Petroleum-Based Products Shape Our Lives: Does that Mean We Are Irreversibly Dependent on Oil?

barrel of oil

barrel of oil

If oil is so ingrained in the modern world we all know — ubiquitous in the manufacturing and transporting of countless consumer products — does that mean we are hopelessly dependent upon it?

The question came to mind after receiving a comment from Morris (no last name given) on a previous post of mine here at sustainablog.org, World Naked Bike Ride: Is Anything Gained by Protesting Oil Dependency in the Buff?

Not to put words in Morris’s mouth, but he seems to suggest that oil cannot be escaped. Is he right? Even if he is, does that mean we should abandon efforts to break our addiction to crude?

Sure, he makes a valid point in reminding us that oil has been used to make the very bicycles naked riders use in their World Naked Bike Ride protests around the world.

To quote a portion of his comment:

“If it weren’t for oil they wouldn’t be riding those bikes, they’d be walking, barefoot, naked with no glasses! Not to mention the streets would be dirt, not paved. There would be no electric lights, no drinks at the end of the ride, no music. Should I go on?”

Yes, let’s go just a little further. I did a quick Internet search for more oil-based products. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge publishes a list of oil uses on its Web site.

Here is a brief excerpt:

  • Guitar strings
  • Pantyhose
  • Golf bags
  • Dentures
  • Candles
  • Hair coloring
  • Aspirin
  • Footballs
  • Food preservatives
  • Shampoo
  • Lipstick
  • Electric blankets
  • Ammonia
  • Pillows

Okay, Morris. You’re right. I’m laying my head on a partially petroleum-based product to sleep every night. And I wash my hair with a product that also is partially petroleum-based. And I eat petroleum-laced foods.

Okay. Sure, that’s a tad discomforting to think the oil we ship over from the Middle East is ending up in my food, but does that solve the question about giving in to the dependency? We should just quit worrying about our addiction?

Alcoholics are not told, “Go ahead, drink yourself into self-destruction. After all, there’s tiny amounts of alcohol in hygiene products and seemingly countless food items. You’ll never escape it, so why try?”

Of course not. Alcoholics are coaxed off of the habit and, hopefully, back into productive, healthy lifestyles.

So let’s keep our eyes on the ball, huh? This topic, as most things in life, lands somewhere in the gray area between the extremes of opposing perspectives. No one is riding bikes sans clothing because of a notion that they are calling an end to all uses of oil.

It’s not either you are for oil or against it, an all or nothing, polarizing situation of ultimate right or wrong.

The call is for some reasonable re-assessments of where we stand with 21st Century environmental conditions, and the 21st Century technology we have to cope with the related problems. These issues didn’t exist on this scale a hundred years ago when the car was invented. Cars have evolved, so why shouldn’t fuel evolve, too?

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, nearly 35 gallons of every 42-gallon barrel of crude oil (shown in the graphic above) is used for one type of transportation fuel or another. The rest, in various other forms, is what goes into the consumer products we use on a daily basis.

A call for alternative energies that reduce our addiction to foreign oil, and a call to lessen our willingness to accept unnecessarily low fuel economy from automakers and the mileage standards set by the government does not mean we all have to give up modern conveniences, overall hygiene or sleeping with sheets, mattresses and pillows.

Speaking out for improvements in energy policies, even if riding in the buff to do it, is not a lost cause. The only lost cause in the debate about energy is to give up and assume our oil habit is irreversible.

Related posts:

Gas Hole the Movie: History of Oil Prices and Alternative Energy

Addressing Peak Oil at the Local Level

Biofuels Part I: Corn Ethanol Isn’t the Solution

Graphic Source: U.S. Department of Energy

  1. Lisa

    Just an extra note- many eco or green versions of the “modern” comforts that you mentioned can be found at your local (and some even at wal-mart!) health food store. For example- My toothpaste, nailpolish, nailpolish remover, shampoo, conditionner, facewash, body lotion, body wash, pillow, towels… are all petroleum (and SLS & paraben) free. They weren’t super duper expensive to buy or find and they work great!
    Thinking about food- i am slowing introducing the top ten produce offenders for chemicals (i.e. apples, peaches, brocoli, lettuce etc) as organic- reducing my “petroleum” food intake while staying in my budget.

    So- we actually CAN decrease our dependency on oil and petroleum beyond transportation/fuel while still staying beautiful/handsomely groomed 🙂

  2. Uncle B

    Many of the seemingly oil dependent products we use were developed as replacements for coal based products used in the past! many new bio-based products will make it to the marketplace once the oil dominance is over, non the less,If the U.S. had chosen to be a moral people, and leaving Iraqi oil alone, and following Al Gore, decided to develop the South Western deserts, with the technology of the times – solar/thermal-molten sodium – electricity installations, for the same amount of money as that war cost, ($650 Billion), today, we would be tapping into the largest, renewable, sustainable, energy source the world has ever known. It would have paid every energy bill in the U.S.A. for maintenance fees only – FOREVER! It would be equivalent to an oil field that can NEVER run dry! Low cost electric power, and storeable hydrogen gasoline replacement from the electricity, for all!
    After the millions of murders, and $650 billions of dollars, borrowed from our children’s futures and pissed away, with thousands of our own and others maimed and disfigured for life, millions of families utterly destroyed, ours and theirs, we are no closer to Iraqi oil production than the Iraqis are!
    The next time you hear a blithering idiot spoiled brat, drunken, drug addicted, sociopath, rich Arabic saber dancing daddie’s boy oilman, stand at a microphone and threaten YOUR safety with someone ELSE’S weapons, remember what you lost America, remember, and weep! (also see http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=a-solar-grand-plan)

  3. lee ballard

    I still don’t understand the resistance to electric cars. If inventors would stop selling battery technology to oil companies for the big bucks and develope a car that runs on electricity, recharging it’s batteries with the car’s own motion (much like an altenator in a gas engine) we wouldn’t need oil for fuel. Also if NASA is so hard over the possibility of water on the moon or on Mars so hydrogen and oxygen can be separated to make rocket fuel, why can they not develope a much smaller version of an engine which operates on this technology? Say a four or six cylinder engine that uses water separated into hydrogen and oxygen by passing an electric current through the liquid? If it can put several hundred tons of rocket into space, why can it not get me across town? There is some definite b.s. out there. And our economy will not recover until fuel prices drop low enough for petroleum-based products to be made cheaper and low enough fuel costs to get those products to market. For Christ sake the cost of everything has gone up. Even the cost of pet food has tripled in the past 2-years. We wlll not make it unless our government acts to lower fuel and petroleum costs. Oil companies are posting the largest profits ever recorded in the entire history of human civilization. Unfortunately civilaization will have to take a giant step back unless something is done now. The USA may fall because of this. To hell with health care. Give me gas I can afford.

  4. Fernando

    Well is easy to talk about oilbased products the real problem is when you see how products depend on oil on a secondary level.
    Lets just focus on lubricant oil first. These are manly petroleum based, but they are not the problem. the real problem is that on every manufacturing process, on every machine that moves there is lubricants. Simply put no lubricant oil no movement at all. I studied mechanical engineering so I speak from experience.
    Another example is people saying lets build windmills or solar panels… OK lets plug them in with copper wires.. what do we use to extract copper? Oil. What do we use to build those windmill and solar panels? How do we lubricate them?
    Our dependancy on oil is not as simple as looking at what is petroleum-based. We need to see that oil is on every link of our production chains or at least lubricating them.
    I’m not being apocalyptic or saying there’s nothing we can do but unless we get people to realize how serious this is there is nothing we can do.

  5. Mary Roslin

    We can design buildings that are heated by solar power, with an excess that can be transported to the national grid. THE ISSUE IS DEMAND NOT SUPPLY OF ENERGY. We can reduce the demand radically by insulation, insulation, insulation. (Be careful how you insulate existing buildings and homes as it can cause condensation within the structure of a building if it’s installed incorrrectly). We also build with non oil based products. See our web site for more info. Also google ‘SUST Green Directory’-we developed and edited it but it hasn’t been updated recently due to lack of money. The construction industry is huge-and it needs to change. In the UK the largest stream of waste going to landfill ( that produces methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide) is construction waste.

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