Addiction to oil
By Joseph Prows
April 23, 2006
Thank you, John Crisp, for your thoughtful letter about peak
oil and its implications for humanity. I agree, we are dependent
on oil for just about every aspect of our lives, not simply as
fuel for our automobiles and to heat our homes. Oil is used either
directly or indirectly at virtually every stage of every type
of production and manufacturing of virtually anything you can
think of. Looking around my room right now: the paint on my walls
is almost completely petrochemical based. The keyboard I am typing
on is plastic, which comes from oil. The metal in my computer
was mined using huge, oil-powered equipment, and huge amounts
of energy went into smelting it into usable metal. My backpack
is nylon, which comes from oil. The carpet is made out of God-knows-what,
but it's mostly oil. The cotton in my clothes was grown in huge
fields that rely on huge inputs of fertilizers and pesticides
(which are largely made of oil), and the fields were planted
and managed by huge pieces of farm equipment that all run on
diesel. Also, because petroleum makes transportation so cheap,
it was economical to ship this cotton to a variety of poor countries
thousands of miles away, where people were paid very little to
turn that cotton into clothes, at which point petroleum provided
the energy to ship it thousands of miles to a distribution center,
which then shipped it thousands of miles to my local store. Petroleum
is the most useful stuff you could possibly imagine, and the
global population has been able to grow to almost 7 billion people
as a result... but we are running out of oil much more quickly
than most of us realize, and there aren't any good replacements.
Until the day comes when we can use nuclear power provide the
energy to specially engineered microbes and enzymes that are
able to pull carbon dioxide out of the air and use it to assemble
chains of reduced hydrocarbons (oil), the price of oil is going
to increase linearly, exponentially, or geometrically. I am a
biochemist, and believe me when I say that this sort of technology
is many, many decades away. Too many. This worries me a lot.
There has been a lot of hype lately about "biofuels"
- you know, people running their cars off of biodiesel, ethanol,
or even waste vegetable oil. Even President Bush mentioned biofuels
in his campaign speech. But it's a ridiculous fantasy to believe
that biofuels could ever replace petroleum; at most, they could
provide a teensy tiny fraction of the amount of petroleum we
use. Currently, if every drop of vegetable oil that we produced
in this country were turned into biofuel (this would mean no
more french fries), this biofuel could supply a measly 1/360
of our current demand for petroleum. Furthermore, all that vegetable
oil that we produce is only possible because of the massive inputs
of petroleum (as pesticides and fertilizers) inherent in modern
industrial agriculture, not to mention the resultant loss of
topsoil and the depletion of aquifers. We probably spend around
two gallons of petroleum to produce one gallon of vegetable oil.
No discussion of the magnitude of a problem is complete without
some suggested solutions. The end of oil could be very, very
bad - as in, billions of people worldwide dying of starvation,
exposure, and resource wars. Personally, I don't want to die
of starvation, or of any of these things. I want to live in a
cozy home that passively heats and cools itself without ANY need
for electricity, oil, or even a fireplace. I want to grow all
of the food that I need to eat inside my home and in my yard.
I want my home to capture its own drinking water and all of my
waste back into food. The technology to do these things (EVEN
IN ALASKA) is actually incredibly simple. You can build a house
like I just described (in my opinion, they're the most beautiful
homes in the world) using little besides dirt, glass, and (!)
old tires. Interested? Order a copy of the book "Earthships"
by Michael Reynolds (check out http://www.earthship.org/), and
if you want to grow huge amounts of tasty food (y!
es, it's possible in Alaska - especially if you have an earthship
with a nice, warm indoor garden), look at the techniques described
in the book "How to Grow More Vegetables" by Jon Jeavons
(available at the Ketchikan Public Library!). Earthships are
usually built for about $40 per square foot, and they're great
for the economy because they put a lot of people to work without
hardly having to spend any money on materials.
Let's not be in denial about how bad the end of oil could be!
It's time to demand intelligently designed homes from our architects.
ARCHITECTS: GET SMART! PEOPLE: DEMAND SMART ARCHITECTS! Homes
should be habitats that provide their inhabitants with everything
needed for comfortable survival. Homes should be durable, should
look after themselves, and should treat their own waste. Homes
should produce their own food. Homes should be inexpensive to
build, and they should be built out of locally abundant materials.
Let's start taking REAL steps to protect ourselves and future
generations from the terrifying fallout of our addiction to oil.
Houston, TX - USA
About: Joseph Prows used to live in Ketchikan. He moved to New
Orleans last July to go to medical school at Tulane University
School of Medicine; because of Hurricane Katrina his school has
moved to Houston for the year.
fate worse than global warming? By John M. Crisp - Corpus
cooking in place of gasoline by Dick Kauffman - Something's
cooking in place of gasoline for Joseph Prows' Chevy greese car!
Prows is just one of a small growing network of drivers who are
responding to environmental concerns, rising gas prices and dependence
on foreign oil by finding ways to steer clear of gas pumps. -
SitNews - July 11, 2005
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