Control Association. In his article, he argues that “resource competition has assumed a more pivotal role in armed conflict than has ever been the case in the past” and that one of the keys to peace in the 21st century lies in sustainable technological innovations that “can go a long way toward reducing the threat of conflict over scare resources by providing alternative materials and less resource depleting industrial processes.” I had no previous knowledge of the facts he presents and was unaware that resource competition will play such a critical role in world relations.
Klare’s article (available in PDF form on the internet), in combination with hearing countless times that my generation must change the world, has made me realize that I need to focus my career on improving the way we use the earth’s resources.
Klare’s writing got me thinking about how reliant our economy is on natural, non-renewable resources, specifically: oil. He insists that “we humans have already consumed about half of the earth’s conventional petroleum – approximately 1.2 trillion barrels out of the 2.4 trillion barrels” and that “automobile ownership in China will jump from 63 million in 2009 to 210 million in 2020 and an astonishing 770 million by 2040.” And that’s just China’s growth, of course. If these facts hold true, and I have no doubt that Klare has done his research, then oil usage is also increasing at a tremendous speed, as there are many other developing countries with substantial growth rates. These two facts floored me, because I tried to envision what our world would be like if we suddenly ran out of oil, and I simply couldn’t imagine how bleak that picture would be.
Undeniably, an obvious solution to reducing oil usage is the manufacturing of electric cars, because today’s cars, along with other motorized engines, are the primary consumers of oil. The electric car market is new, but it has thrilling growth potential, as it will be the future of transportation. There are currently companies that produce electric vehicles, but there are few because the market is not quite ripe yet. Electric cars require home chargers, for instance, and many don’t own a garage or a parking spot in proximity to an electric outlet, which is essential to owning an electric vehicle. As well, there must be a sufficient number of charging stations around the nation, just like gas stations, so that people can fuel up when they are low on energy. In this respect, Tesla Motors is an industry leader and provides these services, but the company must beef up its supply in order to sustain a growing market.
Yet another issue with electric cars is their affordability. At present, the more affordable ones are not desirable to consumers. The Toyota Prius and other competitors are unattractive; by comparison, the Tesla is a sleek and stylish car, but its price point is that of a luxury automobile. Car companies have yet to combine design and affordability in order to attract consumers.
An added way of reducing oil usage consists in homes that are powered by batteries, a technology that is only in the R&D phase, but that has extreme potential. These batteries would be charged by renewable resources like hydroelectric dams and solar panels, in lieu of oil.
From a more political angle, I was also inspired by what Klare has to say about water in North Africa and the Middle East. Fresh water, he says, ” is already in short supply,” and population growth rates in these regions “are among the highest in the world.” It is no secret that we have a very vast amount of water on the planet; however, the majority of it is seawater that is not drinkable, and the existing fresh water supply could very well be seized strategically by current or future groups for political gains. Any advancement in water filtration and desalination could make access to drinking ocean water a reality in these places, and therefore technically provide a far greater supply. More importantly, such ventures would secure guaranteed access to safe, clean water, which in turn could also help the millions of people who die every year due to illnesses that could be prevented by hydration and proper hygiene.
As I am about to enter university, I must begin to think about the career path I wish to take. Klare’s dedication to the problem of competing resources in the 21st century has inspired me to think futuristically and has opened new doors of interest. There are countless opportunities in developing products to better mankind. I’m not trying to save the world or win a Nobel Prize, but I think that working in any way to improve conditions on earth for other human beings would make for a legitimate, an extremely satisfying, and a profitable career. As a future businessman, I can plainly see that the resource-competition market has huge potential, but if this market also manages to help improve the ways in which humanity lives, to me, it represents a double win, and it prepares me to more willingly accept the challenge tasked to my generation and be a part of those who are involved.