Fealty to Folly: Oil Is Dead! Long Live Oil!

Memo to oil apologists: When VHS supplanted BetaMax nobody shed a tear. When word processing software replaced typewriters, nobody shrieked about a socialist revolution in the steno pool. And when the jet engine replaced the propeller, there were no protests on the Mall in Washington about a vast supersonic conspiracy.

Face it. Technology changes. And the petroleum-based economy is dead. It's built on antiquated technology that's killing us and our planet. Now quit your whinging, get over it, and move on.

A Drop In the Gulf

Since the dawn of the industrial age, human beings have pumped about 46 TRILLION gallons of oil from under the ground (1.1 trillion barrels). Where did it all go? We've burned it. We turned it into fertilizers. We turned it into plastics. Among other things.

But wait. Where did all those petrochemical "products" go after they were burned, and dispersed, and tossed into trash bins? All that petro-refuse sure as hell didn't just find it's way back down the oil well from whence it came.

Nope. We're wallowing in it... in the air, ground, and water. Is it really so hard to picture?




Where else do you imagine 46 trillion gallons of oil could possibly go after we're done with it? And what about the next 46 trillion gallons? And the next 46 trillion after that?

In fact, in 2008, the chief of Saudi Arabia's state run oil company ARAMCO scoffed at peak oil theorist and claimed that there was easily another 500 trillion gallons of conventional and unconventional oil yet to be pumped out, processed, used up and discarded.

Oh... Well hooray then. But where will all that oil go?

The great Pacific Garbage Patch - a toxic soup of plastic particles - is already estimated to cover an area somewhere between the size of Texas and the size of the entire Continental U.S. (explanation here; nauseating video here). And recently another great garbage patch was discovered, stretching from Bermuda half way across the North Atlantic to the Azors (icky pictures here). At the mouth of the Mississippi River, in the Gulf of Mexico, there's a hypoxic "dead zone" the size the state of New Jersey, caused in large part by a run off of petrochemical-based fertilizers. And the carbon toll on the atmosphere is well known... even if denialists still protest.

What will planet Earth look like after we've processed and discarded 450 trillion more gallons of oil - ten times what we've already used and discarded? Put it this way: the spill in the Gulf will look like a drop in the bucket.

The oil economy is like a zombie from the movie Night of the Living Dead... an economic corpse that's roaming the land and threatening to eat us alive.

Fealty to Folly

Oil has served its purpose. It was great while it lasted, and it got us to a point where we have the industrial and technological wherewithal to chart a new course. Thanks oil, we say a prayer for the ghosts of the dinosaurs whose flesh and bones we have burned. But we're no longer primitives who need to animal fat to light our evening meditations, or chase away evil spirits.

Hospitals no longer use leeches, or bloodletting, or even mercury thermometers for that matter. Audio cassettes long ago replaced vinyl, and were themselves replaced by CDs, which are now being replaced by MP3 files.

Sure it sucked to have to pay good money to replace music I already owned. But some of it I didn't replace, which turned out OK really. I replaced the timeless stuff that I really wanted, and the other stuff, truth be told, I don't miss it. And if I do get a nostalgic hankering, for a buck I can download that one song I really miss, revel in its dated novelty, and then re-enter the 21st Century.

Facts are facts, and the fact is we can't afford the socialized environmental cost of having another 450 trillion gallons of oil pumped out of the ground, processed, used up and then strewn all about the place - the Earth isn't that big. Look at the mess we've already made with just the 46 trillion gallons we've used so far. (And just because there's enough wildlife left to fill up several time slots of cable programming on NatGeo, that in no way means that the planet is healthy. Not by a long shot.)

Those who are doubling down on the oil economy are like addicts who swear that this last bender and this last bet at the roulette table will cure all that ails us. It's sheer folly. But they're too busy living in the past to see it. And yes, it will take Herculean effort, and lots of money to rejigger our economic infrastructure to function on something other than oil. (Let's not even start on coal.) But what's the option?

Put on your Walkman headset and swing your Hoola-Hoop while you ask your Magic 8 Ball how to make all the problems with the oil economy magically disappear?