Oil – The Tangled Web

One of the greatest challenges we have as a planet, is to divest ourselves of our dependence on oil. And it is naive to think that we can simply stop drilling and transfer our energy needs to solar and wind, and other alternative sources of energy – because oil is much, much more than an energy source. 

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Oil and its byproducts are used in so many other ways that it can boggle the mind! In an article from Earth Science Week, meant to be used as a classroom study guide we see this alarming statistic:

“…an April 2007 nationwide online survey revealed that 72 percent of the American public does not know that conventional plastic is made from petroleum products, primarily oil.”

A while ago I wrote a scifi/speculative fiction story “Not With A Bang But With A Whimper”. The premise?  What if, in trying to  rid the world of plastics, someone weaponized plastic eating bacteria and it got lose? 

There is, in fact, research being done on bacteria that will eat plastic as a means to reduce the plastic pollution that is ubiquitous now. You can read about this in these articles:

Scientists Accidentally Create Mutant Enzyme That Eats Plastic Bottles

Plastic Eating Bacteria

There is also research being done to genetically engineer bacteria to eat garbage and create plastics (so that we continue to have plastic, just not made from oil) see article here:  Genetically Engineered Bacteria Turn Garbage to Plastic .

But what can we do to reduce plastics and our dependence on oil, over and above its use as fuel?

Well that is where we come to the tangled web. Because petroleum (oil) is used currently in over 6000 products, many of which you probably wouldn’t ever guess. We all know our homes are rife with plastics – combs, glasses, upholstery, the jar of petroleum jelly that sits in most medicine cabinets, utensils, clothing and more.  

But did you realize that it is also in: aspirin, shampoo, deodorant, glue, ink, dyes, candles, crayons, soft contact lenses, detergents, antiseptics, rubbing alcohol, perfumes and anesthetics?

There is a more comprehensive list of the “everyday” items at WHGBETC.com , though by no means a complete list.  Just take a moment to think about how many of these items are in your homes, vehicles, and workplaces.

Now think of what you would have to do or find to replace these items with something that is not made of or with petroleum products. Not so easy, is it?

We cannot simply quit buying plastic bottles of water, and think we’ve done our part in reducing the amount of plastic in the world.  

Recycling helps, see the article in Scientific American: Has Recycling Lived Up To Its Promises  and this article by the Plastic Industry: The Potential of Recycled Plastics.  

The bottom line is that education, awareness, and actively looking for alternatives to the plastics we use, will bring us farther along to the goal of less dependence on oil.  And yes, it will cost us more in the short term, but in the larger picture we will be leaving less of a mess for our children and their children. That is an investment I am willing to make.

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