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Fossil Fuel Depletion In Cuba Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 1603 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Fossil fuels are running out. As the world becomes more urbanised, the need for energy is growing. Fossil fuel depletion is an environmental issue which should be looked at seriously if the human population is to survive in a comfortable manner after relying on non-renewable resources for so long. Cuba is one small country (located south of Florida in the United States, and east of Mexico) which has set an example for the rest of the world, a model for keeping a nation running without access to fossil fuels.

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Cuba experienced a fossil fuel depletion crisis beginning in 1989, during what they called the “Special Period”. Prior to 1989, Cuba was mainly a farming economy (The Green Revolution); state owned farming plots produced vast amounts of sugar and citrus to be exported. Cuba traded sugar for oil with the Soviet Union. At the time, Cuba was oil-dependent; 98% of all its petroleum had been sent from the Soviet bloc and in 1988, Cuba re-exported 2 million tonnes of oil from the 13 million received (ISIS). Over the following two years, oil exports were halved and then completely cut out as less oil was received from the Soviet Union than was expected. By the end of 1991, less than half of the oil had been received (ISIS).

Furthermore, although very important to Cuba’s economy; oil was not the only trade material. A cut off in the food, raw materials, and machinery and spare parts that were coming in from the Soviet Union, caused food scarcity. Cars and other machinery where unable to continue on as viable modes of transport and as farming tools, leaving the remaining oil within the country to reach exorbitant prices as the predominantly farming-driven nation struggled to cope.

Following this, a mass food shortage forced Cuba’s consumption to decrease and Cubans lost almost 30 pounds (approximately 14 kilograms) in body mass during the “Special Period” (Post Carbon Institute). An intervention was required that would help the people to not only survive, but prosper in such dire conditions.

The Cuban people essentially had to learn to live off the land, and learn to respect their environment in order to get back on track. Living in a sustainable manner became a priority and the government introduced an agricultural revolution, environmental alternatives to the pre-oil-crash were implemented; using waste for fertilisers, generating renewable energy, biological pest management, these are a few of the ways that the Cubans began to climb back from their highly industrial way of living. Over a period of years, the people made the switch from a heavy reliance on petrochemicals, to environmentally friendly options which did not require the harvesting of fossil fuels to sustain their nation.

In a 2006 documentary titled ‘The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil’, the Cuban people have been shown as being positive about the turnaround. They now have a great understanding of the land and a respect for the environment. Communities are tight-knit, and there is an overwhelming emphasis on environmental awareness, and land protection and conservation.

Cuba addressed the problem of fossil fuel depletion in a number of ways, tackling the need for food, transport, and energy for a population of 11 million people. The initial change was to land use, with many unused blocks of land within the city to be turned into urban gardens for food production. Another initiative involved the innovation to create a change to organic farming using low energy agricultural techniques.

Preceding the depletion of fossil fuels, Cuba was dependent on petrochemicals to create pesticides, fertilisers and other chemicals used in the agriculture sectors for pest control. Research was undertaken to find an effective bio-solution that would be able to produce healthy crops, and cover soil regeneration. The resulting strategy created a scenario which subdivided monocultured (single type of plant grown in mass amounts) plots into smaller farming plot. These smaller plots had a variety of different crops, and were rotated and tilled according to the monitoring of farmers and scientists. This was an ideal way to produce food, as well as aiding in soil recovery.

Organic agriculture requires rich and well nourished soils, Cuba, however, did not have the time to wait three to ten years (Zytaruk) for soil to recover. As people drastically needed food, they required an immediate solution to their problem. Science played a role in developing biotechnological ways to remediate soil, and produce food without the use of chemical based fertilisers and pest control. Using ‘bio-pest’ management was one solution that Cuba’s scientists implemented in agriculture. Using the ecology of the region, bacteria and ants were used as a biological way of controlling pests that would otherwise attack crops.

Creating more liveable rural regions, through bringing electricity to those areas, fashioned a thriving rural population that used human labour and oxen rather than the tractors industrialised agriculture employs in other places in the world. More people moved to the rural areas in order to pursue a quiet farming life away from the business of the city.

Most recently, a shift to renewable energies has taken place. Preceding 2000, rural areas relied on electricity from solar photovoltaics, and traditional windmills to pump water for farmland irrigation. In 2002, the country was completely electrified with every person connected to either the city grids, or having solar photovoltaic connections.

Although the country had power, it was considered unreliable. 11 very old thermoelectric plants produced energy for the island, cutting out 40% of the time (REWI). Peak demand periods caused blackouts and bad transmission lines created further issues. Inefficient appliances and primitive ways of cooking were the means of survival for many families, and electricity was not being conserved. The Energy Revolution began in 2006 after Cuba made the decision to pay more attention to how energy was produced and consumed.

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From 2006 onward, Cuba truly revolutionised energy. Cuba created a plan in stages so to properly introduce a larger reliance on renewable energy. Initially, energy consumption was reduced by offering incentives that would help people to change their habits. Free energy efficient light bulbs were distributed to be swapped with incandescent ones, more efficient cooking appliances were sold, and high energy users were forced to pay more in order to encourage people to use less so they could get a cheaper rate. Gradually the people’s mindsets changed and they became more conservative in their energy usage.

Currently Cuba harvests more renewable energy than ever before. Wind power is starting to come online, as is a solar electric plant that will be connected to the grid. Hydro power is a big part of Cuba’s energy resources and many hydro stations have been installed to harness energy from rivers and streams. Some of these hydro stations are connected to the grid; however, a majority are established for rural purposes. Solar electric systems that are not part of the grid are being established in rural areas in higher numbers than before, and an effort is being made so that all rural areas have access to independent electricity generation. Biomass from sugarcane is burnt as fuel and is used to feed power back into the grid.

As the access to oil was not possible, Cuba became a nation that commuted via carpooling and used bicycles. Large buses that could carry many people at a time were a popular mode of transport. Soon cycling became a part of the culture of Cuba and was seen by the people as a way of life.

According to the Renewable Energy World International (REWI), Cuba’s Human Development Index (HDI) and their ecological footprint were assessed. HDI is a calculation that takes into consideration the life expectancy, education and literacy, and the per capita GDP of a country. Cuba is the only country in the world that is considered to be both sustainable (low demand on the biosphere) and to have high human development. These criteria were designed by the United Nations. An emphasis on education, health, and low energy consumption in Cuba has created a nation that prides itself on sustainable living.

Cuba is an example to the rest of the world for how to live in a sustainable manner, relying on renewable energies, and respecting the biosphere. By changing the mindset of people from constantly thinking about consuming, to a larger focus on conservation, it is possible that in the face of peak-oil crisis and fossil fuel depletion other countries will be able to follow Cuba’s model. The importance of using renewable energy and appropriate agriculture is displayed in the way the Cuban people thrive. Perhaps countries all over the world should begin to change their energy consuming ways, and place emphasis on renewable technologies rather than the non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels. Although the future without fossil fuels looks bleak, it can be managed, and people live on. Cuba has demonstrated that perfectly. However, before any of this is to begin a change in thinking is required, which really is the underlying reason of why Cuba has succeeded under such dire circumstances. It comes down to consumerism or conservation. Cuba has chosen to conserve, what will the rest of the world choose?


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