Wherever you are, take a look around with a “fossil fuels” lens and see how much of the world around us depends on fossil fuels.
Everyone knows about the issues around gas for our cars and planes because it affects your costs as a consumer, but look even farther. Plastic bins and bags begin to drip off your shelves into puddles of oil. The ink in your pen spews out that same oil. Perhaps your house and stove are heated by propane gas. Electricity is used everywhere, and most of the United States power plants that produce that energy involve burning coal or other fossil fuels. The more you look, the more you realize that without fossil fuels, we wouldn’t just be without our major forms of transportation, we wouldn’t have half of the things we live with every day.
In 2014, the United States consumed 6.97 billion barrels of petroleum products. 1.67 billion barrels went toward product manufacturing, not related to fuel for automobiles or heating. (US Energy Information Administration)
Many people don’t realize what raw materials go into a product. Take a look around and count how many things have at least part of them made of plastic. Almost all plastic is made from crude oil and some percentage of recycled plastics.
Even recycled plastic, shouldn’t be given the green leaf right away. The problem with recycled plastics is that it eventually breaks down too much after repeated melting processes. Recycled plastic is weaker than freshly made plastic so raw material must still be added to it to make it strong enough; this doesn’t end our dependence on fossil fuels, it simply reduces the consumption rate.
The thing is, there are other options besides fossil fuels. There are vegetable-based plastics that can be recycled and use renewable raw resources.
Pen ink, as well, has an easy alternative with vegetable-based ink instead of crude oil. Dolphin Blue produces refillable Goodkind Woody pens that are made of recycled wood and steel and use a vegetable-based ink.
Ultimately, we can do without a lot of these fossil fuel materials. Everything that is made of plastic could be made of wood or metal or cardboard or some other renewable resource. I really like my cardboard pen. And who doesn’t like a glass coke bottle over a plastic one? I hear that coke even tastes better in glass!
It is important to note that all things have environmental impacts. Replacing fossil fuel products with other products may cause other impacts elsewhere, but as long as those issues can be addressed, a renewable resource is always more sustainable than a non-renewable resource.
Ever since I read The Story of Stuff and Cradle to Cradle, I’ve been particularly critical of the world’s dependence on fossil fuels and plastic. However, there’s always new things I discover that are connected to this unsustainable cycle that I would have never expected.
I recently had a small surgery, and the doctor’s instructions to care for the open wound was to use Vaseline. Triple Antibiotic ointment would add too many extra things to the wound, but Vaseline is “sterile” and will keep the wound moist for healing on its own. I had heard of Vaseline before, but I didn’t know what it was exactly.
When I got a jar of this translucent, yellow-tinted goop and saw that the product is called “Petroleum Jelly,” I had to do some further research. It turns out that the thing I’ve been rubbing on my open wound is the slime they find in the bottom of oil barrels.
Now, don’t worry because Vaseline is triple-purified and tested to be non-carcinogenic (sarcasm implied). Several websites admit that petroleum jelly may not be the healthiest option and that off-brands might still retain some of the heavy metals and toxins from the oil. I’m all for using by-products, but not when we’re putting a possible toxin in our bodies. I cannot accept that doctors are promoting the use of such a substance over more natural options like beeswax, coconut oil, and olive oil or some other method or product.
Every day, I’m more and more aware of our dependence on fossil fuels, and it is frightening to think what we would become when there is none left if we don’t change soon. Innovations for energy efficiency and reduced consumption are great for stalling the problem, but they don’t fix it.
We need alternatives—real alternatives that do not pollute or harm, that can be sustained naturally, and that provide for our needs. And the thing is, they’re already out there. The general public needs to push for healthier, sustainable options, and innovations need to be made to improve these sustainable options rather than prolonging our dependence on fossil fuels.