Oil Dependence and Cuba

Erasmo Calzadilla

Oil platform. photo: wikipedia.org

There is an anxiousness that I haven’t been able to shake and which is in fact changing my life.  It hit me after reading about the Hubbert Theory of Peak Oil and becoming aware how little oil is left on the planet.  It is striking how dependent we are on this fossil fuel whose extraction will soon cease satisfying our collective demands.

If we don’t take urgent measures, when this occurs the world will sink into chaos not much different from the Apocalypse.  Friends that I’ve talked to concerning this matter, even very well educated people, believe that this will take hundreds of years or that a new technology will emerge to immediately replace oil.  Almost no one suspects what is fast approaching, while the oil industries and automobile manufacturers prefer it this way.

Almost all objects with which we coexist are developed based on petroleum, and our culture itself is shaped by the idea that its exploitation will permanently increase.  In the century or so that we’ve been burning oil, we’ve forgotten and destroyed traditions and customs that we’ll have to rescue or re-invent when it runs out.

In Cuba

Some progressive researchers warn of the possibility of a catastrophe, but it’s curious to see how those same people miss the boat when dealing with the issue in Cuba.

Many of them point to this country as an example of what could be done when the crisis hits, since something similar occurred here with the fall of the socialist camp, and we were able to survive to tell our story.

It’s true; we had to go back to draft animals, traditional green medicine and urban agriculture; but, as soon as the Venezuelan tankers appeared in the port we returned to being as oil-dependent and oil-centric as any nation on earth.

To tell the truth, we have indeed implemented a mass campaign to conserve energy, but I don’t believe that there exists a deep change in our policies or mentality in this same sense.

The problem is that the oil-centric energy paradigm is the pillar of the political paradigm of the centralized State, which has not given an inch.  Most urban neighborhoods will succumb or have to painfully readapt themselves when the electricity and water pumped with the black gold becomes scarce.

The positive

But, if what they predict ends up coming to pass, it won’t be all bad.

Should we survive the fuel war and the accompanying chaos, perhaps we’ll be able to enjoy greater local autonomy and reduce our environmental pollution.

The rhythm of life will unfold more leisurely and harmonize with our biology.  Maybe there will be more opportunities for human relations and all the good that can be derived from that.

I believe that the oil shock will mean the undoing of capitalism, which depends so much on production perpetually increasing.  However I worry about the survival of “State socialism” and other forms of authoritarianism; history has demonstrated that such systems are not necessarily dependent on petroleum.

Among my family and friends, all these concerns have transformed me into an advocate of a daily practice that minimizes the use of fossil fuels.  These days I’m getting used to sleeping without a fan, and it’s pleasant to again hear the sounds of the night.

Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

Erasmo Calzadilla has 408 posts and counting. See all posts by Erasmo Calzadilla

10 thoughts on “Oil Dependence and Cuba

  • Hubert G: Sorry about not getting back to you sooner. You ask about fusion and a society based on cooperatives (that is, a socialist cooperative republic). Well, it’s fairly simple. Fusion generating stations would be funded and installed by socialist government, and industry, commerce and society would go over to use of this energy source in a relatively short time.

    There’s a big problem however in that it will take an entire generation, perhaps 25 years, to perfect and begin installation of these power stations. We don’t have a generation’s worth of time to spare for saving the world environment, and so fusion nuclear power is an ideal solution that can’t save us in time. The only real answer is near-term massive investments in direct solar, geothermal, wave, etc. power generation.

    But monopoly capitalism will not let that happen, and so the future looks bleak. The only thing that might save civilization is a massive world change by about 2020 to a network of socialist cooperative republics. But Marxism is standing in the way of that, and so there’s little hope.

    In my own country (US) we are trying to form a Cooperative Republic Movement, but its tough going. If only the Marxists could wake up and realize what real, workable socialism is, there would be hope. But they’ve got their heads in a place where the solar doesn’t shine and can’t see a thing.

    All I can say is that we are trying as best we can. Cheers.

  • Why the focus on oil? Why the dream of nuclear energy by Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez? Under Lenin the slogan was, electrification plus soviet power equals communism. There was never any serious plan to do anything different from private capitalism in terms of less than ecological ways of production and generating electricity, except to be even more megalomaniac.

    Some of you experts might prove me wrong, but I think the greatest failure of the Cuba revolution has been, never ever to have endeavoured self-sufficiency in energy production.

  • Take one point, with the decline in sugar production, the result was that at least half of Cuba’s arable land lay idle. Fidel Castro’s criticism that bio fuels push aside food production does not hold in Cuba itself, as the alternative in Cuba to bio fuel production was to do nothing and waste time and energy.

    With the appearance of Hugo Chavez Cuba went back to its old lazy ways of thinking about energy and once again became dependent on something beyond its own control.

  • (Chavez also completely fails to comprehend that not diversifying enough from oil will damage his own country, let alone the contribution he makes to fueling climate change while sitting on a high horse criticising those who buy and burn his products. His plans to fund an oil refinery on a pristine island like Dominica speaks for his ecological illiteracy.)

    just one question, how would the fusion nuclear power project fit in within a society based on cooperatives?

  • Greg Greene: I have your DVD and it’s really good. Good job.

    Nonetheless, I still believe the whole obsession with peak-oil plays into the interests of big oil. What is needed in the world is not individuals being depressed by and preoccupied with peak oil. What is needed is a world network of socialist cooperative republics to take hold of the situation and change it before it’s too late.

  • Alberto: Well, you are 100% correct again! The sun is a daily source of unlimited electrical power. And the technologies exist to make use of this resource. It is maddening that the Cuban government and leading party does not make solar and other non-polluting energy sources priority one.

    You know, it’s ironic that both petroleum and coal are in fact forms of solar power! They are the result of tens of millions of years of plants and animals living, absorbing solar energy, then dying and depositing this energy in massive deposits. But relying on these ancient solar deposits is ecological suicide. Why burn the results of millions of years of sunshine when fresh sunshine falls all over the earth every day, and harvesting it would not harm the environment or any living species?

    Oh, if only you and people like you were in charge in Cuba! Something truly is wrong with the current picture. Cheers.

  • This is a great article – Thank you Erasmo. Here in Canada we did a documentary about peak oil called The END of SUBURBIA, with a Spanish language version – El FIN Del SUENO AMERICANO. Also check out the documentary I shot about Cuba back in 2004 called The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. “Cheers” from Toronto and feel free to contact me at [email protected]

    -Greg Greene, Toronto

  • Without disagreeing with previous comments and limiting my thoughts to Cuba, what I find apalling, is that after that country’s experience with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which led to 10-12 hours black-outs every day, it continues to depend on the arrival of super tankers loaded with oil, while it have partially ignored our greatest source of endless energy, the sun,

    With its imperfection and limitation, I would have hoped to see my country focus like a laser on alternative energy sources, rather than promoting underwater drilling, precisely in the vicinity of Cuba’s most pristine beaches. The tragic events with BP in the gulf, should have sent a chilling warning to every Cuban, who have seen the massive environmental disaster this huge oil leak have caused and are yet to be determined.

    Notwithstanding BP and the US enormous technological resources, it took them months to cap this leak, which we can only hope will hold. Imagine for a moment such a scenario in impoverished Cuba?

    Although the use of solar energy is still in its infancy, hundreds of thousands of homes around the world are generating hot wate/electricity from this un-exhaustible resource. A few institutions in Cuba, whose prime objective is to educated the population and introduce this novel technology, have little or no resources to do its job and obviously, there is a poor national understanding of the severity and urgency of this problem, some of which have been substituted by political sound bites of a few solar panels on rural school roofs, computer clubs, medical centers or worst, by shutting off the electricity for a couple of hours, with all its negative consequences on production and electronic equipment.

    While solar energy technolgy advances, Cuba could set itself a goal of installing 1/4 million of these panels on every roof in the country and create solar farms, which could reduce present energy demand by 25% or more. Create an Environmental University/Research and production center of all related renewable energy products i.e. upgraded solar panels, hotwater tanks, solar electric fans, refrigerators and freezers, LED lighting, high capacity batteries, electric cart/cars and more.

    The goal of placing hundreds of thousands of panels on roofs in Cuba, is far easier than most have come to believe. By implementing these savings, it would not only preserve the environment, it would make the search for fuel in risky conditions less likely.

    I know, it will always be much easier for leaders in the Financial, Energy and others in most governments to out-match with their authority and resources, those promoting Environmental protection, Health and Safety or research, in fields where it immediate impact is hard to measure.

    Cuba have led in education, health, sports and other fields for itself and our neighbors. If we decided to follow this route, we would have a more powerful voice when speaking out against climate change and other irreversible environmental disasters.

  • Erasmo: I share your concern for the planet and humanity, but you are misinformed with regard to so-called “peak oil.” It’s true that much of the more easily extracted and easily processed oil in the earth’s crust is diminishing rapidly, but this is not the whole story.

    There are trillions of barrels of oil in places like the western United States (shale deposits) and Canada (Alberta tar sands). These deposits not only can last for several hundred years, but their extraction, processing and burning will continue and accelerate destruction of the world environment. This potential environmental damage is what peak-oil disinformation theories are designed to mask.

    Peak-oil theory is one more ploy by the oil magnates to scramble the brains of good people like you, make you so depressed that you do not do anything productive to shift society toward renewable energy resources, and keep the monster of petro-industrialism spitting out giant SUVs and coal generating stations.

    Six entities–US, EU, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan–have joined together to unlock the secrets of fusion nuclear power for electricity generation. At Cadarache, France a super-collider is being constructed. If successful the world should have unlimited, non-polluting energy power generation. But this would not come on line for perhaps a quarter century, much too late to head off the irreversible effects of global warming, etc.

    You are mystified as to why Fidel and the PCC are so locked into petroleum as a source of energy. Frankly, so am I. Civilization truly is on the brink due to fossil fuels burning, and socialist Cuba ought to be first in line to convert to solar and etc. I’ve heard a lot of lip service, but as you say, it’s still oil, oil, oil.

    Anyway, Erasmo, good article. Thanks.


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