A favorite reader commented on a recent post that perhaps we as a society are to blame for the recent disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. His point was that by providing a demand for petroleum products, we were in fact "enabling" the oil companies to drill riskier and more dangerous wells to keep up with our voracious demand (not his words.) He even suggested that perhaps the disaster was caused because we all drive our cars to work or otherwise use energy unnecessarily, and should own part of the blame.
Miss G begs to differ, on a couple of key points. First, the oil spill was caused by corporate and individual greed: specific people making bad decisions in the interest of saving time and money. Seconly, industrial petroleum consumption is 3x's larger than the amount used to transport the finished product. And residential energy usage is just a fraction still of that.
So, the bulk of the petroleum used goes into the production of industrial and consumer product. A 3rd less than that is used to move the petroleum to the factory, and the product away from the factory upon completion. And a small amount is used by us to drive to work to earn the money to buy the product, and to drive to the mall to make the the actual purchase.
So, even if we all left our cars home and walked to work, we really wouldn't make a dent in the demand for petroleum!
If we really wanted to reduce the demand, we could stop using the products that are made from petroleum. We could go back to flammable wood shingles versus composite roofing, if we are willing to assume the risk of fire. We could go back to dirt floors vs. olefin carpeting. Perhaps doctors could go back to glass instruments and autoclaves vs. the sterile plastic implements that prevent infection and contamination today. The computer upon which you read this could be made of metal, and weigh 4 to 5 times what it weighs now!
Yes, there are things we can do as a society to reduce our dependence upon petroleum products, but as individuals we are not going to move the mark appreciably. The answer is to develop non-petroleum forms of plastics that can be made from renewable plant materials. We can develop more earth friendly building materials that are strong, reliable, and long-lasting. And we can find ways to make the products that do use petroleum in more efficient ways that use less oil and more ingenuity! And we can fuel our ever growing need for electricity by using fewer oil and gas fueled plants, and more hydroelectric, solar, and wind power.
But to make this happen will require leadership! We must demand, through our representatives in Washington, that companies be rewarded for developing and employing green technology, and fined for using retro technology that uses more oil just because it is the most cost effective. We must encourage initiatives to adopt green technology, and work to make it more economically feasible.
My own employer is a perfect example. We own over 800 facilities across America that use enormous amounts of electricity each day to run lighting, HVAC, and escalators. Most of the facilities have flat roofs with areas measuring in excess of 100,000 square feet: a perfect location to install a solar array! Yet, of the 40-something states where we do business, there are only 2 where it makes economic sense for us to do it, due to tax concessions and other state incentives. Elsewhere, it is far less expensive to buy power from the grid than to install, manage, and maintain these Earth-friendly systems! Something is wrong here!!
GingerSnaps! We have to rally around the cause! We need leadership to help society move in the right direction to reduce our dependance on fossil fuels! Are we voting for the right leaders when enter the booths on election day?