Have you ever realized how much we depend on fossil fuels? Fossil fuels are involved in practically every single activity known to modern man.
I’ve been laid up in bed a couple of days with the flu, which gave me some time to watch some documentaries I’d been trying to find the time to watch, including a couple of documentaries on “Peak Oil,” that is, when mankind’s consumption of fossil fuels exceeds supplies or that which can be extracted. Fossil fuels are perhaps the single most important key to our ability to thrive as a species, but they won’t last forever. “Beyond Petroleum” or “British Petroleum,” or whatever BP is calling itself these days, estimates that there are maybe 53 years of petroleum left in the ground, so image, if you will, if fossil fuels suddenly ceased to exist.
Actually, this isn’t far off from the truth, considering that fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, were only formed a couple of times during our planet’s history. Mass extinctions of plant and animal matter, ancient forests and the dinosaurs, compressed and decayed over thousands of years, leaving carbon-rich materials trapped between rock layers in our planet’s crust. According to some studies, the only reason this planet can support 7¼ billion people is thanks to fossil fuels. The amount of concentrated energy in fossil fuels is what enabled us to break one billion inhabitants.
For example, fossil fuels are involved, not only in the transport of goods, such as diesel fuel for tractor trailers, but in the goods themselves, such as the resins used to make a laptop casing. Imagine our food chain, not only requiring diesel fuel for the entire plowing, planting, and harvest aspect, but the herbicides and pesticides, most of which are petroleum-based. The same studies that suggest fossil fuels are the only reason we broke one billion in world population also suggest that, without fossil fuels, this planet can possibly support just 1½ billion. How will we survive?
Because fossil fuels already cause conflict (the US involvement in practically every war since WWII was over maintaining oil supplies) increasingly-scarce fossil fuels will bring even more conflict. Is there anything that we can do? Is there any hope? First, we need a fundamental change in the way that we think about life, such as reducing how much energy we use to considering what we buy. Second, we need to encourage technological development that eliminates fossil fuels from the supply stream. Stay tuned for future articles in this series.
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