I wrote earlier about our addiction to oil simply from the standpoint of energy usage. I would personally like to see a day when we don’t use oil, or any other fossil fuel, for energy at all.
That will at least require massive changes in infrastructure and probably in the tax code. Those changes, in turn, will require a more cooperative, more compromise-prone politics than we have seen for decades.
Of course, we do more with oil than burn it for fuel. We are also heavily dependent on petrochemicals. Some 93% of plastics manufactured in the US start with either oil or natural gas.
And how can we live without plastic? It’s in everything. Sometimes plastic is a superior material to whatever it replaced. Sometimes there is not yet any conceivable replacement for plastic.
Kevin Swift of the American Chemistry Council has pointed out that a simple bottle of shampoo demonstrates how pervasive petrochemicals have become:
- The shampoo itself contains almost no natural ingredients at all; nearly all of them are petrochemicals.
- The bottle is plastic.
- The cap is a different kind of plastic.
- The seal, the label, the ink on the label, and the glue that holds the label on the bottle all come from oil or gas.
That’s just one product. All of these petrochemicals have the same financial and geopolitical costs as the oil we use for fuel. They have their own environmental and health costs (and benefits, I must add).
It will probably never be possible to eliminate the use of petrochemicals entirely, even if we do succeed in completely swearing off using oil as a fuel. What we can and must do is understand the environmental and health consequences of petrochemicals and learn more sustainable ways of producing and using them.