Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Breaking the Addiction to Oil

Breaking the Addiction to Oil

While we were all bemoaning the damage done by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, China experienced a major oil spill. According to official figures, 470,000 gallons of oil were spilled. But private estimates set the amount of oil spilled from 40 to 80 times higher. Last week a pipeline ruptured and filled the Kalamazoo River in Michigan with 800,000 gallons of oil.

These continuing oil spills are only one reason for wanting to reduce the use of oil world wide, if not to eliminate it entirely. The use of petroleum is a major contributor to global warming. Well meaning folks therefore are all in favor of wind farms, solar panel installations, electric cars.

But all the solar panels and wind generators in the world will only have a limited effect on oil consumption.

Consider this:

How will we power our airplanes if we do not want to use jet fuel? Are you ready to get on an electric train and an electric (or perhaps atom powered) ocean liner to travel to China or India? Or will you limit your travels in the future? Can we hope for solar airplanes?

Petroleum products do not only power transportation, or factories, or our homes. Roughly one fifth of the world’s petroleum is used in a very wide range of consumer products. A few examples are:

In Industry: Solvents, Dyes, Epoxy, Paint, Yarn, Fertilizers.

In the home: Ink, Floor Wax, Ballpoint Pens, Upholstery, Sweaters,  Nail Polish, Dresses, Tires,  Perfumes, Cassettes, Dishwasher parts, Tool Boxes, Shoe Polish, Caulking, Petroleum Jelly, Transparent Tape, CD Player, Faucet Washers, Antiseptics, Clothesline, Curtains, Food Preservatives, Soap, Vitamin Capsules, Antihistamines, Purses, Shoes, Cortisone,  Deodorant,  Putty, Panty Hose, Refrigerant, Percolators,  Rubbing Alcohol, Linings, Shag Rugs, Electrician's Tape, Tool Racks, Car Battery Cases, Mops, Slacks, Insect Repellent, Umbrellas, Hair Coloring, Roofing, Toilet Seats,  Lipstick, Denture Adhesive, Linoleum, Speakers, Heart valves, Shaving Cream, Toothpaste.

In Sports  Football Cleats,  Boats, Insecticides, Bicycle Tires, Sports Car Bodies,   Fishing lures, Golf Bags, Motorcycle Helmet,  Basketballs, Dashboards, Life Jackets,  Skis, Fishing Rods, Surfboards.

This list is not meant to render us hopeless of ever freeing ourselves from dependence on oil. But it is important to think seriously about how much work is ahead of us to find substitutes for petroleum products.

Our recent experience has underscored that reducing the use of petroleum products is absolutely essential if we are going to preserve at least a portion of this planet. But that job is much more challenging than building windmills and installing solar panels. We need to find non-petroleum sources for a wide range of consumer products or, if that proves impossible, find different ways of living without those products.

Above all we need to be serious about oil independence.