We must prepare for an upcoming non-oil era
Bahrain was once a rich market for the pearl trade. One morning, things changed as Japan discovered cheaper and more productive industrial alternatives. Bahrain’s main trade collapsed, fishing boats stopped and the Gulf lost one of its biggest financial resources. The same could happen with oil, as alternatives are being developed and governments are being encouraged to support electric cars and plan to end the era of gasoline and diesel cars.
Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, India and China have announced their intention to get rid of petroleum fuels for cars. Cars replaced older means of transportation such as horses and donkeys. Today history is repeating itself. This makes Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 an existential matter as it is based on finding alternative incomes to oil.
The new area will require rationalizing a huge portion of government spending, educating people on how to manage their savings, reforming education and employment, and empowering women. The later we leave it, the harder the task will be. Although gasoline and diesel cars still have two decades in their lifespan in a number of major world markets, oil revenues are suffering due to price fluctuations and alternatives.
This pressures planners to accelerate the search for solutions. The economy cannot survive with these very high rates of foreign employment and local unemployment, or with government support for various goods and services. This will make the task very difficult for the government and citizens over the coming years. We will see an end to servants and drivers, and difficulty in acquiring a paid or guaranteed government job.
Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, India and China have announced their intention to get rid of petroleum fuels for cars. This makes Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 an existential matter as it is based on finding alternative incomes to oil.
Planners need to think deeply how a country can distinguish itself by means of industry or service. Should it head toward religious tourism or expanding industrial oil products? Should the focus be on sciences from the early stages of education? Nobody doubts the need to rely less on oil, which makes Vision 2030 a responsible strategy before a historic change in the car industry that will be a major blow to the oil market.
We will witness a heated race between reducing reliance on oil resources and on its derivatives of car fuel. Ditching gasoline and diesel cars does not mean the end of the oil age, but it strikes at products and markets that are the source of our main income.
Despite that, oil will remain a source of life in other areas for a long time. It is fuel for aircraft and ships. It operates electricity generators and runs desalination plants. It is used in the heating sector, as asphalt, and is a key component in many industries from iron to shampoo and toothpaste.
Skeptics say the 20-year time limit for gasoline and diesel is unrealistic, oil will continue to be needed, and the proportion of electric cars in Britain is only 1 percent today. But the world has changed quickly and embraced modern techniques. This may be the case with electric cars, as its technology is progressing with amazing speed. Hence we must be optimistic that we can overcome this crisis.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.