An Economical Overview on Green Technology with Specific Comparisons to Oil and Gas.
by Arveent Srirangan Kathirtchelvan
Petroleum is not running out for at least another 50 years. Pharmaceuticals are more and more in need due to the multitude of bacteria now resistant to previous antibiotics. Manufacturing and infrastructure building will always have a market as issues regarding them like an increase in the need for living space, traffic jams and demand for machinery to cater to the needs of an ever-growing population will only keep increasing (barring any extraordinary circumstance). Traditional industry is still strong, so why would any professional, from fresh graduates to more the more experienced, take the higher risk of committing to a relatively newly-minted one such as Green Technology, based purely on economics?
One reason is oversaturation. Safety is much more enticing than we think. A very high percentage of individuals will be more willing to commit to traditional industries. The result of which will be lower needs for professionals in these fields, leading to lower salaries and a reduction in the quality of life for those who are hired. Green technology offers a whole new cornucopia of possibilities. Sure, its revenue would not be as high as that from traditional (more well-constructed) industries (though those revenues might not even trickle-down to hired professionals in the first place due to the aforementioned oversaturation). It might also take a while to get the organization sorted, with administrative work and start-up costs dominating as most green technology companies are still small. But what is left is freedom to build an industry. There are so many niches in green technology, from waste management to energy production to retrofitting process plant equipment, that professionals of a variety of fields can work on, very much unbounded by the drawbacks of traditional industries and large companies entrenched with bureaucracy and office politics.
Another reason is these innovations are not isolated from the world around them. Traditional industries, especially oil and gas, come with the added baggage of the negative effects they bestow upon the world. With an increase in demand for petroleum (and lessening of resources) there comes an incentive to increase prices of petroleum products. This affects the pricing of everything across the board, from vegetables that need to be transported with internal combustion engine powered trucks to nylon clothing. Bus tickets, taxi fares, food prices in restaurants all rise leading to greater hardship, especially for the poorer class of society. A deviation of professionals to green technology producing bio-fuels and bio-based rival products to petroleum-based products will break the monopoly of petroleum in this field. This will decrease the price of petroleum, which then, seemingly, will lessen society’s burden.
However, we can see that this decrease will have a profound impact on the economies of countries dependant on petroleum, which is counterproductive when considering the intention of lowering the economic burden imposed by the dependency on oil and gas. Moreover, the lower price of petroleum will lead to an increase in its appeal to companies utilizing it to make their products. This will lower the demand for greener alternatives, making involvement in them economically non-viable. It seems like our addiction to fossil fuels is economically self-sustaining. Does this diminish the need for green technology?
The short answer is no. Our dependency on fossil fuels is an economical nightmare. Fluctuations in oil prices reverberate through every single nation in the world, and with It being unsustainable, there will come a time whereby oil prices will skyrocket and impose huge burdens on normal people. What petroleum-alternative green technology does is provide a viable alternative that acts as a counterweight to the fluctuations in oil prices. Taking the previous thought-process further logically, once a steady-state is reached, the price of oil would never be as high as it was before, nor would it evolve to a higher one than it would have due to the petroleum-alternatives becoming more attractive, naturally lowering the need for petroleum.
We should remember that petroleum is finite whereas petroleum-alternative green
technology is self-sustaining. An example would be bio-fuels from kelp oil. Kelp can be constantly grown whereas fossil fuels take millions of years to form. This means, over time, petroleum-
alternative industries will only grow, albeit occasional set-backs from the lowering of oil prices, as mentioned before (but this only affects the rate of their growth, not the direction). This stabilisation of the market is what I would like to call economic altruism, whereby the effects of economics are taken into consideration and is not limited to what a project can derive from the market in its lifetime, rather how that market can be optimised to cater better to future projects, companies, ventures and society.
Moving on, green technology creates jobs. At first, this does not seem to be the case, as rivalling petroleum companies robs them of the power to employ as many people as they would have. This can increase unemployment, with green technology companies unable to absorb all of these workers when they are still in their infancy. Given time, though, the variety of jobs that can be created is monumental. Think about the kelp oil example earlier. Who will grow the kelp? Who will process it? Who will run the process plants that will turn the kelp into market-ready products? Who will handle marketing, or distribution, or picking up phone calls at the reception?
We should not forget how fast companies can grow these days. With the proper usage of the internet, modelling software and apps designed to facilitate company structuring, companies can grow extremely quickly as compared to 10 years ago, for example. This is also an effect the world and its growth has on engineering. With this growth, it will not be that much time before the employment issue is resolved. Moreover, many traditional-industry companies are starting to diversify into green alternatives anyway (due to governmental regulation), opening avenues for direct employment of individuals or collaborations with green technology companies, further accelerating the latter’s growth.
All of this, coupled with the commitment of many nations to green alternatives through incentivising them monetarily, makes a very strong case for green technology’s economic viability. However, a huge stumbling-block in the way of green technology growth is the effects of them in the first place. Green technology needs to be diverse from the get-go (or, at least, very quickly). What I mean by this is, going back to the example, if we get bio-based oils to burn, they burn just the same (or very similarly to) petroleum. Carbon dioxide is still formed and global warming still occurs. This is true for other waste products as well. This can be circumvented by recycling these wastes, for example, thereby lowering emissions and pollution.
This is the type of rigorous thinking necessary to make green technology companies worthy of their title. There is a need to think about sustainable sourcing, where the electricity used comes from, where the waste materials go, how efficient the process operates, how the products would be used, what are the potentials for waste reduction there etc. Most of these are derived from a sense of responsibility in production, and there is a philosophical query there whether there is a need for this in the first place. It is self-evident that if one has the gall to call oneself a green company, one has accepted the responsibility of shouldering as many of the green aspects of oneself as possible. Wherever this is not possible, alternatives should be suggested and more downstream refining of wastes, for example, should be brought up to the attention of the public and other prospective green companies, aiding in not only promoting green technology refining, rather also instilling awareness of the public about the intricacies of green technology, transparency in running a company based on such a populist and altruistic ideology and instilling accountability in one’s organization.