How Addicted Are We?

Monday, April 24, 2006

How Addicted Are We?

As the price of oil skyrockets and the oil company executives continue to rake in huge wads of money, it might be a good time to think about just how addicted to oil we really are. Few people in this country seem to understand just how much we depend upon oil. We depend upon oil for more than the trip to the local store or work. We truly live in the age of oil. From the keyboard I'm typing on, to the food I just ate, just about everything I touch is dependent upon oil in some way.

What I've done is copy a small piece from the website Life After the Crash that should give you a much better idea of just how important oil really is. The coming crash–when supply can no longer meet demand–will require more sacrifice than the purchase of a hybrid vehicle. Ultimately it's going to require a radical shift in the way we live our lives. So please read on:

Because petrochemicals are key components to much more than just the gas in your car. As geologist Dale Allen Pfeiffer points out in his article entitled, "Eating Fossil Fuels," approximately 10 calories of fossil fuels are required to produce every 1 calorie of food eaten in the US.
The size of this ratio stems from the fact that every step of modern food production is fossil fuel and petrochemical powered:

1. Pesticides are made from oil;

2. Commercial fertilizers are made from ammonia, which is made from natural gas, which will peak about 10 years after oil peaks;

3. With the exception of a few experimental prototypes, all farming implements such as tractors and trailers are constructed and powered using oil;

4. Food storage systems such as refrigerators are manufactured in oil-powered plants, distributed across oil-powered transportation networks and usually run on electricity, which most often comes from natural gas or coal;

5. In the US, the average piece of food is transported almost 1,500 miles before it gets to your plate. In Canada, the average piece of food is transported 5,000 miles from where it is produced to where it is consumed.

In short, people gobble oil like two-legged SUVs.

It's not just transportation and agriculture that are entirely dependent on abundant, cheap oil. Modern medicine, water distribution, and national defense are each entirely powered by oil and petroleum derived chemicals.

In addition to transportation, food, water, and modern medicine, mass quantities of oil are required for all plastics, all computers and all high-tech devices.

Some specific examples may help illustrate the degree to which our technological base is dependent on fossil fuels:

1. The construction of an average car consumes the energy equivalent of approximately 20 barrels of oil , which equates to 840 gallons, of oil. Ultimately, the construction of a car will consume an amount of fossil fuels equivalent to twice the car’s final weight.

2. The production of one gram of microchips consumes 630 grams of fossil fuels. According to the American Chemical Society, the construction of single 32 megabyte DRAM chip requires 3.5 pounds of fossil fuels in addition to 70.5 pounds of water.

3. The construction of the average desktop computer consumes ten times its weight in fossil fuels.

4. The Environmental Literacy Council tells us that due to the "purity and sophistication of materials (needed for) a microchip, . . . the energy used in producing nine or ten computers is enough to produce an automobile."

When considering the role of oil in the production of modern technology, remember that most alternative systems of energy — including solar panels/solar-nanotechnology, windmills, hydrogen fuel cells, biodiesel production facilities, nuclear power plants, etc. — rely on sophisticated technology.

In fact, all electrical devices make use of silver, copper, and/or platinum, each of which is discovered, extracted, transported, and fashioned using oil-powered machinery. For instance, in his book, The Lean Years: Politics of Scarcity, author Richard J. Barnet writes:

To produce a ton of copper requires 112 million BTU's or the equivalent of 17.8 barrels of oil. The energy cost component of aluminum is twenty times higher.

Nuclear energy requires uranium, which is also discovered, extracted, and transported using oil-powered machinery.

Most of the feedstock (soybeans, corn) for biofuels such as biodiesel and ethanol are grown using the high-tech, oil-powered industrial methods of agriculture described above.

In short, the so called "alternatives" to oil are actually "derivatives" of oil. Without an abundant and reliable supply of oil, we have no way of scaling these alternatives to the degree necessary to power the modern world.


Published in: on April 19, 2006 at 10:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

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