The gas-guzzling limousine is alive and well in the Persian Gulf sheikdoms.
Distanced from the conservation calls of the West, the youth of Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Qatar drive aimlessly in search of nonexistent entertainment. The automobile generation has transferred itself from the America of the 1960s to the gulf in the 1980s.
The transfer may be short-lived. One of the less publicized achievements of a generally abortive OPEC conference in Caracas last December was an agreement "that it is necessary for all member countries to adopt internal energy policies that take into account the ever-increasing scarcity of our exhaustible oil resources."
In particular, it urges all the member countries to adopt an internal pricing structure for their oil products that will foster conservation and will favor the rationalization of domestic consumption of energy.
This sounds suspiciously like the conservation rhetoric of Europe and the recently converted United States -- high prices encourage energy-savings by the consumer. But the message has never before been aimed at the OPEC citizen.
The need for OPEC to restrain its own consumption is still a concept for the academics. If more than half of all Americans refuse to accept the urgency of President Carter's energy program, the the proportion must surely be larger in the city states of the Gulf where development plans simply cannot absorb the revenue flowing in from every oil price increase.
But this does not invalidate the academics's concept. At the start of the year the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries calculated that the price of gasoline per liter in five major Arab producing countries was a mere six cents. The price in Britain -- a country which recently overtook Kuwait as an oil producer -- was 57 cents a liter and a European average was 64 cents, or more than 10 time the Arab average.
The OAPEC analysis continued: "If products consumption in OAPEC countries continues at the same high rates of increase, over 50 percent of the production expected in the year 2000 will be consumed locally."
This would obviously be unacceptable. The whole theory of OPEC development is that oil provides the revenue to diversify into the real wealth of a self-regenerating economy. The more oil is consumed domestically, the less there is to export -- and that means reduced revenue and therefore a reduced ability to diversify.
It is tempting to overemphasize the impact of the Gulf's gas-guzzlers but in fact the extrapolation from current figures is somewhat far-fetched. The limit is quite simply one of population: even if every man, woman and child in the United Arab Emirates -- an official total of some 850,000 -- drove a Lincoln Continental, total consumption of gasoline would still be lower than in a populous, Datsun-dominated Britain.
However, the basic trends are there. Over the next two decades Exxon estimates that world energy needs will rise by two-thirds, from 100 million barrels a day of oil equivalent to some 160 million. At the same time the share of conventional oil to meet these needs will decline from 54 percent in 1978 to 37 percent.