Power grab

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 March, 2007, 12:00am

With dwindling supplies of fossil fuels like oil and coal, an energy crisis is looming.

Crude oil, the staple fuel driving transportation, food production and manufacturing industries, has long been regarded as 'black gold' for its huge economic value.

With many of the world's oilfields having reached their full capacity, governments around the world are scrambling to come up with alternative resources to keep their economies running.

With oil and gas distributed mostly in politically unstable regions like the Middle East, analysts have raised the prospect of rogue states using their energy resources for political gain.

Last year, Moscow halted supplies of natural gas to Ukraine over a price dispute. This caused temporary gas shortages in several European countries, including France and Germany, during a freezing winter. Accusing the Kremlin of 'blackmail', the United States and European nations expressed worries that Russia is using its energy resources to reassert its former glory.

China, the second-biggest oil consumer after the US, was accused of propping up corrupt African governments in exchange for their rich resources. With one eye on the continent's bountiful resources to drive its booming economy, China has provided no-strings-attached aid packages worth billions of dollars to African nations. The generous financial assistance was criticised by western countries. They said the mainland was undermining their efforts to root out endemic corruption and build up accountable governments in Africa.

Meanwhile, scientists and energy experts are racing against time to find alternative resources before the world's fossil fuel reserves run out.

Consuming more than 20 million barrels of oil every day, the US is in the vanguard of exploring renewable energy sources.

In January, US President George W. Bush announced increased subsidies for ethanol production. Ethanol, a bio-fuel derived from crops, is used as an alternative to gasoline.

Brazil is one of four countries which have developed ethanol fuel programmes. Having set aside 2.7 million hectares of land for sugarcane production, Brazil has reduced its dependence on foreign oil.

Other renewable energy sources like solar power, wind and hydroelectricity are also used by nations to offset the shortages resulting from fast-dwindling fossil fuels. While such alternative energy sources are much cleaner than coal and oil, there are hurdles to be overcome.

Production of ethanol aggravates the land shortage problem. Large wind turbines in coastal areas are an eyesore which can ruin the natural landscape. Solar panels are expensive and can only be used on days with a lot of sunshine.

With the development of renewable energy in its infancy, nations around the world still depend on fossil fuels to drive their development.

In the face of fast-diminishing supplies, the issue of energy security would continue to top government agendas in the future.

Think about

1. What would happen if fossil fuel reserves ran out before scientists could find a stable source of renewable energy? (tips: price fluctuations? wars?)

2. What can you do to save energy?

3. The US relies mainly on oil to drive its economy and coal provides 80 per cent of China's electricity. Which fossil fuel does Hong Kong mostly use to generate electricity? Conduct a research with your classmates on the city's energy needs.

Word Power

Choose the correct answers for the following questions based on the article.

1. Which of the following energy sources are mentioned in the passage?

i) Natural gas

ii) Oil

iii) Solar power

iv) Geothermal energy

a) i, ii and iii b) i, iii and iv c) all of the above

2. The energy crisis could lead to increased political instability. Why?

a) Countries with fossil fuels may want to take over the world

b) Most of the world's fossil fuels are found in politically unstable regions and rogue nations may use them to achieve political gain

c) Nations with inadequate energy supplies will wage war and topple the regimes of resource-rich states

3. Which countries were affected when Russia halted its supplies of natural gas?

i) Ukraine

ii) France

iii) Germany

a) i and ii b) ii and iii c) all of the above

4. Why was China criticised for its aid packages to Africa?

a) Because China lends lots of money to Africa and supports its development

b) Because China collaborates with African nations to suppress their people

c) Because China indirectly supports corrupt African governments by giving them no-strings-attached aid

5. What are the drawbacks of renewable energy?

i) High construction costs

ii) Large areas are needed to generate renewable energy

iii) Its supply is unstable as it is subject to weather changes

a) i and ii b) i and iii c) all of the above

Language Focus

The use of compound adjectives

A compound adjective is formed when two or more words are combined together by hyphens to modify a noun.

The following is an example from the passage.

China has provided no-strings-attached aid packages worth billions of dollars to African nations.

Fill in the blanks with the most appropriate compound adjectives.

broken-hearted, freckle-faced, high-heeled

1. _________ Janice said she'll never marry after her boyfriend dumped her.

2. Wearing __________ shoes for a long time is bad for your feet.

3. The _______ man stood out in the identification parade.


Word Power - 1. a 2. b 3. c 4. c 5. c; Language Focus - 1. Broken-hearted 2. high-heeled 3. freckle-faced