So What Does Peak Oil Have to Do With Me?
To truly grasp how much petroleum impacts our lives, let’s put John D. in his driveway, dressed for work and standing next to his dear Porsche 911 Turbo.
John is wearing a nice suit and tie. Unfortunately, the suit is wool and polyester, the buttons are plastic as well as the zipper in the pants. Remove 25% of the material from his suit, all elastic and plastic stays, the buttons and the zipper. Why? Polyester, dacron, rayon, orlon – these are all petroleum based, man made fibers. All plastic is petroleum based, as is elastic. Better get rid of the waistband on his under shorts too while we are at it. Abruptly, our friend John is rather chilly, as what is left of his suit, pants, shirt and under shorts have fallen around his ankles.
John wears glasses with polycarbonate lenses when he reads, and plastic contacts when he is doing anything active. These also require petroleum for manufacture, and will have to be replaced with real glasses made from glass. Oops – the frames are unbreakable plastic – those will need to go as well. While we are subtracting, let’s toss out his credit cards (plastic), the heels from his shoes (polyethylene-based rubber), and his all-weather watchband (faux-leather that is actually plastic). And we better get rid of that driver’s license too – the lamination is made from petroleum, as is the ink. And let’s not forget the ink that his money is printed with – yes, the ink which most currency is printed with is also a petroleum based product. As John stands with what used to be a suit around his ankles, the only thing he has left that hasn’t disappeared or fallen to the ground is his cotton undershirt, and he is completely broke.
Embarrassed, John spins his nakedness around and reaches for the door of his car…..and now we can do an even more rapid deconstruction. Empty the gas tank of gas, remove all the oil from the crankcase of the engine, remove all the transmission fluid, dump the heavy weight gear oil from the differential, and bleed all the fluid from the brake system. Each of these fluids and lubricants is derived 100% from oil.
Oh! Let’s not forget to remove every smidgeon of grease from every wheel bearing, every U-joint and any other petroleum lubricant from the vehicle. Now we can move forward a bit more, and peel the paint off. Automotive paint uses petroleum (tolulene, xylene, etc.) as base material. We can remove the tires, the rubber bushings from underneath every piece of the car, the steering wheel cover, the dash cover, the seat covers, the carpet, the seat padding and any foam insulation, the dashboard and all the A/C vents, and each and every rubber gasket. The jute-based carpet padding can remain – it is all natural. The safety glass (remember that layer of plastic in safety glass?), the seat padding, all the undercoating, all the CD’s, and the radio can go too. But the radio too, you might ask?
Every single wire in every single electronic device relies on petroleum-based coating as insulation around the wiring. Remove this insulation, and all you have is a mass of silicon and copper wires shorting out in a pile……so not only the radio, but every single wire in the car is coated by a petroleum product!We are left with a pile of iron and copper, resting on a bed of jute padding. But if we just think a little more, we can reduce these as well. How is steel made? Iron ore is mined in Australia or other countries using massive vehicles BUILT and FUELED by petroleum products. The raw iron ore is then shipped by trains or trucks (BUILT and FUELED by petroleum products) to a ship (BUILT and FUELED by petroleum), which transports them to another country to be made into steel.
Once it arrives, the ore is unloaded by a bulk belt conveyer (BUILT and FUELED by petroleum), shipped from the dock to the ore processing mill by trucks (BUILT and FUELED by petroleum) where it is placed into a very hot furnace (which is fired by natural gas, a petroleum product) and smelted into pig iron. This pig iron is then shipped again by train or truck (BUILT and FUELED by petroleum) to a steel plant. Here, it is again melted in a special electric furnace, (electricity, generated by clean natural gas, a petroleum product) and made into various steel products which are then shipped to various destinations (using petroleum as FUEL).If we truly want to account for the petroleum factor, steel cannot be made the way it is today. Aluminum is even more energy intensive, and that leaves us with a wad of copper wire sitting in the driveway, resting on our jute ‘rug’. John, now completely discombobulated, runs for the door of his home.
Unfortunately, the steel hinges and doorknobs are missing. When he touches the door it falls inward; his carpeting has disappeared, and the house is really hot and dark. It seems air conditioners are made from aluminum and steel, as are most appliances. Johns’ local Power Company uses clean, non-polluting natural gas to generate their electricity, so let’s kill all the power to the house. He is relieved to see his toilet still sitting there, but everything electronic and electrical has become a tangled mass of copper wires and circuit boards.Water is spraying out of the ground, because John’s house was plumbed with POLY VINYL CHLORIDE (PVC) pipe, which is a 100% petroleum product. His furniture has turned into skeleton-like wooden frames, as the materials and padding used to make couches and chairs are long lasting, man-made fibers derived from petroleum. Rancid goop is oozing out of every cabinet in the kitchen, and everything that was in his refrigerator is slumped into a pile only a garbologist could be proud of. It seems that 90% of the packaging materials we use today are made from (you guessed it) petroleum.
His fresh vegetables and many of his canned goods are gone. John suddenly remembers reading an article about fertilizer and pesticide shortages. It seems these are also made almost exclusively from petroleum, and without them, modern mass-farming techniques are not viable. Crop yields are down, and the cost of trucking lettuce from California and Washington to other places is just too high.
And if you think this hurts, imagine everything you ever bought from a department store vanishing – because they were ALL IMPORTED from cheap-labor “elsewheres” using petroleum as fuel. Forget all plastic – it is 100% petroleum.
Toss out computers and electronics as we know them today – we don’t have the insulating materials to build them without petroleum. We don’t have the massive electrical capacity to build anything really high tech – the cost of oil or natural gas to fuel the power grid has become too high.
Space travel? Forget it – the hydrogen used to power the shuttle is derived from petroleum, and it will not fly without the electronics and guidance system. And all the aluminum and titanium and other special alloys each require extremely energy intensive manufacturing processes, which use too much electricity that comes from gas and oil fired power plants.
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