Writing in the Texas Tech Daily Toreador Chris Leal asks us to ponder a puzzle:
It seems as if we truly live our lives out of a work of science fiction. Yet, despite the vast wealth of knowledge we have gained in the last century, we still continue to fuel our lifestyles and our automobiles by burning the decomposed remains of dinosaurs and organisms that lived hundreds of millions of years ago. Think about that….
Imagine if you had to put gasoline in your laptop, or that your iPhone was coal powered; what a funny piece of technology that would be. Yet, we live in a world where news about oil spills and coal mine accidents are still all-too-common…
Yes, think about that. We use decomposed dinosaurs to fuel our industrial civilization—a feat possible only because our engineers have learned methods of extracting a substance from miles beneath the surface of the earth, a process fraught with hazards which have been dealt with so effectively that harmful accidents have been relegated to rare exceptions. And fossil fuel extraction is not just a feat of advanced technology in its own right, but one that does fuel that laptop or iPhone—if you are one of the nearly 70% of Americans whose electricity comes from fossil fuels. Alex Epstein of the Ayn Rand Institute notes additional ways in which petroleum and its products contribute to state-of-the-art technology and our standard of living:
One underappreciated form is petroleum-based products. We live in a world where chemists are able to employ oil to suit any conceivable purpose, from making shatterproof glasses to ultra-durable synthetic rubber tires to medical implants to bacteria-resistant refrigerators to HDTVs to iPhones. Look in your home and you can find 100 things made of oil in no time.
And if you look at the “Made In” labels on everything you use — from your Asian electronics to your pineapple from Hawaii to your oranges from California to your beef from Omaha to your furniture from Sweden — you will begin to appreciate the system of global trade that could not exist without oil-powered transportation — the 800 million-plus planes, automobiles, trucks, ships and tankers that move men, machines and material quickly and cheaply.
Nearly every item in your life would either not exist or be far more expensive without oil; there is simply no comparable source of practical, portable energy.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.